History of Theatre in South Taranaki
Hāwera Opera House
The Hāwera Opera House began its life known as The Town Hall. The Town Hall was built in 1878 and became The Hāwera Opera House in 1896 – around the time the Hāwera Library was built.
There are records of an Operatic Society in Hāwera as early as 1895 but development was hampered by interruptions such as World Wars.
The The Hāwera Operatic Society was reformed on March16, 1922 with Alfred Grey, the inaugural headmaster of Hāwera Technical High School, elected President.
The Society performed many musicals over the next 18 years which drew on the many talents in the community for cast and crew. There were choirs a-plenty – male and female and the Haydn Choir – the Orchestral Society Orchestra and the Hāwera Brass Band.
The Orchestral Societies first performance 'A Country Girl' had a ticket entry cost of 5s (shillings) in the Dress Circle, 3s6d in the stalls and a mere 2s a seat in the pits.
Money raised from the third performance of this musical was donated to the Hāwera Hospital Fund. This musical paved the way for many more musicals to be performed in the opera house over the following decades. Alongside these regular performances by the society and other groups, movies were also shown in the Opera House providing hours of enjoyment for young and the young at heart.
[Arthur Fryer: Sth Taranaki On Stage: Feb 4th, 2016]
Hāwera Repertory Society
In 1946, the Hāwera Repertory Society was formed and over its 75 years has staged hundreds of productions including light opera, Shakespearean plays, modern musicals, comedy and serious drama, variety shows and a myriad of other performing arts productions. By the time the Repertory Society was formed, Hāwera was reputed to be one of the most musical, rural towns in New Zealand.
Hāwera Repertory celebrated its 75th Jubilee in 2021.
The desire for live entertainment in the region soon outgrew the capacity and functionality of the old Opera House and the Memorial Theatre was built in 1957.
Hāwera Memorial Theatre
The building of the Memorial Theatre came about after much fundraising by the community and Council input. A public appeal was launched to purchase the seating that went into the auditorium and many individuals and businesses contributed to the making of this facility. It meant that local performing arts groups could bring their productions to audiences in a well-equipped, well set up stage and they could perform to much larger audiences than they could manage in their “rooms” and halls.
There have been several major alterations over the years.
The roof was raised in 1996 to enable a fly floor and counterweight system to be installed. This was a huge addition to the theatre enabling organisations to house many of the major shows being held throughout the country and kept Hāwera in the lights as a town where good theatre entertainment was being delivered.
Another major addition was the building of the Theatre Lounge between the Memorial Hall and the Memorial Theatre – internal access between the two facilities was now possible and the lounge added to theatre-goers experience. The Lounge today is adorned with the many photos of groups and productions that have been performed in the theatre over the years.
This amazing venue, the Hāwera Memorial Theatre has been the scene of many of Hāwera’s largest annual events with performances from renown artistes Dame Malvina Major, Dalvanius Prime, John Rowles, Eddie Low, Rob Guest, and productions of the calibre of Les Misérables, Evita, The Pirates of Penzance, Showboat, The Elephant Man, Nunsense and many more, and it continues to provide for organisations from schools to major international organisations, a top-class venue where performers and audiences alike can experience theatre as good as anywhere in the country.