Rotorua Musical Theatre Igniting Passion and Nurturing Potential through the Staging of High Quality Entertainment

Casa Blanca – The Building

From the first serious thought on the building of Casa Blanca Theatre it was 13 years to the building we see today.  The first attempt at extending the small building, which was bought as a rehearsal hall and potential theatre home, was to add to the frontage.   This had been a forecourt parking place for cars.  A kitchen of sorts was put in.  An attempt at a box office and some toilets was made.  So here starts the story of Stage I.

1977.  Rotorua Council gave notice to the Society that the land on which they owned a building used as a rehearsal hall was to be rezoned from Industrial to Recreational, thus raising rent and rates costs.  The Committee, under President John Sherborne, was not happy with this and so started the process of finding new premises.  A Building Committee was established to find ways of raising funds.

The show in production was “Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat”  Directed by Robert Young. In the programme there is a notice from Vice President Jack Smale saying that as our productions were becoming larger and more ambitious we needed to expand our premises, and appealing for the community to join the Society and help with fund raising to build a new home.

1978.  The Society sold two sections which they owned in Gibson St. Fenton Park for the price of $34,000.00.  In September Jack Smale suggested that they look at a building in Riri St as extra premises in which to store costumes and scenery.     In October the next committee meeting was held in the premises of Industrial Gases in Riri St where Jack Smale reported that it was indeed for sale.  He outlined that it offered possibilities for a rehearsal hall and workshop, and pointed out that simple alterations would give adequate kitchen, office and toilet facilities.  The price could be negotiated at $30,000.00 and the committee voted unanimously for the proposal.
The Society approached the Bank of New South Wales to obtain bridging finance until a grant could be obtained from the Queen Elizabeth Arts Council.  In December the loan from BNSW was finalised on an overdraft basis and the Riri St site was purchased from 9.12.78

Meanwhile, back at the old rehearsal hall on Wairoa Road, “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Follow the Star” were rehearsed, going to stage at the Civic Theatre in July and November respectively.

1979.  In February Bill Gear, now Vice President, presented a plan for the premises together with a draft of possible alterations showing toilets, kitchen, foyer and executive office. It was agreed to in principle.

March saw more discussions on who would undertake certain tasks. Those named were committee members Ray Thompson, Barry Burlace, Dennis Cooney, Rex Thoumine and Ross Carter.

In May there was some action.  Bill Gear, as Building Convenor, reported progress on the building. The floor, walls, ceiling and stage cloth had all been chemically cleaned.  The kitchen, plumbing and heating were all in place.
An architects’ plan providing for amenities by Dan Ingelse (senior architect Ministry of Works) was presented.

By September permission had been sought and granted to use the hall as a rehearsal space. “Jesus Christ, Superstar” was in rehearsal and there were complaints from neighbours in Jarmey Place about the noise.  This was because there was no sound proof wall at the rear of the building.

1980. Jack Smale was elected to his 2nd term as President. This was another busy year with “Godspell” and “Joseph” (for the second time) being in rehearsal for April and August respectively. From June until October there were several meetings to discuss how work should proceed.   Bill Gear presented a model of Riri St additions and a proposed layout.  The committee agreed to working drawings to be drawn up at a cost of $150 – $200.   There were more discussions with the council architect and the committee eventually agreed to proceed with plans and to call for tenders for construction.

1981. The first three months of 1981 saw much discussion on who would build the extension.  Just one quote had been received, and eventually declined, from J.W.Thom.  Jack Smale commented that the Society could use the services of carpenters, plumbers, electricians etc. from our own membership.

The question of raising funds was an ongoing concern with block purchasing, debentures and raffles being put forward as possible ways to help.  Some of them did eventually.

Building permits and insurance cover were obtained by Jack Smale and new committee member Martin Harris.   In March construction had started and good progress was reported.  Kitchen, toilets, bar, foyer and box office were started as previously planned and there was an application to the Council for permission to extend the premises of the front boundary to the pavement. The proposed cost was $50,000.00 for the building plus plumbing and drainage $2,500.00.

Between May – August the name of “Off-Stage Theatre” had been proposed by Dave Scherger and Ross Carter; bridging finance was to be sought from the best available sources; the Buy a Block campaign was ongoing and there was more discussion on wiring, plumbing and internal lining.

In September the committee made a firm commitment to setting a dead line to finish the work on the building in time for the first production due in November.   In October the committee was told that more labour was required and an appeal for assistance from friends and members of the Society was urged.

On November 20th the first production in the new Theatre, “On Stage Review, was Directed by Imelda Nixon with Gloria Taylor as Musical Director. By this time the theatre had become Off-StageTheatre.  Jack Smale had approval for a Theatre/Restaurant licence and this show was catered and set up on two levels.

1982 saw the first suggestion that the name “Off-Stage Theatre” could be improved upon.  The President put forward the idea that we should be extending to the rear of the building to encompass storage, rehearsal space and workshop areas and we should buy the property next door as a parking area.  This last thought was approved but eventually deferred for a further 12 months.

“Anzac Revue” was staged in April still under the name of Up-Stage Theatre whilst a Fashion Parade was planned and preparations for “Oklahoma” were started.  In May a decision was made to build rostra on the back level of the auditorium to alleviate problems with viewing the stage and a lean-to was added to the back of the theatre to provide a small dressing room.

By the time ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Forum” was staged on the 17th June the name Casa Blanca Theatre had been adopted and has remained so ever since.

Written by Ursula Schraa, Archivist

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