The Royal Wanganui Opera House holds a special place in the hearts of many locals. And at its heart is a group of Whanganui locals called 'Friends of the Opera'.

The only paid worker at the Opera House, Fergus Reid says without them, the place would be closed.

"We have a bunch of amazing volunteers who help us to basically put on the show," he said. "They fill roles from ushering, ice cream sales, all that front-of-house stuff through to the back stage crew, set design, all sorts of things like that."

The group was formed 'officially' in 1989 but some members have been showing their support well before that, like Phil Groves.


"I've been here since 1961," Phil said. "How many years is that? About 58 years."

Eddie Frith is another long-term volunteer.

"I finished working full time and it was just something I got interested in. Once Phil took me up there [into the fly floor] and showed me everything I got very interested in it," Eddie said. "I really enjoy it. Once you get into it, you get hooked on it and it becomes your second life."

"I spend about as much time here as I have at home," said Phil.

Eddie added "He gets told to bring his bed down sometimes!"

Some of the work is physically demanding so the Opera House is looking for younger recruits.

But no matter your age or ability, there's a job for everyone - even those who don't like opera.

"I don't go to many shows anymore," said Phil. "Because I'm so deaf I can't hear them."

As long as the Friends are willing and able, this last surviving Victorian Theatre in the country will continue to breathe new life into the Whanganui art scene.


"We get the volunteers together with the hirer and ourselves," said Fergus. "We just make the show happen depending on what's required from us."

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