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BATS Theatre is New Zealand's leading venue for the development of new theatre practitioners and plays. Most of the productions at BATS Theatre are New Zealand works. Ninety per cent of its annual programme of 50 to 60 shows are New Zealand and world premieres. Despite its small size, BATS has a significant effect on the country's cultural landscape and complements the work of the other larger venues in the capital, Circa Theatre and Downstage Theatre. BATS is largely funded by Creative New Zealand and ticket sales. The name BATS is an acronym of Bane & Austin Touring Society.
Established in its present form by Simon Bennett and Simon Elson in 1989, the 100-seat venue is located in the central city of the country's capital, Wellington. BATS began as a venue for the work of young and emerging writers, directors and actors, many of whom were graduates of Toi Whakaari, New Zealand's National Drama School.
A significant theatre programme started in the 1990s at BATS is the Young and Hungry season, showcasing new writers and developing theatre talent. The successful annual season has grown to other cities in recent years with Auckland Theatre Company recently presenting productions of the same scripts. BATS also runs the STAB season annually. The venue is billed as the 'heart' of Wellington's annual Fringe Festival. It also participates in the annual NZ Comedy Festival, hosting both local and international acts.
The venue continues to be a home to much of Wellington's young and experimental theatrical talent, with titles such as On the Conditions and Possibilities of Helen Clark Taking Me as Her Young Lover, The Intricate Art of Actually Caring and After Kafka. BATS has also hosted many works by Paul Rothwell, winner of the 2008 Bruce Mason Award, including the premiere seasons of Deliver Us, Hate Crimes and The Blackening. The theatre's highest-selling show to date is Fitz Bunny: Lust for Glory (2007), based on long-running comic Brunswick by Wellington cartoonist Grant Buist. BATS frequently hosts two or three different plays in one night.
Many productions which started at BATS have gone on to gain national and international success, including Ken Duncum's Blue Sky Boys (1991), the farce The Sex Fiend (1989) by Stephen Sinclair and Danny Mulheron, Frangipani Perfume (1998) by Makerita Urale, and APOLLO 13: Mission Control (2008) by Kip Chapman. Other successful New Zealand names in theatre and comedy have presented early works at BATS, including Flight of the Conchords, Duncan Sarkies, So You're a Man, The Naked Samoans and Maori playwrights Hone Kouka and Riwia Brown.
The BATS Theatre is located inside the iconic Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes Lodge Building at 1 Kent Terrace Wellington City. The building was originally built for the Manchester Unity Independent Order of Oddfellows in the 1930s. It was later owned by the Savage Club. In the 1970s the Buffaloes purchased the building and it has served as the site of their lodge temple for Wellington City based lodges ever since until it was sold in 2011. At that time the temple was home to the Kia Ora Lodge No 28, which is the second oldest RAOB Lodge in Wellington having been founded in 1925. The temple was also home to the Victory Lodge No 21 of the Grand Council section of the RAOB. Victory Lodge was established in 1944. The Lodge temple was located on the second floor of the building and is often used for rehearsal space for plays.
- "The stars who shined through bats". The Dominion Post.
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- Cardy, Tom (26 November 2011). "Peter Jackson may expand Bats theatre". Stuff. Retrieved 16 January 2012.