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BATS Theatre is New Zealand's leading venue for the development of new theatre practitioners and plays. The recently renovated venue has three intimate performance spaces and 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 name BATS is an acronym of Bane & Austin Touring Society.
Originally created by Rodney Bane and David Austin in the 1970s 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.
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 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) by Dianna Fuemana, 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 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.
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.
BATS theatre reopened at the renovated 1 Kent Terrace on 22 November 2014. The expanded facilities include two new performance spaces, as well as updated sound and lighting equipment and furnishings.
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