The team at The Court Theatre are incredibly sad to hear that Dunedin’s Fortune Theatre has closed its doors this morning.
Fortune Theatre was the world’s southernmost professional theatre company and its closure leaves The Court Theatre as the only professional theatre company remaining in the South Island.
Founded in 1973 by television producers Alex Gilchrist, Murray Hutchinson, Huntly Elliot and lecturer David Carnegie, Fortune Theatre began its life in the Athenaeum building in Dunedin’s central city Octagon with a 102-seat theatre. Five years later following success and the appointment of a permanent theatre company, Fortune outgrew the space and bought its permanent home, the former Trinity Methodist Church on the corner of Moray Place and Upper Stuart Street.
Graded as a Category 1 Historic Building by Heritage New Zealand, the theatre was an intimate space for audiences, producing a range of shows in two dedicated theatres; a 227 seat main stage and a second, smaller studio with 102 seats.
The 19th Century Gothic-Revival style building was the focus of a Ghost Hunt investigation in 2005, the theatre living in Dunedin folklore for its rumoured phantom audience members who liked to attend the occasional show.
Despite the ghosts, the theatre performed over 400 shows in its impressive 44-year history, its last a retelling of Homer’s classic Greek story, An Iliad that was a hit with audiences and closed earlier this month.
In an effort to cut costs and secure their future, Fortune sold the building to the Dunedin City Council in 2000, allowing it to rent their building from this date.
Prominent New Zealand playwright Roger Hall was famously involved with the theatre and its fundraising, holding a position as Chairman of the board in the late 1980s. Hall had a longstanding relationship with the theatre, with Fortune having performed more Roger Hall plays than any other company in New Zealand (36 in total). Of the 32 Fortune Theatre productions that sold more than 4000 seats, 19 of these were written by Hall himself.
Like The Court, Fortune Theatre was a home for world-class theatre in the South Island – both from right here in our backyard and further afield. The Court feel the loss of Fortune Theatre keenly for the 11-permanent staff; the artists and practitioners who can no longer call Fortune Theatre home and for Dunedin and the wide Otago region itself, who have lost a piece of their community.
We believe that Dunedin can and will continue to bring challenging, immersive and professional theatre to its city – and will do so soon.