What lurks behind the curtains at New Zealand’s largest, and most iconic theatre?
The Auckland Civic Theatre is in the heart of Auckland City. It’s imposing Rococo facade looms over a busy and well-patronised intersection of bars, restaurants and retail outlets. The Foyer is decorated in the style of an Indian temple whilst the main theatre section employs an impressive and atmospheric “Arabian Nights” theme complete with a starlit domed sky, turrets, minarets and two large golden Abyssinian Panthers reclining on either side of the stage. The Civic’s interior houses six floors of dressing rooms, storage areas, function rooms, crew stations and operating apparatus consisting of complex pulley and cable machinery for screens and curtains.
The 2,750-seat capacity Civic Theatre opened on 20 December 1929 on the site of the former Auckland City Market. The design of the complex boasted some innovative features such as a large room in the basement (Wintergarden) from which the main cinema screen above was viewable, the second largest Wurlitzer organ in the Southern Hemisphere and a large orchestra pit that could be elevated up onto the main stage.
The Civic survived the great depression (despite the bankruptcy of its owner Thomas O’Brian) and it became a popular venue for American servicemen during the Second World War. The basement Wintergarden was transformed into a Cabaret and its resident scantily-clad adagio dance troupe kept the troops entertained with raucous and energetic performances. A particular member of the Wintergarden dance troupe, Miss Freda Stark was infamously daring and she had been known to perform on stage clad only in gold body paint or a g-string and feather headdress. Miss Stark’s ghost reputedly haunts the Civic despite the fact that she did not actually die in the theatre.
In the late 1990′s, the Civic was subject to an extensive renovation. It reopened on 20 December 1999, precisely 70 years after its first cinema screening. In addition to screening film festivals (with a revised seating capacity of 2,378), The Civic now hosts international stage musicals, concerts, conferences, functions and theatre productions.
Haunted Auckland has conducted 2 investigations of the Civic Theatre so far.
Check out the Haunted Auckland investigation reports.
The grave of Freda Stark; located at Waikumete Cemetery in Glen Eden, West Auckland.
Investigation 1 – http://hauntedauckland.com/site/auckland-civic-theatre/
Investigation 2 – http://hauntedauckland.com/site/auckland-civic-theatre-return/