BATS Theatre, operating out of site for the past two years, returns to its newly strengthened building at 1 Kent Terrace in Wellington later this year. Ed Watson tells us about the fundraising campaign to get there.
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BATS Theatre has nurtured emerging theatremakers from around the country since 1989*. The Fly BATS Home campaign aims to kit out the newly refurbished space with all the gear needed for state of the art performance spaces. Although $25,000 is the stated fundraising target, which was reached this week, the theatre is 'reaching for awesome' by raising as much as possible towards the lighting, sound and fittings needed. For more information go to flybatshome.
Renee Liang caught up with marketing and fundraising manager Ed Watson.
Tell us about the Fly BATS Home campaign - why is it needed?
The aim of the Fly BATS Home campaign is to raise the funds we need to realise the incredible potential of the refurbished BATS building at 1 Kent Terrace. All the construction work is being taken care of by the building’s owners, but it’s up to BATS to find the resources to turn the building back into a theatre again.
We’re suddenly going from a one-theatre space venue to a building with three potential performances spaces (or four, if you count the new bar!) so that expansion means there’s a lot of new tech gear and furniture for us to buy. Our mission is to make the most of those great new spaces, which we can only do with the support of the community.
We’ve seen some incredibly generous donations so far, and this week we’ve managed to reach our website target with a few days to spare, which is just phenomenal. The target is still only a part of the money we’re hoping to raise to make dream-BATS a reality, so we’re now aiming to make it to $30k in the next few days. That little bit extra will mean we’ll be able to buy green room and dressing room furniture that isn’t second-hand, and we’ll be in an even stronger position as we enter our final fundraising phase.
The campaign is a great chance for anyone who’s ever felt a connection to BATS over the last 25 years to be a part of building the theatre’s future. People donating to the campaign will be able to walk through the doors at the new BATS when we open later this year and think “I helped make this happen!”
What will the money pay for and what do you mean by 'reaching for awesome'?
Reaching for awesome is about striving for more than just making do. We don’t want the new BATS to be a space where creativity is held back by antique equipment or empty rooms that don’t have the all the facilities practitioners need.
Our fundraising is going towards the core theatre infrastructure, much of which will be for the new performance spaces, so that’s: drapes for the Grand Hall theatre, seating and staging, sound systems, lighting desks, grids and theatre lights made more recently than 1957!
We’ll need to buy couches that aren’t falling apart and stools that don’t sink when you sit on them. Reaching for awesome means recognising the brilliant potential of artists in this city by creating a place that allows for them to create the best most exciting new work possible.
It’s seems obvious to say, but we’re very much in a place where the more we raise the better the new BATS will be.
What if people are cash poor and time rich - how can they help?
Although even a $5 or $10 donation will go further than you might think, spreading the word is a big help too. Not everyone is going to be in a position to donate, but showing your connection in other ways can be just as valuable. We’ve seen some awesome outpouring of enthusiasm for BATS, and how it has supported and inspired people over the last 25 years.
Take the time to let your friends, family and creative colleagues know why BATS and NZ stories are important to you. Let us know about some of the best (or strangest) times you’ve had here. Sharing these stories creates such a positive atmosphere around the mission to build our new home, which rallies people to the cause!
Are you planning any special fundraising events?
Our campaign launch back in April was fantastic - BATS alumni Te Radar, Fly My Pretties, and Flight of the Conchords all made sure that was an awesome night, but there’s definitely scope for some pretty cool Fly BATS Home events in the next few months.
Coming up on the 28th of August we’re hosting The Great Political Comedy Debate with the No Fefe Collective, just in time for the Election! Ticket sales from that will go to the campaign, and there just might be a couple of other performance events in the works too...
Tell us about the events leading up to the purchase of the BATS building from the original owners.
1 Kent Terrace was previously owned by the Royal Antediluvian Society of Buffaloes, who ran their lodge rooms out of the upper levels of the building. Before them, the building had been home to a branch of the Savage Club, Unity Theatre, and the Bain and Austin Touring Society (which is where the acronym BATS comes from!). So it’s almost always been a home for performance and entertainment. After many years the stairs in the building became too difficult for some of the older Buffaloes to negotiate, so the building went up for sale in 2011.
