History of the Regent

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Designed in 1929 by Charles Hollingshed of Melbourne, "the Picture Palace" of Palmerston North - the Regent Theatre - officially opened its doors to the general public on 4 July, 1930. A newspaper report at the time described the theatre as having "been built, decorated and furnished regardless of cost" and called it "The Wonder Theatre" and "The Theatre Beautiful" and goes on, "Creating an entirely new standard of Entertainment, the Luxurious Regent will become the Mecca of all Devotees of the Magic Talking Screen because of its Compelling Worth and Regal Magnificence."

It lived up to this claim for many years. But after the decline of movie going a sadly dilapidated and poorly utilised Regent closed its doors in 1991. Following an unprecedented public reaction to the threat of losing not only the Regent but the Opera House as well, which would leave the city without a major performing venue, the Palmerston North City Council agreed to purchase the Regent in October 1993. Then in accordance with the huge response to submissions, the council agreed to restore the Regent to its former grandeur and modernise it technically to ensure its place as New Zealand's leading provincial theatre with features that rival many of its counterparts in the major cities.

The Palmerston North City Council agreed to contribute $10 000 000 to the project, the New Zealand Lotteries Grants Board added another $1 000 000 and the local community undertook its biggest financial challenge ever - to raise $1,700,000 - the equivalent of more than $25 for every man, woman and child in the city. On Christmas Eve 1997 this sum was finally achieved, thus ensuring the restoration work which had already commenced in September,1996, would indeed be completed to the highest standard, providing the city with a facility not only of which it could be immensely proud and which would attract top class national and international performers and shows, but one which would also be able to cater superbly to the community's requirements.


The Entrance

As you approach the "Palatial Doors," so described in an early newspaper report, you notice the new name as the Regent on Broadway. While there have been many Regent Theatres worldwide, there is only one situated on Broadway - a name synonymous with top entertainment - and that is in Palmerston North!

In the marble pavement immediately outside the central double doors a large brass 'R' has been inset. The design was originally used as decoration on the ends of seat frames and it was decided to promote this emblem as the signature of the Regent.


The Foyer

When you move through the foyer towards the auditorium you notice the new ticketing office on the right. Previously it had been on the left and that space has been converted to an alcove where the Founder Donors' Book is permanently on display as well as portraits of the Patrons of the Friends of the Regent Inc.


The Lobby
The carpet in this area is an exact copy of the design and colour of the linoleum which originally covered these areas. As lino is cold and noisy it was decided to recreate the design in carpet which was specially woven by Feltex (NZ) Ltd. (The original lino is still underneath the carpet!) The floral carpet which starts at the Grand Staircase is a copy of the original pattern which was unearthed under three layers of carpet in front of the orchestra pit at the commencement of restoration! The chandeliers throughout the theatre have all been recreated from early photographs. The barrel vaulted ceiling has been restored to original condition. At either end of the lobby are huge mirrors - now a matching pair as for many years there had only been one. No one is sure why this was so because two were originally intended. They create an impression of spaciousness and reflect the grandeur of the chandeliers.


The Auditorium 

This is fully restored to its former glory. A new floor was relaid as the old one was found to be decaying and the seating has been altered to improve sight lines and comfort. Each seat has been slightly widened and space between rows increased.

A control console at the rear of the stalls containing computerised sound and lighting equipment has meant the loss of some seats, but enables technicians to have full oversight of the audiovisual features of performances. The front section of stalls is arranged in continental style (with no aisles) which gives more seats at the front of the theatre. This seating can be removed to make space for wheelchairs, to enable tables to be set up and used for conference sessions, or the blonde wooden floor to be used for dancing. There is now a total of 1393 seats in the theatre, compared with almost 1600 originally.

Much of the plasterwork had to be remoulded as leaks from the roof had proved destructive. An excellent job was done and it is impossible to detect where fresh plaster has been applied. The walls have been recoated with a beer wash and designs cleaned and retouched where necessary. So the requirement to preserve this heritage space has been adhered to. It looks just as it did in 1930.

A new hydraulic fore-stage lift has been installed to enable the stage to be extended out into the auditorium, or for the orchestra pit to be positioned at various levels.


The Dressing Rooms
The six larger dressing rooms are along this corridor and there is also a toilet and shower block for performers. A stairway leads down to three more dressing rooms on the stage level. Also on this lower level are the LAUNDRY, the STAGE DRIVE-ON ACCESS, and the stairway under the stage to the humidity controlled PIANO STORAGE area.


The Stage
The entire area from the proscenium arch back to King Street has been rebuilt to give a space capable of hosting modern technology for shows. The stage now measures 20 metres wide by 15.5 metres deep and the FLYTOWER is now approximately 20 metres, some 3 metres higher than it previously.

A bank of 68 counterweight lines has been installed to manage the fly scenery and drapery. Each counterweight can carry 500 kilograms.

The stage floor is made of Australian splinter-free Spotted Gum and a major improvement is the stage access from a loading bay in King Street which makes it easier for stage crews when packing in and out.


The Green Room

Why is this called the Green Room? It is not because of the colour of the carpet, doors or the furniture. In olden times the players performed on a platform or stage referred to as "The Green" and adjacent to this was a room for relaxing, going over lines and other things that players did. So at the Regent on Broadway this room adjacent to the stage area became known as the Green Room and the tradition has remained.


The Grand Mezzanine 
This area is almost identical to early photographs. The plaster work has been stripped of paint work which had been added through the years and is now restored to its former rich gold-brown gloss. There were Nibble Nook bars in both the lobby and mezzanine but these have been removed and a spacious area is once again a feature of this level. The kowhaiwhai panels in the ceiling are considered to be unique. No other theatre in the country seems to have incorporated this wharenui (meeting house) interior effect in its decor.
The Circle
The ceiling, illuminated by the eight magnificent chandeliers, was thoroughly cleaned and the original patterns needed very little retouching. Panels have been installed to allow for stage lighting and these are able to be opened and closed as necessary. The mural, painted by Australian artist W. Coleman, also required cleaning and patrons can now see detail that had been hidden by the dust and dirt of the years. The mock windows are again the original blue colour and the lighting fixtures between each, which were a more recent addition, have been removed.
Regent on Broadway circle.

The medallions at the base of each "window" can actually be removed giving access to the back to allow for back- lighting if ever it is decided to do this. The 124 seats in the DRESS CIRCLE have been widened slightly and Row A has been fractionally raised to improve sight-lines.

The architect, Charles Hollingshead, characterised the interior as a modern adaptation of a "fifteenth century Florentine manor house.


Rehearsal Studio
Originally a Snooker Hall, this was accessible by a narrow stairway from Broadway, now removed. For the renovation the floor was sanded, resurfaced, and two central pillars removed making the room an excellent venue for practise and recitals by ballet schools or music tutors as well as other performances or functions.
Regency Lounge
This is a beautiful reception area with lift access, toilets, bar and kitchen facilities, its own small lobby and the highly interesting memorabilia wall which records history of both the Regent Theatre and the Opera House, mainly in poster form.

The Regency Room is able to cater for private functions held in conjunction with performances in the theatre, as well as being available for hire for meetings, wedding receptions, seminars etc. It has its own individual sound and music system which can operate independently of the rest of the complex.


The Grand Staircase
The Regent on Broadway was built during the Great Depression so every effort was made to create a "Picture Palace" which would take people out of the world of reality and give an air of opulence. Money, however, was still a factor and economies had to be made. For example, the huge grill arches in the Auditorium were not painted behind the drapery and the Grand Staircase, although giving the illusion of being marble, is in fact only marble on the outer edges, beneath the carpet is wood over concrete. 

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