Kiwi actor Sam Neill is backing a campaign to rebuild the Christchurch theatre where his acting career began.
The star of hit movies like Jurassic Park, Hunt for the Wilderpeople and The Piano has supported a $5 million fundraising campaign to rebuild the Ngaio Marsh Theatre on the University of Canterbury campus.
Dame Ngaio Marsh was a director and patron of theatre, especially Shakespeare, at the university between 1942 and 1969.
Neill first started acting while studying English literature at the university in the 1960s. He played Theseus in a 1969 production of Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Marsh in the theatre.
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The original theatre, which opened in 1966, was part of the University of Canterbury Students’ Association (UCSA) building, which was demolished at the end of last year. The building had been sitting empty since it was damaged in the 2011 earthquakes.
The new theatre will be incorporated into the new $28 million UCSA building, which will begin construction in July and is scheduled to open in February 2019.
Neill said he was pleased to help with the fundraising campaign.
“I was fortunate enough to be at Canterbury University where my interest in acting was very much fuelled by the good luck of being directed by Dame Ngaio Marsh,” he said.
“I’m delighted to hear that the decision has been made to rebuild the theatre within the University of Canterbury Students’ Association’s new building. This is very good news for students and the community and their future.
UCSA vice president Emily Barker said the new $28m building was funded through an insurance claim, UCSA profits and about $14m from the University of Canterbury. The UCSA will pay 51 per cent of the construction costs so it can retain ownership of the new building.
The funding campaign will raise the $5 million shortfall for the UCSA’s contribution.
“It has been a long process because the insurance claim was part of the University of Canterbury’s total insurance claim after the earthquakes,” Barker said.
The new theatre will be a flexible space with retractable seating.
Neill reopened the theatre after it was refurbished in 2002. He said at the time that the theatre played an important role in his development as an actor.
“I feel very privileged to have worked with people such as Ngaio Marsh. It was a great way to start.”
“I remember nothing from all the lectures I went to, not that I went to that many, but I do remember what happened in this particular place.”
He said the theatre had played a critical role in his own development.