BATS Theatre back in business

BATS Theatre, situated near the city end of Oriental Parade, is beautifully back in business. It now has three performance spaces and shiny new backstage, dressing room, kitchen, Green Room and office facilities. The aptly named Pit Bar is now a spacious bar on the ground floor.

BATS is in the former Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes building at 1 Kent Terrace. The venue started in the 1930s as The Savage Club, a dance hall and venue for amateur theatre. From the 1940s—1975, Unity Theatre staged productions there.

It was administered by the BATS Incorporated Society from 1979—88. BATS is an acronym for the Bane and Austin Touring Society (named after Rodney Bane and David Austin, founding members). It produced school tours and shows but later administered the building as a venue for hire.

Over the years it gradually declined. But along came Simon Bennett and Simon Elson who negotiated a lease. They organised finance and materials, rebuilt the foyer and the auditorium and re-opened it as a professional venue in 1989.

Only a year later, fire broke out, damaging backstage, dressing rooms and the auditorium plus costumes and props for the current show. An electrical fault was thought to be the cause. A fund-raising concert was held in the St James Theatre, with celebrities like the Topp Twins, Paul Holmes, Lynn of Tawa, Gary McCormick, Kate Harcourt......Other theatre companies held benefit shows too. $22,000 was raised and BATS was reborn.

In 1999 BATS took over the lease of two small spaces either side of the foyer: an old fish'n'chippy became the office and what was Don's Car Insurance Office became the Pit Bar. BATS flourished until their landlords for 22 years — the Buffaloes — put the building on the market.

BATS staff and board were determined to have a long-term future by buying the building. But there was a limited timeframe and it didn't look as though they could secure the finance. At the eleventh hour, film makers Sir Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh purchased the building with a long-term lease for BATS.

Earthquake strengthening and renovations were undertaken. On 22 November 2014, BATS reopened with, wonderfully rejuvenated acting, backstage, kitchen, Green Room and office areas; but also, thanks to the community, trusts and other donors, with updated technical equipment and furnishings.

JCD, Bay View newsletter 65, May 2015