Art & creativity, Facilities  |  28 May 2019

The familiar green and gold seats are back in the Christchurch Town Hall’s James Hay Theatre – and a raft of improvements have been made to bring it up to modern day standards.

The James Hay Theatre will reopen to the public for the first time since the February 2011 earthquake when Celtic Tenors take to the stage tomorrow, 29 May.

Inside the James Hay Theatre.

The James Hay Theatre has been fully restored and brought up to a modern-day standard.

The Town Hall’s Douglas Lilburn Auditorium, the foyer, Limes, Victoria and Avon rooms reopened at the end of February.

While the public were able to have a sneak peek at the James Hay Theatre during public open days in February, it has remained closed while its restoration continues. Construction was completed in April and Vbase – which operates the Town Hall – has been testing and commissioning the space for the past month in preparation for its reopening.

Alistair Pearson, Manager Capital Delivery Major Facilities, says significant improvements have been made to the James Hay Theatre to modernise it, and to make it a more flexible performance space.

“After consulting with performing arts groups, it was agreed that the James Hay Theatre should be enhanced for both musical and stage performance and we’ve taken the opportunity throughout the construction process to significantly upgrade the space.”

The existing fly tower has been structurally strengthened. A new fly system (theatrical rigging system) has also been installed in the fly tower, which will make the James Hay Theatre more accessible for performances where quick scenery changes are necessary.

The James Hay Theatre now seats around 700 people and retractable seating has been installed on the lower level so that standing room is available for performances such as rock concerts.

A total of 150 new theatre lights and a new air conditioning system have been put in.

The acoustics in the James Hay Theatre have been improved, with the installation of the new Constellation acoustic system. Thirty one microphones and 152 loud speakers make up the Constellation system.

Pierre Germain from Meyer Sound, the company that designed and built the components of the Constellation system, worked with original Town Hall acoustic engineers Marshall Day to test and tune it over five days earlier this month. “The acoustic system works with the natural acoustics of the room . . . it just gives it a boost,” Mr Germain says.

“We’ve tuned it to make the room fit for a range of music, for example chamber, opera and choral music. With this acoustic system we can simulate different venues to suit many genres of music without the additional cost of physically changing the room as we’re just doing it electronically.”

Chris Wallace, Vbase General Manager – Projects, says the improvements made to the James Hay Theatre will make it a more suitable venue for a range of performing artists. “We’re hoping we’ll be able to attract everything from rock bands to jazz musicians,” he says.

Michael Bayly, General Manager Showbiz Christchurch, is thrilled the James Hay Theatre will again be open for business.

“In March 1973 Christchurch Operatic Society Inc, now known as Showbiz Christchurch, proudly staged the first major musical in the newly opened James Hay Theatre with a magnificent season of Oliver. Over the following decades, Showbiz Christchurch staged 29 full seasons in the James Hay to a collective audience of more than 350,000 theatre goers.

“The venue has brought so much joy to theatre and concert patrons since it first opened, and we are delighted to see the Town Hall and James Hay return to Christchurch as major performance venues.”