Who Are We?

Variety Theatre Ashburton (legal name Ashburton Operatic Society) was formed in 1960 and staged its first production in 1961. With a membership of approximately 150, the Society aims to stage productions in a variety of genres and provide opportunities for people to develop their skills. They stage two shows each year, a major musical in April/May and a theatre restaurant production, youth production or drama in September/October. Variety Theatre changed its name from Ashburton Operatic Society in 2010 in order to create a fresh identity and to remain relevant in our ever changing society that is so full of variety every day.

History of Variety Theatre

The very first entry in the Minute Books of the Society includes the following:
“Report on a meeting held in the Radiant Hall on Tuesday 11th October 1960, convened by the Mayor, Mr J. Davidson, with a view to forming an operatic society…approximately 80 people attended…It was moved by Mr C. Moody, Second Mr D. Bell, that a Mid-Canterbury Operatic Society be formed.” And so, the Society was born. In 1966 it changed its name to Ashburton Operatic Society.

The Society’s first production was in May 1961 when it presented “The Boyfriend” – admission charges being the non-metric equivalent of 77 cents, 90 cents, and $1.10 per person, plus a 5 cent booking fee. Since then it has successfully staged high-class musical shows for the enjoyment and entertainment of theatre goers of the Ashburton district. It has become very much a part of the theatre scene of the district and many performers have commenced their operatic careers through their involvement with the Society.

The Society owes a debt of gratitude to a long list of loyal and enthusiastic members who have served the Society, not only through performances on stage and “in the wings”, but also in administrative positions as officers of the organisation. There are many individuals who have given outstanding service to the Society in numerous ways.

Producing a full operatic show in the Regent Theatre, with its limited back stage facilities was not always easy, but problems have always been faced up to and overcome. Up until 1979 the Society stored most of its assets – costumes, props, and all the paraphernalia associated with operatic work – in an old wooden two storied house on the M.S.A. Bowling Club’s property in Racecourse Road. Additional space was made use of above the entrance to the Arcade in Burnett Street. In 1979 the Society was able to purchase the property in Wills Street, directly opposite the Regent Theatre. This was a major coup for the Society and less than a year later, through the generous assistance from the General Purposes Distribution Committee of the N.Z. Lottery Board; the building was made debt free. This was a major event in the Society’s history and it has made good use of that building. Many hours have been spent by Society members in making the building suitable for a wide variety of uses and current members acknowledge the work of former members in making this venue so useful.

In 1980 the Society commenced producing two shows each year and this has continued ever since. The second productions have proved to be financial successes and this has assisted the society during a period when the costs of productions have been rising each year.

In August 1993 the Society successfully tendered to buy the Regent Theatre when its owner, Pacer Kerridge, went into receivership. This move ensured that the Society would retain its triditional performing venue. A charitable trust was formed in 1994 to oversee the day to day operations of the theatre and the initial members of the trust were George Brown, Russell Anstiss, Alan McQuarters, Mona Reddecliffe, Ann Woodham, Don Wilson, Noel Johnson, and Malcolm Monteath. Current members of the Theatre Trust include Derrick Cullimore, Roger Farr, Yvonne Harrison and Jim Lischner. A fund-raising organisation – Friends of the Regent Theatre – was formed about the same time as the trust, with a view to working to raise funds for maintenance, refurbishment, and eventual replacement of the theatre.

For many years the Society has offered a costume hire service to the public of Ashburton and this has proved to be a worthwhile venture. In 1997 the service moved its whole operation to new premises in the Creek Road Shopping Centre where it continued until a building was purchased in The Triangle, Victoria Street. This proved a very wise move as it is more central for the very popular business of costume hireage, but also has the added advantage of backing onto the Society’s rooms in Wills Street.

Since its inception the Society has taken a full and active interest in the affairs of the Musical Theatre Federation of New Zealand. The highlight of its involvement in this area was in 1999 when it hosted the Federation’s Annual Conference in Ashburton. When opening the Conference the then Prime Minister Jenny Shipley, said “..not-for-profit musical groups an societies make it possible for a wider range of people to experience the beauty and inspiration of live musical theatre. They make a difference to communities like Ashburton by uplifting, inspiring and entertaining people.” The Ashburton Operatic Society heartily agrees with, and endorses, those sentiments.


Our Mission Statement

Variety Theatre Ashburton will strive to:

Cultivate and advance all aspects of theatre for the enjoyment of the community.