News | 5 October 2023
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The Hannah Playhouse steals the spotlight as it turns 50

The iconic Hannah Playhouse will be centre stage this month with events and activities to celebrate its 50th anniversary.

Evening view of Hannah Playhouse on corner of Courtenay Place

Situated on the corner of Cambridge Terrace and Courtenay Place, the Hannah Playhouse first opened its doors on October 16, 1973 with Downstage's performance of Shakespeare’s As You Like It. 


To celebrate this milestone, Wellingtonians can discover the Hannah Playhouse through a curated ongoing exhibition ‘The Hannah Playhouse; Full of Life’, which will be displayed throughout the building from Monday 16 October. 


The Heritage Week walk-through event on Sunday 5 November will go behind the scenes of this distinctive brutalist-style building, and there will be a series of events in November welcoming artists to re-engage with the space and inspire their creative development. 


Located in Courtenay Place’s entertainment district, Mayor Tory Whanau says the site is in the perfect place to be a hub of creativity.


“The Hannah Playhouse has always been the ideal space for artists to develop and showcase their talent – and for audiences to enjoy and appreciate their skills.


“We are proud supporters of the creative community and committed to investing in it thriving in the Capital – and so it’s a wonderful opportunity to honour this old dame for her decades of contribution to the arts world in Wellington.”

Hannah Playhouse site 1971 cnr Courtenay Place and Cambridge Tce
Hannah Playhouse site 1971 cnr Courtenay Place and Cambridge Tce

Council City Events Manager Stephen Blackburn says since taking over the management of the venue, Wellington City Council has focused on developing the Hannah Playhouse into an important space for the creative sector.


“The Council’s Aho Tini 2030 Arts, Culture and Creativity Strategy consultation showed the creative sector wanted more spaces to develop their skills and perform, and we have had great success as we have already assisted over 50 projects since we reopened this iconic venue.


“These celebrations honour Sheilah Winn’s vision for the site, and all those who have been part of the Playhouse’s whanau in the past and those who will be in the future – and of course the audiences, of which without there’d be no need for a stage to stand on!”

Couple of people look at cake of Hannah Playhouse at 25th anniversary celebrations
Hannah Playhouse 25th anniversary party

Key facts about Hannah Playhouse:



  • Before the Hannah Playhouse as we know it, there was the ‘Walkabout Coffee Bar’. The Downstage Theatre Company, Wellington’s first professional theatre company formed in 1964, leased the Walkabout to put on shows. 


  • Sheilah Winn established a trust fund for “an intimate theatre” in Wellington. In 1968 Downstage made a successful proposal for this funding through The Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council (now Creative New Zealand). A further $100,000 was raised in public funding. Council contributed to the fund and construction started in 1971. 


  • Auckland architect Ron Parker was engaged to design the new theatre. He worked in tandem with Raymond Boyce, set designer and chairman of the company, and other members of Downstage. During the design stage, it became clear that a Wellington architect would need to be drawn into the project. By 1971 Parker had become Auckland deputy city architect and noted architect James Beard was appointed in his place, adding his signature New Brutalism to the building. 


  • The Hannah Playhouse was named after Sheilah Winn’s maternal Hannah family. Sheilah’s grandfather Robert Hannah founded the Hannah’s shoe company.


  • Downstage Theatre was based in the Hannah Playhouse until 2013. Capital E National Theatre for Children then moved into the Hannah and the theatre became a place for hire until 2020, when it closed while the Hannah Playhouse Trust looked to find a new tenant. 


  • In October 2022 the Wellington City Council took over managing the building in collaboration with The Hannah Playhouse Trust, using the theatre as a performance laboratory, for mid to senior practitioners in order to develop their professional performing arts practice and new works.


  • The Hannah Playhouse seats up to 250, check out what is currently on show here