The Big Birthday Party – light and sound show celebrates 150 years as our capital

22 June 2015

On 25 and 26 July, Wellington will celebrate 150 years as New Zealand’s capital with Capital 150. To mark this special occasion, Wellington City Council is preparing to present an unforgettable show in Parliament grounds for all New Zealanders to enjoy.

Big Birthday Party light and sound show concept image by Story Inc.

Big Birthday Party light and sound show concept image by Story Inc.


The Big Birthday Party, starting at 5pm, will be a two hour celebration with music icon and top Kiwi bloke Dave Dobbyn performing alongside the Orpheus Choir, followed by an exciting video-mapping experience, as projectors play with the architecture of Parliament House while telling the Wellington story.

A 20 minute light and sound show will be repeated on the hour and half hour from 5pm to 9pm on the Sunday and the Monday evenings.

“Together, all New Zealanders should celebrate Wellington's 150th year as our capital city,” says Dave Dobbyn. “It is a city of great character, diversity and community, and its shared history helps define us all in some way. That we are a peaceful country owes a lot to that 150 years of growth.”

“I have a deep affection for Wellington and its culture. I love spending time here. It'll be magic to be playing with the Orpheus Choir in such an atmosphere as downtown Wellington.”

Capital 150 will also include a two-day Open House event, opening the doors to more than 30 national institutions over the weekend free of charge, revealing some of the rarest and most significant collections housed in the country.

Mayor Celia Wade-Brown says the celebration is about Wellington as a capital city and invites everyone to come and share this special 150-year birthday.

“We are proud to be New Zealand’s capital city and to play a role that is important to our democracy, our culture and our economy,” she says. “The celebration also draws our city and Parliament closer together, acknowledges the diplomatic representation from more than 40 different countries and celebrates our nationhood with many national institutions based here in Wellington.”

Wellington-based company Story Inc. is using its expertise in exhibition and visitor experience design to create the light and sound show that will tell the capital’s story.

Major Events Manager Warrick Dent says, “We’re bringing our history to life on a large scale through the latest technology and Council’s excited to get behind the show.”

Says Story Inc. director James McLean: “People arrive here, visit, work, live and continually enrich this city – we’re proud to have been chosen and entrusted by Wellington City Council with the role of telling this story.”

Some archival footage and images will be used but Story Inc’s main focus is on creating new work that uses video mapping to incorporate the shape of the buildings.

“Parliament and the Beehive have columns, windows, slabs of stone, curved walls; we’ll be playing with the architecture and these buildings will be our canvas. There’ll be tumbling walls of words, machinery churning, and the base of the Beehive will be transformed into a birthday cake. These buildings will move; people will be viewing Parliament as they’ve never seen it before.”

James was born in Washington DC, grew up in France, Malaysia, New Zealand and Britain. He lived in Tokyo, where he worked in film and television on location shoots around the world. After returning to New Zealand he wrote for TV and video before forming Story Inc. and settling down in Wellington with his family. James chose Perceptual Engineering to work with because he knew they could bring the “spectacular” to our capital’s story.

Perceptual Engineering’s director Jon Baxter has been described by James as that “crazy projection guy”. Jon is one of the pioneers of projection mapping in New Zealand and has displayed his ideas and talents all over the country and the world.

"There is nothing more satisfying than bringing fresh ideas and telling stories to audiences through innovative means. I’m excited by the possibilities that are continually unfolding as technology paves the way for new forms of communication."

The light and sound show will also be interactive, allowing people from all over the world to send through their own birthday wishes. These messages will be placed into a giant birthday card and projected onto Parliament Buildings. Make sure you #Capital150.

If you can’t make the Big Birthday Party, the 20-minute light show will also play on a loop that will run from 5.00pm to 9pm on hour and half hour pm, 26–27 July.