Nelson Repertory Theatre is a voluntary society.
An article in the Nelson Evening Mail of November 2 1946 states the Theatre Royal to have been built by the ”two Oddfellows Lodges . . . to provide a theatre . . . and to serve as a meeting place for members . . .” in fact these Lodges did not build it and they already had a meeting house built on the next site in 1854.
The Colonist of May 16 1878 gives a careful and admiring description of the theatre then nearing completion and states it to have been built ”by a company, chiefly composed of Oddfellows” and the certificates of title show the owner of part of the land in 1878 to have been Samuel Bolton who owned a market garden where the Army Department is today. Sam Bolton sold to the trustees of the Loyal Howard and Loyal Nelson Lodges in 1884 and was manager until the trustees sold it in 1905.
What is interesting is that a group of people with foresight built a theatre seating 800* in a town with a population of some 6000. (*150 in the stalls behind the orchestra; 250 in the front seats; 200 in the cheapest seats beneath the gallery and 200 in the dress circle.) ”… very desirable, that with these arrangements ill behaved boys and men cannot hide themselves in the gallery where they would not be subject to inspection, for the purpose of annoying the more decent members of the community.”
The 1890s saw the Theatre Royal in frequent use with a great variety of entertainment. Melodrama, unrivalled baritones, and the first intimations of the art of film and projection that was later nearly to eclipse theatre. The Montague-Turner English Opera Company staged five different operas in five nights, a staging challenge as the fly tower had not been built over the stage and even the boxes and corridors had not been added. All the same, between Saturday October 15 1892 and the following Thursday Nelsonians could see Maritana, Trovatore, Bohemian Girl, Faust and Martha all for as little as 10/-.
Nelson Repertory Club was formed in October 1934, in 1944 became an incorporated society, took the plunge and bought the Theatre Royal thereby almost certainly saving it as a theatre. Hugh Leggatt, Gordon Kirk, J.W. Russell – these were some of the men behind this enterprising move.
Nelson Repertory Theatre Inc has its home, its base, in the heart of the Theatre Royal at 78 Rutherford Street, Nelson.
In 2002 Nelson Repertory Theatre sold the Theatre Royal to the Nelson Historic Theatre Trust to undertake fundraising for the refurbishment of the Theatre Royal and also take on the management of the theatre as a working venue.
Part of the terms of sale were that Nelson Repertory Theatre Inc would occupy a committee room, rehearsal space and associated construction areas, for life.