Q&A: Barbara George

Barbara George is captain at the helm of The Court Theatre, steering this great theatrical ship through three years’ worth of incredible shows and towards a new home in the central city. We go backstage with Barbara to find out what goes into running a professional theatre in Ōtautahi.

To start with, what led to your position as Chief Executive at The Court Theatre? When this position was advertised my family and I were looking to move to Christchurch so it was good timing. I was finishing my five-year contract as CE of the Western Institute of Technology in Taranaki, and returning to the arts looked compelling. Through the usual process I found myself appointed to this great role, and have now been here for three years.

What has the journey been like since then? You’ve hit some big milestones. My role at The Court has encompassed all aspects of running a significant arts company in Aotearoa, as well as being part of the team that will build out new home in the city. The three years has flown by. The time has been marked with opportunities and challenges, and I can’t remember a time when it was business as usual.

What are the challenges of running a big professional theatre operation in Ōtautahi? The challenges in a role like this are the same for any sizeable business – keeping us focused on our mission and our stakeholders. And it helps to have a vision of a new Court Theatre in the city – something that we can all look forward to and work towards, while we are busy doing our exceptionally fun day jobs.

You must be excited at the prospect of bringing The Court Theatre back to the central city. I have to say that was the most significant part of moving to Christchurch and this role. I have loved every minute of being part of the team getting our new theatre approved, designed, and soon to be built. Being in the city, next to Tūranga and in the Performing Arts Precinct is where we belong.

When will the new theatre be open? The new Court Theatre will open mid-2024.

What will The Court bring to the area? Our reason for moving back to the city is to help energise and invigorate the heart of this great community where we live and work. We will bring fantastic productions, great hospitality, education programmes and a place to meet. We can’t wait to see the place buzzing with activity.

What’s going to be different in the new building? The new building will have wooden floors and big windows. Two dedicated theatres, and two rehearsal spaces, an education studio, and our workshop, props, costume and administration all under one roof.

And what’s going to stay the same? There will be parking right next door and we are taking the pizza oven! But what will really be the same are the fantastic, high-quality productions, and our unique brand of bringing theatre to the lives of our audiences.

Can you give us any hot-off-the-press info on cool features of the new theatre? Windows, passive airflow, recycled wooden floors, and every space needing to serve more than one purpose.

Can I use the new theatre to show my edgy handwritten play, or is it just for the pros? The Court is a professional theatre company. At the moment we aren’t set up to develop new grassroots work – but never say never! Keep working on that script.

What is the APPLAUSE campaign all about? APPLAUSE is the name of the campaign to help us raise capital for our new home. Not only do we applaud our donors, we applaud our audiences for staying with us for 50 years – through the blood, sweat and tears, the joy and the laughter.

Do you have a favourite Court production? My favourite Court production tends to be the one I’m talking about at the moment – so that’s Little Shop of Horrors. I can say that the incredible talent, on and off the stage, will blow you away. Just don’t feed the plants!

What’s one thing people probably don’t know about you? One thing people probably don’t know about me is that I identify as Ngāti Rāhiri o Te Atiawa – a proud Taranaki whakapapa. You’ve got to see past the red hair and grey eyes – blame that on my Polish/Welsh maternal side.

Is there a particular book or author that has inspired you in your life or career? In my professional life it would be Jim Collins’ Good to Great.

What is the best piece of advice that you’ve received? Don’t sweat the small stuff!

Barbara George
Render images courtesy of Athfield Architects Limited (NZ) and Haworth Tompkins (London, UK).
Render images courtesy of Athfield Architects Limited (NZ) and Haworth Tompkins (London, UK).
Render images courtesy of Athfield Architects Limited (NZ) and Haworth Tompkins (London, UK).