Originally on the site where the Playhouse Theatre now stands at 15 Glendale Road, Glen Eden in West Auckland there was a wooden building that served as a public hall and offices for the Glen Eden Town Board. This was destroyed by fire on 10th February, 1935.
At a Town Board meeting on 13th May 1935, the architect, Mr Arthur Marshall presented final plans and specifications for a replacement hall building. In June a tender of £3,300 was accepted from W. C. Curtis and building of the new hall proceeded. Despite being in the period of the Depression, construction was completed quickly and the new hall took on all the functions of the old. A supper room and projection box was also added making the hall a much more versatile building.
The new Glen Eden Town Hall was officially opened on Coronation Day, 12th May, 1937, a celebratory ball being held in the evening. Apart from housing Town Board Offices, the building was also used as a library, dance venue, for school and community events as well as Indoor Bowling tournaments. From its opening however, one of its main functions was as a cinema. When the town offices and library moved, it became known as the “Star Theatre”. The local fire station was located behind the picture theatre and many times a film would be interrupted by the sound of bells calling the local volunteer brigade. In the 1960’s it was not unusual for the small suburban cinemas to find it increasingly difficult to compete with alternative entertainment, the most obvious being television. Screening of movies gradually ceased and in 1972 the “Star Theatre” officially closed due to declining financial viability. As fate would have it however, the venue was about to become a “theatre of stars”.
A committee member of Auckland Children’s Light Opera Society worked as a doorman for the Star and after a casual mention that the cinema was no longer in use, this became the catalyst for the idea of using the building as a performing arts facility. Delegates from three local theatre groups – St. Thomas’s Light Opera Club, Western Players and Auckland Children’s Light Opera Society met on the 7th August 1972 and voted to make an application to the Glen Eden Borough Council to obtain the lease of the hall for their combined use. The groups would operate independently under one umbrella known as Playhouse Productions and the building would have a name change to Playhouse Theatre. Tenancy to Playhouse Productions was approved in 1972. Then the work began. Twenty-five years of assorted accumulation had to be cleared from the building and a great deal of effort was needed by dedicated volunteers to transform the old town hall into a “live” theatre. Playhouse Productions became an incorporated society in 1973.
Over the next ten years, theatre members raised funds and made major improvements to the venue that included extensions of the stage, installing a new proscenium arch, building an orchestra pit, creating additional stage entrances, new seating, carpeting, an upgraded foyer, supper room and snack bar. Lighting, sound and curtain rigs were also installed and improvements made to the dressing rooms. In 1992 Playhouse Productions Inc. celebrated a 20th Anniversary and reminisced on the staging of over 87 shows staged since 1972 that included musicals, comedies, children’s shows, plays and assorted entertainments. A further amalgamation of the three theatre groups came about in 1993 when their stage productions came under the jurisdiction of one body that it is now known as Playhouse Theatre Incorporated.
As the new millennium approached it was recognized that the grand old theatre needed a facelift and upgrading to comply with the latest building regulations necessary for a public venue. Community funding grants could not be used to finance the refurbishment of a council owned building and this necessitated the formation of a Theatre Trust. Playhouse Theatre Inc. relinquished their lease on the building that would have run until 2028 so that the theatre upgrade could proceed.
The original Waitakere Playhouse Theatre Trust was formed in 1997 and after fundraising efforts secured over $2 million, they embarked on the biggest rebuild of the theatre to date. Contributors to the project included Portage Charitable Trust, Waitakere City Council, ASB Charitable Trust, Lotteries Board, ARST Funding (Waitakere and North Shore) and Playhouse Theatre Inc.
Work on the new theatre began in February 2002 and demolition continued until only the historical shell of the Playhouse remained. Plans for the new theatre included remodeling of the Front of House area to include a new theatre office, improved supper room with a large serving bar, extra toilets, an inner foyer with staircases either side leading to a mezzanine theatre seating area (38 seats), a raked, air-conditioned auditorium with seating for 202, a lighting bridge over the auditorium, an enlarged 120 square metre stage area incorporating a 6 metre motorized revolve, an orchestra pit, full sound/lighting and curtain rigs, a large backstage green room area and spacious dressing rooms with adjacent showers and toilet facilities.
A completely revamped Playhouse Theatre re-opened in March 2003 with great celebration. A toe-tapping musical “Anything Goes” was the first production staged by Playhouse Theatre Incorporated in the new performing arts facility and the Gala Opening was attended by local dignitaries and many of the people who helped to bring this huge project to fruition.
Playhouse Theatre, Glen Eden has continued to be a centre of entertainment for Waitakere City and beyond ever since and offers one of the finest theatre facilities around. The venue is now in continual use by our resident theatre company, Playhouse Theatre Incorporated (P.T.I.) as well as a large number of community, professional and corporate organizations that present a multitude of performing arts events each year.
Future support for this iconic and much-loved building is assured.