Transparent fabric and light allows performers to entertain audience on shore.

New Zealand's first-ever floating theatre is coming to Auckland for the region's fringe arts festival.

Built at Henderson's Corban Estate Arts Centre, it includes a stage and 30 seats enclosed in transparent fabric. The whole structure is moved by truck onto a barge which remains stationary rather than sailing out to sea or around a harbour.

It will be moored at Saunders Reserve in Avondale and then at the Viaduct Marina, where the eight performances have sold out. The floating theatre will then be taken to Whangarei.

Designer/theatre director Stephen Bain says the transparent fabric allows light and the shadows of performers and audiences to be clearly seen by those outside the theatre. It means watching the structure from the shore is like watching a show in itself.


He was inspired by toy theatres he saw in museums in Europe and puppet theatres in China. Originally toy theatres were models brought for play or display but in the 1800s, with changes in paper production and technology, they were printed and sold as kits to be assembled at home.

Kits included characters, scenery and sets, props and costumes from popular plays of the day and were sometimes used as a marketing tool.

Bain says the idea of a theatre as an object in itself appealed to him and he liked the idea of a smaller-scale structure that can be observed by others. He has created a number of outdoor performances which have toured New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Canada and Europe.

The Floating Theatre is his biggest project and one of the most complicated in terms of getting a range of issues, such as health and safety, approved. It has involved working with engineers, welders and structural fabric designers as well as theatre-makers.

Two performers, Jeremy Randerson and Jenny McArthur, perform a show described as part mime, part surrealist comedy. Bain says being in a confined space means using a number of older theatrical devices - things like ropes, pulleys and trap doors - to make the best use of available room.

What: Auckland Fringe Festival - The Floating Theatre
Where & when: Saunders Reserve Avondale, March 1 - 4; Viaduct Marina, March 8 - 11