Five Things You Don't Know about the Regent Theatre

by Insiders Dunedin

First things first (I'm a realist), the Regent Theatre is the worst place to share a secret. Never divulge gossip here, no matter how ear-meltingly salacious ̶ because the parabolics affect the dome above, you can hear a pin drop and how awful the bridesmaids looked at Gemma's wedding. But I'm going to tell you some secrets anyway, backstage tales both tall and true: reasons to love Dunedin's grand old lady of the Arts even more, presiding over the Octagon like a big white cake with nuts inside.

Originally a 2,000 seat picture theatre with a resident orchestra, the Regent was built in record time (foreman Mr Donaldson working six days a week, 12 hours a day, because you could make people do that back then, it went up like the clappers in less than 9 months) on the site of what is still Dunedin's worst fire in terms of fatalities, twelve people dying in an 1879 inferno. It is their ghosts who haunt the place now, amongst others. So many ghosts, in fact, the ushers don't even laugh when you say 'I see dead people,” ̶ but only one chair kicker, and he likes to time his boots in your back with particular malice, waiting till your ice cream/wine reaches your mouth.

The building, scheduled category one by the Historic Places Trust, was set to be torn down and turned into a car park in 1972. To make sure that didn't happen $160,000 (an absolute fortune back then, remember half cent lollies?) had to be raised to secure its future. When this target was eventually met, rumour has it a certain person of prominence in the parish celebrated with a naked run around the dress (hee hee) circle. Speaking of the circle, the pillars in the stalls aren't actually holding up anything! They were installed post original opening of the theatre as people were frightened with the movement in the circle (as you would expect) so the pillars were put up to alleviate their anxiety.

Up until the tunnel was built under the auditorium, ballerinas had to run outside and around the block in their tutus in order to come in up the aisle and sometimes this didn't go to plan. Likewise, delays to curtain raising aren't always due to technical difficulties: Lou Reed was so out of it when he performed he had to be turned around to face the audience by the stage manager, Dr Hook so drunk he had to be held up by his band. Ertha Kitt suffered incredible stage fright, Charlie Pride always has a bad case of the farts and comedian Danny Bhoy threw a tantrum over the shape and brightness of a candle flame that held up the start of his show by 15 minutes.

The ornate Baroque style was modelled on the Paris Opera House, but the theatre's two most beautiful examples of this decorative decadence wouldn't be here today if not for the long-sighted sneakiness of a staff member who hid the two nymphs now lending their luminance to the foyer from creditors, burying them in a cupboard under a pile of cast iron seating frames, where they would stay until a more gracious era called upon them to light the way for you, gentle audience.

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Post submitted by Lisa Scott

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