Walking towards The Arts Centre, I hear a welcome and familiar sound ringing out, one not heard since the 2011 earthquakes – the bell striking 11. 

As I make my way up the beautiful wooden staircase to his offices, I hear the Art Centre’s new CEO, Philip Aldridge, before I see him. His unmistakable, hearty laugh echoes around the winding stairs as he climbs to the bell tower to investigate the ringing.

While he is away I look around his new office – a large room  with a stained-glass window, a great view of Worcester Boulevard below and natural light streaming in. It is a far cry from the temporary portacom offices he’s been working out of at The Court Theatre in Addington which don’t see a skerrick of daylight. Sitting at a desk is acting chief executive Jane Parfitt, who has been overseeing the role since André Lovett left at the end of last year after a five-year tenure.

Back from the tower, Philip engages quickly: ‘Have you heard the story?’ Like any good actor, he soon has me enthralled and continues the tale. He explains that the company that originally installed the clock was brought over from London to fix it after it stopped working in the quakes but couldn’t. ‘But then we found a watchmaker here in Christchurch, up on Papanui Road, who could!’

As we walk through the centre’s North Quad, among the collection of 19th century Gothic Revival buildings, conversation turns to The Court Theatre, once one of the Arts Centre’s largest tenants. 

Philip hails from the UK where he studied history at university and classical acting at The Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. And the Court Theatre has been his biggest role to date, having been its chief executive for 13 years. 

He says it was a ‘terribly hard’ decision to leave: ‘I love The Court to bits. I’ll miss the theatre; I’ll miss the people. Theatre has been a lot of my life, apart from a period when I went off and fell in with a bad lot.’ (He worked in corporate finance in London and New York for a while, ending up in Christchurch as the chairman of the Bank of New Zealand in Canterbury for five years).

‘The Court is a huge organisation now, with 300 employees, 300 volunteers, and 60 permanent staff. It’s large and vibrant and it engages with the whole community of artists, makers and creators; as does The Arts Centre too, but differently. One is a producing house and the other a series of venues – but both engage with a huge diverse community – that’s what I love.’ 

‘The Arts Centre is culturally important, and provides a very big challenge, and I like a challenge. That’s the attraction.’ he says simply.

Enlivening it with artistic life and bringing his financial acumen are two of his goals. Of the 1.28 million attendances at all companies supported by Creative New Zealand, and across all art forms (visual and performance), 10.5 percent of them are at The Court. A record that will hold Philip in fine stead as he embarks on the next lead role in his career.

WORDS Kineta Booker PHOTOS Cassandra Kovacs

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