Manawatu Theatre Society
A Brief History

Todays Manawatu Theatre Society was originally formed from the two earlier societies active in Palmerston North, The Manawatu Repertory Society and the Palmerston North Little Theatre.

Founded in 1930 by Dorothy Baker, The Manawatu Repertory Society presented plays in the Concert Chambers, the old band Hall, The Opera House and in school halls, while rehearsing in homes or makeshift premises.  In 1949 the Society was eventually able to put down a deposit on Repertory Theatre which was situated on the corner of Princess and Church Streets.

Manawatu Repertory’s sister society, the Palmerston North Little Theatre, formed in 1935, was presenting plays in the old Empire Hall, All Saints Hall and the Central School Hall finally doing a swap with the city council and moving to the historic Coronation Hall, then known as The Little Theatre Playhouse in Main Street, Terrace End.

A love-hate relationship existed between the two societies which saw them join together for a major production then each swing away for rival productions.  Palmerston North benefited from these rivalries.  Standards were high and the year’s programmes were well filled as the two groups competed with full length plays, one-acts and large scale shows. 

During the War Years, the two societies contributed greatly to theatre in Palmerston North. They contributed to the war effort by donating profits to the Patriotic Fund and a concert party toured military hospitals.  Because of the war, there was a shortage of everything needed for productions so improvisation was the main thrust for so many things.  The Army transported the Revue Troupe to Whanganui and Levin where they entertained the troops.  The WAACs wanted to put on a play but had no producer so approached Evie Davidson, a long-standing member who was very actively involved at the time.  She agreed and shortly after they put on No 10, which the following year was placed second in the British Drama Festival.

By the time the war had ended Evie had completely immersed herself in Theatre work and was involved in producing, wardrobe work, make-up, setting and was also a member of the executive committee.

This stage of the Society’s history saw the merger of the two theatre groups.  In 1979, faced with the challenge of television and the need to plan for the future, the two societies decided to come together to form one strong amateur theatre society.  The Manawatu Theatre Society was born of this merger.

Most of the original older members had by this time either died or moved from Palmerston North so the society was made up of a new generation.  Evie Davidson retired in part from the society’s more strenuous tasks, but still continued to serve on the executive committee. 

It continued the traditions of the two societies that had done so much for the theatre life of the city.  The Little Theatre Playhouse, the home of the Little Theatre Society was selected as the performance venue, while the Repertory Theatre was established as a workshop, rehearsal and wardrobe storage area.  On May 8th 1971 The Little Theatre Playhouse opened with the first combined production of A Delicate Balance.   

Finally, in November 1982 Manawatu Theatre Society sold the Repertory Theatre premises and with the support of the Palmerston North City Council went into a partnership to build the Globe Theatre which became the home theatre for the society.  The Globe got its name from the unique circular design of the building, the inspiration of which came from Shakespeare’s original famous open-air circular theatre in London.  The building was designed by local architect Brian Elliot, who returned to design the theatre’s major redevelopments in 2014, with the addition of a second auditorium and an extension to the foyer and café/bar area.  This redevelopment won a well-deserved NZ Architecture Award.   Fortunately, the ‘old’ circular building has not been lost and can still be seen within the new structure.

The Manawatu Theatre Society used the design of the building as its original logo. The stylised ‘m’  represents the members of the society.  The ‘t’ represents the support of all the members towards the goals, progress and movement towards success thus the fluttering flag at the top.  The ‘s’ represents the community who become involved in various forms within the society.  The ‘s’ is low and flat meaning that no one person can claim total credit for a social evening production etc.  It is the community that takes the credit. 

This logo has changed over the years for various reasons, however, we have finally come full circle to again redesign the logo to depict both the old and the new buildings as one as a tribute to not only this theatre that we have grown to love but to all those in the city who have spent countless hours providing entertainment for the citizens of the Manawatu. 

We follow on from those who have gone before, and strive to carry on the legacy they have left us.  

Current Committee

Val Bolter

Vice President
Mark Kilsby

Charles Forbes

Kirsty Blair

Committee Members
Steph Milne
Ben White
Paul Lyons
Jackie Davis
Michelle Robinson
Demelza Darby