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Show goes on...Don George says it will be first in first served when tickets are issued. PHOTO: CHRIS TOBIN

by Chris Tobin

Entry to the popular Timaru Carols by Candlelight will be by ticket only this year because of a last-minute change of venue after the Timaru District Council declared the Theatre Royal unsafe.

The annual event is run by Rotary Club of Timaru.

Club member Don George said the club had booked the theatre in June and was advised only on November 18 that the council had made it unavailable because of safety concerns.

This was three days after the Imperial Russian Ballet performed Swan Lake in the theatre.

The late notice had disappointed the club and as a result of losing its usual venue members had to make changes to the free event.

“The council’s offer was to hold it at the Caroline Bay Hall but it’s a logistical nightmare to run something in there,” Mr George said.

“We have a brass band and singers on stage for the carols and you couldn’t do that down there.”

Another issue was that the Theatre Royal had a capacity for 1000 people, while the Caroline Bay Hall was half that number.

“We haven’t had as many attending in recent years due to changing society.

“Years ago the Theatre Royal would be packed out and people had to stand in the aisles, which you are not allowed to do now because of health and safety.”

Numbers attending in recent years had been between 600 and 800 people.

Closed…The Timaru Theatre Royal has now closed for a $24m redevelopment. PHOTO: CHRIS TOBIN

With stage issues at the Caroline Bay Hall the club looked elsewhere for a venue. After a meeting last Thursday Rotary members decided on the Mountainview High School auditorium.

The auditorium held only 400 and so it was decided it would have to be a ticket-only event.

Asked why the council did not advise the club sooner the Theatre Royal was unavailable, council group manager commercial and strategy Donna Cross said the decision had not been taken lightly and the council had been trying to keep the theatre available for limited use, pending the start of construction work.

“However, we are working with a very old system and it has become increasingly difficult to operate within acceptable parameters.

“The safety of performers is paramount and the decision was made the week of the ballet to close it for redevelopment following the show on Friday.”

To ensure the safety of the ballet company members, changes were made to the lighting, rigging system and set.

“This was not a viable option for other community events, and much of the system has now been decommissioned.”

Operatunity had been booked to play at the theatre yesterday but performed at the Caroline Bay Hall instead.

Mr George said people would be able to obtain tickets to Carols by Candlelight from Community House in Strathallan St and the information centre in the Landing Service Building.

While disappointed by the way things had been handled by the council, club members were resigned to the development and were looking to stage another successful evening of carols and entertainment.

Gold coin donations will be accepted at the show, the proceeds going to Family Support in Timaru.

Carols by Candlelight has been running since 1967.

Carols by Candlelight

Where: Mountainview Auditorium.

When: Sunday, December 15, from 7pm to 8.30pm; doors open 6pm.