Behind the curtain

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, there’s a good chance you will have noticed a recent surge of activity from the theatre ‘out country’.

Market days, quiz nights, table tennis, seated games, live music, comedy - and it just keeps getting better.

Earlier this week, ‘India meets Ireland’ in an utterly spell-binding collaboration, filled the auditorium with an enchanting fusion of two very unique traditional styles of music. We’ll have seated games with mystery entertainment (from Reefton) on the 17th and fresh from Karamea, Brendan O”Dwyer’s new play ‘Virtual Symposium’ on the 23rd and 24th.

So what is the driving force of this momentum and who are the people involved behind the scenes?

Patricia sees the theatre as an outlet for her near-boundless creativity in music and visual arts and was pivotal in establishing its stylish decor. Wilma, with her background in fashion design and television production, leapt at the opportunity to curate and further develop a costume department that captures the imagination of all who enter the room.

As a show poster artist in a former life, I wanted to create posters that celebrate Art Deco - a style that echoed my influences growing up in Napier, Art Deco capital of the world. Annie wanted to counter the creative isolation of living in a small, rural village. Her involvement brings a wide array of interesting and talented creatives into her orbit and enriches the experience of life out here. Christine, a well-accomplished business accountant, now devotes her time and professional expertise for social good - partnering up with her husband Ricardo, they usually land at the top of the leaderboard at quiz nights. Frances and Craig are interested in cultural heritage and were captivated by the building’s history and strong community connection.

Three years shy of our beloved venue’s 70th birthday and we’ve seemingly just arrived, standing on the shoulders of giants. Phoenix-like, the Lyric Theatre has risen from the ashes after three crises, each iteration more magnificent than the last. This is all thanks to a community identity that is so interwoven with The Lyric Theatre, they simply refuse to let it fade into memory.

Burnt down 1933, rebuilt 1934.

Burnt down again 1956, rebuilt again 1957.

Roof blown off 2014, reinstated 2015 with full restoration completed in 2022.

Alan’s uncle was involved in the original timber framework of the Lyric Theatre in the 1950’s. Following in his family’s footsteps, he contributed his construction skills to the rebuild after the devastation left by ex-tropical cyclone Ita in 2014 and is still highly invested in its maintenance and operation. Tony, also joining the rebuild effort, was drawn to the building’s architectural characteristics and keenly offered his time to oversee the many projects required for its restoration. Ariel believes the community’s resilience during that 8 year period lay in the vision of a vibrant theatre. And that vision is being realised. The iconic building stands as a beacon of hope, a testament to the interconnectedness of a community whose stories echo within its walls.

Each time I walk in before an event, the theatre’s Art Deco-inspired decor takes me back to an era of frivolity and excess. Moya’s wild floral arrangements fill me with joy. The delicious aroma of Mike’s freshly baked savouries wafts in from the kitchen; he relishes the opportunity to socialise and connect with people in the area. Carol brings joy and laughter (and the occasional pavlova - the best I’ve ever tasted, sorry mum) to every event she attends, her connection harking back to stage plays with Pat Barr McCloud and winning the nationals with ‘Miner’s Lullaby’. I look forward to seeing Marg at music events, dressed to the nines and embracing every opportunity to dance. She’s usually joined by a throng of beautiful souls, swept up in the tide of live music.

The Lyric Theatre lives on, supported by its community. We hope you will enjoy reading the stories of its people with reviews of our events in this regular column. Better still, come along and experience the magic for yourself.

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