Fast-growing Hamilton has one of the youngest populations in the country and is becoming a cosmopolitan ‘little big city’.
The lifestyle in The Tron is attracting talent from around the world, but for many years its CBD has struggled to fulfil its potential as a place to work, live and play - a gap in the city’s overall offering. Recent new developments, including tidy apartment blocks and smartly refurbished commercial space, have begun the change, but the critical mass required for high-density, car-free, culturally rich inner-city bustle has not yet been achieved.
The Waikato Regional Theatre planned by Momentum Waikato is the project to achieve this transformation in the CBD, a fact recognised by one of its future neighbours. Vicky McLennan, the Deputy Chair of Trust Waikato and former Principal of Waikato Diocesan School for Girls, lives on Sapper Moore-Jones Place, immediately adjacent to the new theatre’s south face.
“I believe the proposed site of the new theatre in the South End of Victoria Street will be the key to its impact,” says Vicky.
“To be a real city, Hamilton needs a thriving cultural precinct that evokes local flavour and identity, to set it apart from other towns. One that reflects our region’s stories and showcases our tāonga, heritage and talent, that provides opportunities for national and international acts to cross-pollinate and inspire the local arts community.
“For visitors to Kirikiriroa, the theatre will be close to accommodation, food and entertainment, Te Whāre Tāonga O Waikato and ArtsPost and the increasing number of little galleries popping up in the surrounding streets. It will also join Victoria on the River in connecting the CBD to the river and its paths linking to our world-class Hamilton Gardens.”
Vicky’s background in education means she sees more than ‘bricks and mortar’ in the theatre’s potential and is embracing Momentum Waikato’s vision of local youngsters seeing top international talent on the same stage where they themselves can perform.
“My experiences as a Principal taught me how important it is to provide authentic learning contexts for young people. What is more authentic than productions in a professional theatre to inspire, grow and celebrate talent?
For Vicky, the Stan Walker workshop hosted by Momentum Waikato and Zeal Hamilton last year, which was attended by students from across the region, showed how the new theatre can connect with secondary schools' programmes.
“The capacity of a quality venue to attract performers, participants, learners and audiences from throughout the Waikato and beyond is clear. Such collaboration is essential to the vitality and wellbeing of the region.”