Thumbs up for theatre
Injection of funds a bonus
BY BRENDA VOWDEN
The Hawke’s Bay Opera House will usher in a new improved-look theatre when the proposed strengthening of the building gets underway this year.
Last week’s announcement of a $4 million injection to get the ball rolling has met with excitement by former ushers Margaret Hooper and Jean McKay. “Every time I sit at the supermarket and have a cup of coffee and look across, I wonder when it’s going to be open,” Margaret says.
Her prayers may be answered after the government’s announced injection of funds towards the estimated $11m cost of the project. The grant will add to the $500,000 already raised from the Regional Culture and Heritage Fund.
Jean remembers the 1950s when both women were teenagers and had part-time jobs ushering theatre goers to their seats.
“All those lovely shows that used to come – it was marvellous.”
Some of those shows included the The Seekers, the Vienna Boys’ Choir and New Zealand soprano Mina Foley.
“Sometimes they were on for a week. We were on duty but we were allowed to watch if we wanted to,” Jean says.
The pair, both in their 80s, also remember attending the Opera House as children. Margaret’s father was a ﬁreman and with one officer required to be on duty during a show, Margaret was allowed to accompany her dad “if I behaved”.
“I remember as a school kid queuing up to get ‘up in the Gods’. I remember climbing up those steps.
“We also had fun sessions during the war as fundraisers and dressed up if there was something special on.”
Margaret and Jean’s patch was downstairs in the stalls and both remember ushering guests to watch both visiting acts from overseas and many Kiwi performers who graced the stage.
“We walked in the front through the doors and there was basically just a middle aisle – that’s gone now. It’s still a beautiful theatre with the big boxes – they haven’t got rid of them. Those beautiful, big ﬂowers on the sides.”
Margaret says they either walked or hiked to work – she was born and bred “in the area of the theatre”.
“It was lovely – I loved that job. That’s why I always think it’s in my blood. It’s still gorgeous.” Jean believes the Opera House needs to be opened for the next generation.
“A lot of the younger ones have probably never seen inside the theatre. As long as they open it again.”
Margaret says once people know it’s going to be opened they will donate.
“It’s a beautiful theatre.
“It’s those brick walls that are the worry. It’s going to be a hang of a job to strengthen it – as long as they get it going again.”
Photo caption – LOOKING FORWARD: Former Hawke’s Bay Opera House ushers Margaret Hooper (right) and Jean McKay.
PHOTO: PAUL TAYLOR