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BATS Theatre is an intimate theatre venue at 1 Kent Terrace in Wellington, New Zealand. It has been running since 1989, for over 30 years, and has seen the development of many performing arts talents of New Zealand. The name BATS is an acronym of Bane & Austin Touring Society.
Originally created by Rodney Bane and David Austin in the 1970's it has been used a performance venue since the 1940's. It used to be owned by The Savage Club and from 1944 to 1976 it was used as a dance hall and venue for amateur theatre company Unity Theatre.
BATS was established in its present form by Simon Bennett and Simon Elson in 1989. 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. Since 1989 the fundamental philosophy of BATS has been to build a new young audience for theatre by presenting diverse, relevant and challenging performance work. BATS focuses on being accessible for both its audience and incoming theatre companies, giving support to many developing arts practitioners and new New Zealand work.
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 New Zealand Fringe Festival. This festival was established at BATS in 1989, originally called The BATS Fringe Fest. It also participates in the annual NZ Comedy Festival, hosting both local and international acts.
BATS Theatre is located in the central city of the country's capital, Wellington. Most of the productions at BATS Theatre are New Zealand works. Ninety per cent of its annual programme of 60 to 70 shows are New Zealand and world premieres. BATS is largely funded by Creative New Zealand and Wellington City Council.
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 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 many significant new New Zealand plays. Successful and memorable productions include the farce The Sex Fiend (1989) by Stephen Sinclair and Danny Mulheron, Ken Duncum's Blue Sky Boys (1991), Verbatim (1993) by Miranda Harcourt, Frangipani Perfume (1998) by Makerita Urale, Banging Cymbal, Clanging Gong (2002) by Jo Randerson, Vula (2002) directed by Nina Nawalowalo, And What Remains (2006) by Miria George and Apollo 13: Mission Control (2008) by Kip Chapman. Krishnan's Dairy by Jacob Rajan premiered at BATS in 1997 and is being adapted into a feature film.
Other successful New Zealand names in theatre and comedy have presented early works at BATS, including Flight of the Conchords, Duncan Sarkies, Rhys Darby, So You're a Man, The Naked Samoans and Maori playwrights Hone Kouka and Riwia Brown. The comedy play Benedict Cumberbatch Must Die written by Abby Howells, premiered at BATS temporary 'Out of Site' venue in June 2014.
The BATS Theatre is located inside the iconic Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes (RAOB) 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 building was purchased by film director Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh in 2011, and underwent extensive renovation and earthquake strengthening reopening at the renovated 1 Kent Terrace on 22 November 2014. There are now two new performance spaces, (three in total) as well as updated sound and lighting equipment and furnishings. The largest performance space has an audience capacity of just under 100 people.
During the renovations BATS relocated to a temporary theatre space on Wellington's iconic Cuba Street. The temporary theatre and bar was branded BATS: Out of Site, and was in operation for 2013 and much of 2014.
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