When the sale was announced the BATS team went into overdrive investigating whether it was possible for BATS to buy the building - which was a pretty lofty goal. That’s when our well-known landlords stepped in, purchased the building, and offered BATS an affordable long term lease. Since then they have covered the cost of strengthening and renovating the building which is astoundingly generous and the most incredible endorsement of the role BATS has played in New Zealand theatre over the last twenty-five years.
I know there's been a lot of excitement, and a little mystery, around the rebirth of BATS. Can you give us a taste of what we're in for? What does 'dream BATS' look like?
Brilliant. Bigger, bolder, and battier than ever! The dream version of the new BATS has properly equipped performance spaces on all three levels, including a new flexible theatre in the Grand Hall on the first floor with professional sound and lighting gear. More money means better seats and furniture throughout, a nicer green room, more new lights, more staging, proper office desks and seats, and a quirkier swankier bar and foyer.
We’ve been thinking of the new building becoming a Wellington performance hub, a real cultural destination for the city, and I really believe it’s got the potential to live up to that.
BATS has always been a bit rough around the edges, which has been a big part of the character of the place as it speaks to a lot of the raw exciting work that happens here. The restoration is going to be beautiful, and because we’ll have a much nicer building, we’ll need to rise to the occasion without losing that unique BATS spirit.
The real spark that makes BATS an exciting place to be is brought by the people creating work and the people coming to see it – so I think the finished theatre will have an energy and atmosphere that will make it feel like home, even if it is fancier than days past.
What cool new spaces and features will you let theatremakers loose on?
The biggest feature has got to be more spaces to create!
The rehearsal and performance studio on the third floor should be an awesome new feature. It’s likely it will have a small seating block, and will be an intimate place for readings, development showings or seasons of smaller work. It could mean that more of the shows presented at BATS will have been developed and rehearsed here too.
Because we’re expanding, much of the gear will be brand new; that’s new sound and lighting consoles, and some LED lighting – which BATS has never had before. If we can raise enough to buy the equipment we want then theatre makers will be able to bring their ideas to life using some of the latest professional gear.
Some of the more everyday features will be exciting to people who knew the old building well; that’s things like more toilets, a laundry, a proper kitchen and a shower with actual hot water! You’ll also be able to sneak out of the main theatre’s operating box during a show without climbing down the world’s smallest trapdoor.
Will there be disabled access?
Yes, there will be ramp and doorway to the side of the main entrance – so wheelchair users won’t have to venture down that dingy alley and directly onto the stage anymore!
The small footprint of the building means that there’s nowhere to put an elevator unfortunately, but we’ll be getting a stair-climber to ensure the upstairs performance spaces are wheelchair accessible too.
Will you be sad to leave BATS out of site?
Part of me will! It’s been a pretty unique period in the theatre’s history which has been great to be a part of. I’m really proud of the fact that we were able to create a working theatre space in a sticky student bar in just four weeks and with very little money. It’s shown us that BATS can exist outside it’s usual home, and that art and community can thrive almost anywhere!
That said, there are lots of challenging features about this space I definitely won’t miss, like the on-stage pillar or the front steps which have meant no wheelchair access. This Out of Site building also needs more TLC than we’ve been able to give it, so it’s been pretty leaky and cold at times.
What are you personally the most excited about?
Several things; flexible seating in the Grand Hall theatre will mean we’ll get to see BATS shows in the round, or maybe in traverse which will open up some bold new opportunities on stage which is really exciting.
The new Green Room is another. I think having a designated hang out and crafting space will be pretty great for practitioners. I remember past opening nights for BATS shows I’ve worked on, having to awkwardly scoff dinner and fold programmes in a cramped corner of the foyer while Box Office staff mopped around me!
And of course the new bar - the old foyer space has been opened up, so although we’ve lost the cosy Pit Bar the new bar area should be big enough to mingle but small enough to still feel intimate, comfortable and uniquely BATS.
*BATS started as a amateur touring company in 1979 and became a presenting venue in 1989.