‘Through its use for a wide range of cultural activities - drama, music, opera, dance, films, lectures and forums – the new theatre will serve as a bridge between the university and the community,' (Maidment Arts Centre opening festival programme, April 1976).
Construction of main stage orchestra pit.
The Maidment’s origins date back to 1960 when Student President, Mr John Strevens, suggested that the new Student Union building should include a campus theatre. He gained strong support from two key figures: Professor Sydney Musgrove who was Head of the English Department, and keen to improve campus facilities for drama students, and Mr Vincent Ley who was Head of Finance, and also a set designer and playwright.
Clearing of the site began in 1973 with the demolition of Coverdale, the old house which had occupied the site. Designed by architects Warren and Mahoney the building includes two theatres in order to 'provide the greatest possible flexibility’. The architects also wanted every seat to feel close to the stage and for the exterior of the building to be as low as possible. This required building some of the theatre below ground level.
The total cost of the building, including lighting, sound systems and other specialised equipment was $1,000,000 (more than double the 1973 estimate). Half of the cost was met by the Students Association with the other half coming from University endowment funds and grants.
‘Maidment Theatre Arts Centre’ opening festival, 1976.
The Kenneth Maidment Theatre opened on 12 April 1976. The theatre was named after Dr Kenneth Maidment to honour his dedication to student welfare over his 21 years as Principal and then as first Vice-Chancellor of the University.
The official opening was a celebration season that included lectures, seminars, play readings, film, dance, music, art exhibitions and a production of The Balcony by Jean Genet.
The Students Association subsequently requested that the building name be changed to the Maidment Arts Centre to reflect the fact that there are two theatres in one building.
In 2000, a search began for a Māori title for the theatre. With the guidance of kuia, Dr Meremere Penfold, the name ‘Atamira’ – meaning a formal dais, podium or stage, was chosen. Since then the theatre has been known as Maidment Theatre - Te Atamira.
The original ‘Workshop Theatre’ – now known as the Musgrove Studio.
The smaller theatre has also undergone a number of name changes including the Workshop Theatre and B-Side. In 2004 it was renamed the Musgrove Studio Theatre to honour Professor Sydney Musgrove who was one of the original supporters of the theatre.
The other key supporter, Vincent Ley, has also been acknowledged in a memorial by artist Louise Henderson which sits in the window above the Maidment Theatre entrance.
In 1996 a substantial refurbishment of the theatre was undertaken. This included the addition of administration offices, a Green Room for performers, the installation of new theatre seats and substantial alterations to the entrances of both theatres. Ticketing services and audience facilities were also developed.
‘The Maidment Muses’ by Brett Graham are located in the foyer of the Maidment Theatre.
The Maidment Theatre foyer features work by prominent New Zealand artists namely, Barbree Gummer (Remembering the Hours), Don Binney (Wainamu Te Henga II) and a sculpture by Brett Graham specially commissioned for the Maidment (The Maidment Muses).
The theatre was envisaged to be an amenity for the whole University and a bridge into the community. It was to be used for the ‘widest possible range of the performing arts – drama, music, opera and dance – and for films, lectures, forums and a range of other student activities’, principles which continue to guide us today.