19 Jun 2018

Chch theatre company 'kicked out' of theatre over funding

9:04 pm on 19 June 2018

A professional theatre company in Christchurch says a decision to show them the door is brutal and unfair.

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Photo: RNZ / Logan Church

Free Theatre has been running experimental theatre productions out of The Gym, a performing arts space in Christchurch's revamped Arts Centre, since it reopened in September 2014.

But now producer George Parker said it was being kicked out by the centre's new management.

"The rig, the lights, the sound, everything that makes it a theatre...we've been given 20 working days to get rid of all of that," he said.

"For a small organisation that is pretty tough."

The company leased the space on a rolling basis, and despite some funding challenges, believed it had almost come to an arrangement with the centre's previous chief executive, Andre Lovett.

But after Mr Lovatt resigned at the end of last year, that plan went out the window.

"We were discussing with the Arts Centre a new partnership where the Arts Centre would take over hires while we do our programme...we would pay [only] for what we did," he said.

"There was one stipulation [around funding] that was really challenging for us and we went away to find a way to do that but in the meantime the board decided to terminate the lease."

The theatre company is now packing everything into two shipping containers and is trying to find a new home.

But in an effort to change the Art Centre's mind, Free Theatre penned a letter that been signed by more than 200 members of Christchurch's art community.

That letter was sent this afternoon.

The Arts Centre declined to be interviewed, instead saying in a statement the Free Theatre had not been keeping up with lease payments and it had no choice.

"The Free Theatre Trust has not been able to meet its commitments to the Arts Centre for some time, which the Arts Centre can no longer sustain. We have worked closely with the Free Theatre Trust for several months now trying to find a solution in a partnership arrangement and have offered several concessions.

"It is therefore with regret that we have had to end their lease and ask them to remove their chattels," the statement read.

Christchurch Central MP Duncan Webb wanted the Free Theatre and the Arts Centre to meet as soon as possible to talk through the situation.

"The Free Theatre has asked that we have some discussions and the Arts Centre has said that they are happy to have some discussions, and that is great," he said.

"The Arts Centre and the Free Theatre are absolutely essential to what goes on in the central city, and we have to look after both parties."

Unless something changes this week, the company has to be out of The Gym by next Monday.