Wellington’s St James’s Theater has been brought back to life

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Wellington’s entertainment scene’s cherished golden crown is officially back with the reopening of the St James Theater tonight.

It has been closed since 2019 for earthquake reinforcement, but finally life, light and music are returning to the 110-year-old place.

Wellington City Council property manager Peter Brennan said it was “fantastic to return one of Wellington’s favorite buildings…it looks fantastic”.

“It’s been almost four years since we’ve had a show and it’s just very, very exciting for everyone who worked on the project, but especially for the public in Wellington and the taxpayers.”


Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

The plaster cast cherubs have been lovingly redone in blushing roses, the large dome above the stage is gilded with gold.

The seats have been renovated, there are new air conditioning, wiring, lighting and stage systems.

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And the massive hand-pulled rope rigging system that controls the curtains and lights was taken down bolt by bolt, refurbished and reinstalled.

The rigging features in some of the supernatural lore of the place.

There have been numerous reports of ghosts over the years, including Yuri, a Russian performer who is believed to have fallen from the rigging – or been pushed – to his death.

The spirit is credited with saving the life of a projectionist on several occasions, while other spirits are said to be behind strange happenings to the female lead performers at the location over the years.

Project lead Chris Kooge said his team didn’t have any ghostly experiences during the project, but they did play some weird tricks on each other for laughs.

“A few times we had a few megaphones and wailing music and we just watched people’s reactions.

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“A few lights on and off… just to keep the heart light, to keep the boys in good spirits.”

The earthquake renovation and reinforcement cost $42 million.

Spencer Brown, project manager for engineering firm Beca, said large reinforced concrete walls and other work in the ceiling make up the bulk of the new earthquake protection.

Almost everything will be invisible to bettors, but Brown was excited about the NASA-developed shock absorbers you can see running through the foyer windows.

St. James Theater


Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

“Indeed there is a piston that comes and goes [in an earthquake] so that this essentially eliminates the seismic load and takes [it] to the foundations.

“We put new poles on the ground [in].”

Warrick Dent, managing director of events and experiences at council venues organisation, WellingtonNZ, said the reopening of St James was invigorating for the town after a difficult few years.

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“There is a nice program of events between now and Christmas, and a real variety.

“Teeks and the NZSO for the next three nights, which is a fantastic way to open the venue, especially with Teeks being a young contemporary artist, and Matariki being really special.”

Upcoming shows include Wellington Opera – La TraviataRyman Healthcare Cinderella SeasonThe miserable and macbeth.

There will be street lighting on July 1 and a series of celebrations the following day, including tours of the theater in the afternoon, as well as open days at other venues around the city.

There, there will then be a performance parade to the St James, followed by a street party.

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