Here’s to the St James

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To celebrate your 80th birthday looking better than the day you were born would suggest to me that you are indeed a class act.
That of course is an apt description for our very own St James Theatre, which is this weekend throwing a party to mark the 80-year milestone.
Gore was vastly different in 1936 but some things remain the same, one of which is recognising quality as a must when public assets are created. The St James is now not just a publicly accessible asset but one which is community-owned. It may well have started life in the guise of private enterprise, but turn the clock forward some decades from the ’30s, add the chilly breeze of ‘‘Rogernomics’’ and the advent of television and the St James fell on hard times. However, its value was recognised and it has survived, indeed it has thrived. The first decade of the millennium saw it get not only a face-lift but also a complete makeover, turning it into one of the jewels in Eastern Southland’s crown.
That makeover is the outcome of vision, hard graft, commitment, community spirit, community funding and good timing. The cultural asset we see today is not simply a state-of-theart cinema but a classy live venue, and a multi-use theatre that would rival most across the nation.
Familiarity can breed contempt and in this case it’s easy to assume it will always be there. There’s no guarantee however, and it is important to celebrate what we have, if for no other reason than to recognise the great place we live. This weekend the venue for celebrating is the St James. Come along, join the party and be reminded of entertainment highlights from the past as well as taking a glimpse behind the curtain.
As I write this I am scouring the recesses of my mind to see if I can recall my first visit to the St James but I am struggling a little. I am sure it will come, but can you recall your first visit?
I think mine may have been as part of a Mataura School visit in the late 1950s where we visited a number of sites around Gore and got to enjoy a short movie at the St James. The film was Gunga Din and from memory seemed to focus on glorifying the British Empire. However, it was all high adventure, which suited me. One of my lasting memories of the St James, and there are many, is of a theatre jam-packed with people, and with me, along with many others sitting on the steps in the aisle to watch the highlights of the Rome Olympics, delivered Isuppose via air mail. The aisle was the only space left in the theatre. That was pre-television days, and we live in a very different world but the relevance of the St James remains.