The Oamaru Early Settlers Hall has a rich history, but like many community halls across the country, it has been lying mostly unused.
Driven by a desire to breathe some new life into the building, Frances McMillan and Matt Plunkett have started using it for something more novel – live music.
“I’ve always liked the story of our early settlers and .. it was sad seeing it underutilised,” Ms McMillan said.
“[Musician] friends kept approaching us, wanting a place to play in Oamaru, and we couldn’t recommend anywhere suitable, so we thought
“We approached the North Otago Early Settlers Association and proposed what we were planning and it went from there.”
They named the live music venture Settler Theatre, and held the first gig on November 2018. Since then, it had hosted several national and international artists, and given many local original artists a platform.
Next week, Ms McMillan and Mr Plunkett have organised the first two gigs since lockdown – Earth Tongue is performing there on October 30, and Dick Move on October 31.
Settler Theatre filled a gap for more “alternative, experimental, or louder” gigs – and Oamaru was well-placed between Dunedin and Christchurch for touring bands, Ms McMillan said.
“Artists and musicians love Oamaru,” she said.
“Because there was a need for it, we didn’t really have to go out of our way to promote the venue, they kind of just come to us.”
The attraction of the space, Ms McMillan thought, was the ambience.
“It’s got a beautiful wooden floor, it’s surrounded by all our early settlers of Oamaru – it’s the perfect space, really,” she said.
“Before bars and clubs, you’d go to the local hall to dance.
“So it’s really nice for live music. Acoustically, it’s made for it and it’s nice and spacious and fun for dance.
“And we get a lot of people dancing, which is good.”
It is a modest space, with room for only about 60 people. Apart from setting up some lighting and sound equipment, Ms McMillan and Mr Plunkett do not alter its interior.
“It’s already got so much character, we don’t need to do anything,”
They do not make any money from the gigs; all profits go directly to the artists.
“We do it just for the love of it,” she said.
Ms McMillian works at the Oamaru Whitestone Civic Trust as finance and events manager, and Mr Plunkett is a teacher at Waitaki Boys’ High School. They organise gigs in their spare time.
“We’re starting to get bookings for March next year, which is really good,” she said.
“It’s quite exciting, really.”