For over 100 years the TET Kings Theatre has been part of community life in Stratford.

As the first cinema to screen a "talkie" film in the Southern Hemisphere it has already earned itself a place in the history books, but there are plenty more stories it has to tell, says Jason Kowalewski, chairperson of the Kings Theatre Trust.

Jason says the trust plans to put together a movie celebrating the historical theatre, and hopes the community can help.

"We are asking people to share their own memories of the theatre with us. We are sure many people have particular memories of the place, or they might even know something we don't. We are sure there are many hidden secrets about the place that we want to document to keep the stories alive for future generations."

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It was only in the early 2000s for example, says Jason, the trust found out one of the secrets the theatre was hiding.

"In the 1970s the then manager of the theatre, Mr Odeon, watched the first Melbourne Cup that was televised. The story goes that he was horrified by the sight of the young women in mini skirts and men looking at them as they walked up stairs."

Mr Odeon decided he wouldn't tolerate such behaviour at the Stratford theatre and boarded up the stair banister to prevent men looking through the gaps as women went up the stairs.

When some of the boarding began to come away in the early 2000s the banister was opened back out and a secret revealed, says Jason.

"Now we can once again see the specific Union Jack design the original architect used in it. Apparently it was a particular signature of his to include it in all his work."

The original banister is back on display, featuring a Union Jack motif that was the signature of the architect who designed them.
The original banister is back on display, featuring a Union Jack motif that was the signature of the architect who designed them.

Jason says with the theatre, like many of Stratford's older buildings, requiring earthquake strengthening, it is timely to be looking at the theatre's history.

"We want to know as much as possible about the theatre, and are hoping the collective memory of people in Stratford will help us understand what the theatre means to people and just what it is exactly that we are working to preserve."

From people's memories of performing in a school play on the stage, going to their first movie there or even more hidden secrets like the manager who was worried about modesty and mini skirts, Jason says the trust wants to hear them all.

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"We want to collect them all up and then get people to help us tell those stories in the movie, either by appearing on film themselves or letting us tell it for them. We know there is a treasure trove of stories and memories out there and we want to capture them so they can be preserved for generations to come."

There are some stories about a friendly ghost for example, says Jason. While he hasn't himself come across it, he says there are people who say they have heard it.

"Apparently it is the ghost of an old projectionist at the theatre who can sometimes be heard zipping up his jacket."

Whether it is a ghostly encounter or not, Jason and the rest of the theatre trust want to hear your memories.

People can email info@kingstheatre.co.nz or call into the Kings Theatre book shop and talk to the volunteers there.

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