• Brooke Patricia


Updated: Sep 3, 2021

Maurice Rowe helped save the Regent Theatre and with it so many opportunities for performers, myself included, to step on its stage.

He stepped down from the chairmanship of the Regent Theatre Trust Board in September 2017 and is now retiring as a trustee of the Board.

The lawyer was first involved with the theatre in the early 1990s, when he was asked by Mayor Paul Regier if he would chair a trust to formalise efforts which were being made by a loosely knit community group mounting a “Save the Regent” campaign.

The theatre, which formerly operated as a cinema from when it was built around 1930, was closed at the time. But it remained in the ownership of Kerridge Odeon Corporation Limited which had fallen into receivership. Rumours were circulating of a possible sale for demolition and redevelopment of the property.

The function of the envisaged trust would be to investigate the possibility of the acquisition of the theatre as a community asset, subject to the trust being able to procure funding from the community.

“I was keen to become involved as I had in my high school days developed a close affinity for the grandly ornate interior of the theatre, which I had visited as a cinema and also by participating in various high school visits for some Shakespearean stage performances there,” says Maurice.

“I was captivated by the internal decor which I firmly believed warranted preservation for its heritage value.”

He therefore proposed that an approach should be made to Heritage New Zealand and a listing was obtained.

An application to the Council for funding to enable the purchase to proceed was approved on the basis that the Council take over ownership of the theatre, with the trust to be responsible for operational matters.

The Council then became actively involved in considering the restorations needed for it to become a long term community venue. Four options represented progressively additional improvements and comparable expenses.

Maurice strenuously advocated for the significantly more expensive option because it included the installation of air-conditioning.

“I remembered as a high school student sitting in the higher rows of the upstairs of the theatre in sweltering summer conditions when at the half time interval all the upstairs external entry/exit doors needed to be opened to allow cool air to be circulated,” he says.

Fortunately, the Council approved Maurice’s submission. An extensive public fundraising campaign was subsequently undertaken by the trust to raise a portion of the costs which would be involved, with the Council’s expectation that the campaign should raise around $2,000,000 being almost achieved.

The restoration of the theatre was duly completed and it reopened in May 1998 with a well attended official opening ceremony.

“It has given me much pleasure to have had the opportunity to serve on the Regent Theatre Trust Board over a period which is now nearly 30 years, and I count it a privilege to have been able to do so,” says Maurice.

He pays tribute to the Board, Regent General Manager Charles Forbes, legendary local artistic director Pat Snoxell, the Friends of the Regent, and the many members of that independent association.

“We are very fortunate to have live theatre in Palmerston North. Having organisations which enable local participants to explore and develop their talents is a fundamental part of a vibrant local art scene,” says Maurice.

“When I had the privilege of addressing a full house of the Regent at the official reopening ceremony in 1998, I concluded my comments with, “Long live the Regent!”.

A personal thank you from me, Maurice, for doing so much for so long to keep Palmerston North theatre alive, as it gave me my start.