COURT CASE: ARTS CENTRE vs FREE THEATRE Premiered Christchurch District Court House (Judge Neave presiding), 1984
In 1984, following complaints from tenants who were residing above the Free Theatre, the Arts Centre Trust Board took the company to court with a view to evicting it from the Arts Centre. The case drew much interest within Christchurch, with a wider debate emerging regarding the nature of 'art' both in terms of Christchurch generally and in terms of the Arts Centre specifically - a site gifted to the city by the University of Canterbury to be used as a place for the arts and education. These two primary features are enshrined in the Arts Centre Trust Deed. It was argued, successfully, that Free Theatre was a unique alternative particularly for the young within Christchurch and that its place in the Arts Centre was far more legitimate than the private apartments that had been created by Arts Centre management with a view to creating more revenue for the site. The case was eventually thrown out of court. However the Free Theatre volunteered to end rehearsals by 11pm in order to build better relations with the tenants living above the theatre.
During the trial, Free Theatre was accused of all manner of sin and debauchery, including the claim that the company had thrown a large party and left their rubbish in a large stinking pile outside the theatre. It turned out, however, that the party and the rubbish belonged to another tenant - an architectural firm that eventually took responsibility for the mess.
The court case, in terms of letters and articles, is included here as a Free Theatre production as the company approached the defense of the theatre in much the way they approached a production, presenting arguments and provoking debate that spoke to the very nature of what Christchurch is and how it likes to see itself. It may be seen as the first of a series of high profile attacks on the theatre, with each subsequent production developing particular shape and form in relation to the time and adversary.
In terms of this original production, it is rumoured that Peter Falkenberg wore a suit (complete with tie) to appear before the court. However, such extraordinary rumours remain unverified. If anyone has proof, please get in touch.