Works tell opera house his­tory

Boards give story of past per­form­ers

Wanganui Midweek - - NEWS - By PAUL BROOKS

A once in a life­time op­por­tu­nity to own a valu­able piece of Whanganui’s the­atre his­tory has ar­rived at Ex­pres­sions Gallery in Guy­ton St.

Three years ago, when work un­der­neath the stage at the Royal Whanganui Opera House was be­ing car­ried out, old dress­ing rooms were found and their walls were cov­ered in graf­fiti which dated back to the very early days of the the­atre.

As plays and mu­si­cals were staged, ac­tors, crew and orches­tra mem­bers wrote their names on the walls, along with the name and date of the pro­duc­tion, pre­serv­ing a his­tory of the old build­ing and its shows.

The walls were pho­tographed be­fore be­ing re­moved and stored.

From the Opera House they went to the Men’s Shed.

“They chain­sawed them into six foot pan­els,” says the Men’s Shed’s John McGowan, “Jim En­nis [of Friends of the Opera House] asked me if we could do some­thing with them, I said ‘yes, but how many’?”

It was a trailer load de­liv­ered in Septem­ber last year. They were pulled apart and John started group­ing them so sig­na­tures that be­longed to­gether stayed to­gether.

“So I man­aged to get a ‘one boarder’ and a ‘two boarder’ and it turned out to be a mis­match of sizes. But I wanted to get them into collectable boards be­fore do­ing any thing with them.”

In con­sul­ta­tion with Steve Selfe of Ex­pres­sions Gallery, they came up with a way to halt fur­ther de­cay of the his­toric wood.

“Steve sug­gested Cooper’s Mois­turiser,” says John, “It’s all orig­i­nal rimu.”

Find­ing Ex­pres­sions Gallery was a happy ac­ci­dent.

“I came in here and knew straight away, this was the right place for them,” says John. “A gallery, but not as you know it. And Steve’s back­ground is in fur­ni­ture restora­tion.”

John de­liv­ered 64 in­di­vid­ual pieces to Steve who, with the help of Chris­tine Haber, ar­ranged them into ways they could be pre­sented as art works.

“Chris­tine col­lated them on the floor,” says Steve, “And then we put them up on the wall.”

Some are one-sided, but a lot of the pieces have sig­na­tures and play in­for­ma­tion on both sides.

One large piece has been set aside to be pre­sented to the Opera House, but all the rest is now for sale at Ex­pres­sions.

They will look good hang­ing on some­one’s wall, but they also carry names from Whanganui’s past.

As the­atre was all am­a­teur, the peo­ple rep­re­sented in the sig­na­tures come from all walks of life. With many dat­ing back more than 100 years, there is ge­nealog­i­cal trea­sure in what came out from un­der the Opera House stage. Some names I recog­nised; oth­ers will find much more.

“There are plenty of Whanganui names in here,” says John. “And we’ve got things like ‘Miss Brown, Ex­otic Dancer’. There’s JC Wil­liamson — JCW — the tour­ing com­pany. They came from Aussie.”

As well as sig­na­tures and names there are draw­ings, an­cient posters and orig­i­nal sten­cilled signs like No Smok­ing.

The pieces and ar­range­ments are for sale and Ex­pres­sions, open through the week, is also part of Artists Open Stu­dios over the next two week­ends.

Steve Selfe, John McGowan and Chris­tine Haber with some of the ready-to-hang relics from the Opera House.

PIC­TURES / PAUL BROOKS

Four pieces ar­ranged as one art­work.

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