Chch strongest in country for theatre since quake

BIG SHOWS: Grease is one of many shows Ben McDonald has presented in the city and around the country.

Ben McDonald wasn’t at the National Academy of Singing and Dramatic Art
long before he realised a life behind the scenes was calling for him.

At 16 he produced his own variety concert as part of a high school project which sold out the St James Theatre two nights in a row in Gore.

Ben McDonald

With this in mind, it wasn’t long after McDonald  graduated that he set up his own company Ben McDonald Ltd.

Now after producing more than 50 productions McDonald, 36, will present three major shows at the Isaac Theatre Royal this year.

A Broadway-themed variety concert, a popular musical and a comedy about four Kiwis embarking on a trip to Italy are all on the cards for McDonald this year.

Broadway to the West End, The Sound of Music and Four Flat Whites in Italy are all to be staged and produced by the Rangiora resident this year.

Having a passion for creating opportunities for performers McDonald said the city is one of the strongest in the country for New Zealand theatre particularly since the February 22, 2011, earthquake.

Even at a time when there was little performing arts in the city post-earthquake, McDonald saw an opportunity to set up a make-shift theatre in Hagley Park.

The Canterbury Celebration Theatre was set up for singers, dancers and musicians to perform to audiences of 200 people twice a day and ran for about a month shortly after the earthquake.

The marquee theatre was so successful McDonald decided to run another season at Hagley Park and Riccarton Bush.

“It was a wonderful thing to be part of . . . there were no other venues at all. It was just something to do,” he said.

In spite of many theatre companies in the city often undertaking financially viable shows, McDonald believes there is a market for “older” shows such as The Sound of Music in the city.

“That is something we do that the likes of the operatic and consortium shows won’t touch because they want to do the big modern shows,” he said.

In spite of not taking on a stage career, McDonald enjoyed his time at NASDA and said he now often employs a lot of the graduates from the school.

“I couldn’t have done a better thing. It didn’t teach me what I am doing now but I couldn’t have done anything else. I am very fond of NASDA,” he said.

•To find out more about McDonald’s three shows at the Isaac Theatre Royal go to