Lydia Jenkin is an entertainment feature writer for the New Zealand Herald.

Lydia Jenkin: Staging a coup for our audiences

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Photo / Jenna Todd
Photo / Jenna Todd

"Hellooo Auckland! Are you ready to ..."

I was tempted to yell it out, but I didn't.

Standing on the stage at Vector Arena is both liberating (hence the urge to do my best James Brown impression) and intimidating (which means an urge to cover your head and shield yourself from the bright lights bearing down). The audience seem both closer and larger than you might think - though mine was an audience of empty chairs.

I wasn't there to perform, just to check out what Vector looks like in its newly available "theatre mode". It's an intimate set-up, which can cater for 1500 to 3000 people (as opposed to the usual 12,000), that has been introduced by Vector Arena's director Stuart Clumpas and well-known local promoter Brent Eccles in an effort to allow for a greater variety of acts to perform at Vector and to change public perception of what it's like to attend a show there (you know, things like "the sound is a bit rubbish", "it's like being in an enormous barn", etc).

That quantity of punters has long been a tricky gamble for Auckland promoters, with the Powerstation capacity around 1000 people standing; the Town Hall taking 1500 seated, or 2000 with standing room; the Civic Theatre taking 2200; and the ASB Theatre, 2000.

Do you try to sell multiple nights? Or do you take the show out of the city to somewhere like Trusts Stadium or the Logan Campbell Centre?

And, with the Civic and the ASB Theatre frequently booked for runs of musicals like Mary Poppins, the city needs an alternative venue that can accommodate a reasonable-sized seated crowd, with good acoustics.

Fortunately, Vector was designed with flexibility in mind and they can now configure it to recreate the size and atmosphere of a seated theatre.

Not a 100-year-old theatre, mind you - they're never going to be able to recreate the Civic's starry sky and Taj Mahal-like surrounds. But they have come up with a set-up (as Clumpas explains), where every seat in the house will have a good sight line, good sound, and the performers won't feel like they're playing in a cavernous sports arena.

The seats at ground level go back an aesthetically pleasing 16 rows, the stage can have a false proscenium arch, the black stage curtains look quite solid and are livened up by two tastefully New Zealand-themed "pillars". The seats are plush and comfy, there is red carpet as you enter - and they'll even disguise and close the McDonalds-style bar windows that serve hot chips and beer, in favour of a more genteel foyer area, complete with high chairs and tables.

It may still sound like a bit of a secondary option at the moment, but Clumpas and his team seem determined to make it a competitive alternative that can provide the atmosphere of a regular theatre - maybe they could just pipe in a bit of the old St James' mustiness in here, for an extra authentic touch.


- NZ Herald

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Lydia Jenkin is an entertainment feature writer for the New Zealand Herald.

Childhood music lessons eventually led to degrees in music and media studies for Lydia Jenkin, launching her career as an entertainment writer. A love of late nights watching local musos - whether in dingy bars or at summer music festivals – saw her become assistant editor at NZ Musician magazine for nearly five years before she jumped at the chance to join the TimeOut team. She's at her happiest when ranting about her latest music discovery, but is equally keen on excellent film and television (The Dark Horse and True Detective are her picks so far for 2014).

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