Dolphin Theatre began as The Onehunga Repertory Players in 1961. Mrs Veronica Dow, an actress and producer who had been active in English repertory theatre, was invited by the Mayor and Mayoress, Mr and Mrs Leo Manning, to form a local drama group. Initially their plays were presented at the Onehunga High School.
The Onehunga Borough Council provided the land in Spring Street, two old buildings and a generous $3,000 loan. Mrs Dow approached many firms for help with materials and labour. The players themselves and their families wielded saws and hammers, laid carpets, fixed seating and installed lighting and sound systems. When the new theatre opened in May 1966, the group renamed themselves the Little Dolphin Theatre – with an affectionate nod towards The Mermaid Theatre in London. Ticket prices were 4s per adult, 3s for senior citizens, 2s per child and the performance fee was £21 0s 0d.
During the opening of the first play, Worm’s Eye View, a small dolphin was seen swimming in the Manukau Harbour, remaining there for the whole two-week season. This was considered a wonderful omen for the new theatre. By the end of the first year, with the indomitable spirit and sound business sense of Veronica Dow and the enthusiastic community support, the Little Dolphin Theatre was debt free, with a membership of 500.
Mrs Dow retired from the presidency in 1970, handing over the reins to Aileen Henderson, who presided for the next twelve years, instigating many improvements.
In 1981, the theatre was extensively modernised and renovated, putting it on a par with any professional theatre. Audience seating was increased from 94 to 121, the word ‘Little’ was dropped from the name, and the ‘Dolphin Theatre’ emerged. In 1983, the Young Dolphins was started to encourage young actors to develop their skills.
The next renovations were in the summer of 1995–96, when the auditorium and stage areas were vastly improved by raising the theatre roof and increasing the auditorium raking. Upgrading and re-cladding the external walls completed the work.
In 2012, the theatre underwent major renovations of the foyer, dressing rooms, wardrobe and rehearsal areas, making it a modern, fully compliant facility. We are deeply indebted to our members, patrons, the ASB Trust, Lotteries Board, Lion Foundation, SKYCITY, Maungakiekie Community Board, Four Winds Trust, and the Sir John Logan Campbell Estate for their generous donations and support.
To date nearly 300 full-length productions have been staged. The longest running show was Nunsense (1992) which extended its season from three to four weeks. The largest cast was a pantomime The Golden Rattle (1972) with a cast of 43. Aunty Mame (1986), the 100th production, boasts the largest wardrobe, with 118 costumes.
The theatre produces six full productions each year. It has loyal, enthusiastic patrons and a strong, talented core of cast and crew made up of members and volunteers. Combined, they ensure that the Dolphin Theatre is, and will remain, one of the most successful community theatres in Australasia.