Where next for Rumpus Theatre?

Adelaide theatre collective Rumpus has spent the past four years supporting local emerging independent artists and providing a stage for bold new work in its much-loved Bowden warehouse space, but now it has to look for a new home.

Feb 09, 2023, updated Feb 09, 2023
Rumpus Theatre in Bowden. Photo: Morgan Sette

Rumpus Theatre in Bowden. Photo: Morgan Sette

An eclectic collection of retro furniture, knick-knacks, pictures and other items will be up for grabs at Rumpus’s “housecooling party” and garage sale on Saturday. There’s a floral lounge suite, a painting of a matador with a bull, books, kitchen chairs, framed black and white photos of Victoria Square… even a wood-panelled vintage bar.

“It will be one final moment in the space to commemorate the venue and all the amazing times we’ve had there,” Rumpus co-founder Nescha Jelk says of the event, which is prompted by the fact that the collective must move out of its home at 100 Sixth Street this month.

“Anyone’s welcome. There’s lots of bargains to be had… it would be great to send stuff off to the homes of people who will appreciate them as much as we have.”

Many of these items were assembled by designer Meg Wilson, who helped design the Rumpus space. They seem to encapsulate the essence of the collective which ­– with limited resources but a lot of hard work and heart – has established itself as an important part of the Adelaide theatre landscape.

Jelk, a director and former resident artist at State Theatre Company SA, co-founded Rumpus in 2019 with Yasmin Gurreeboo (artistic director at ActNow Theatre) and independent performer and theatre-maker Rebecca Mayo in response to what they described at the time as the lack of a thriving second tier in the local theatre sector. They wanted to help isolated independent artists and companies struggling with a lack of funding and support.

Through Renewal SA, the trio secured the sprawling Bowden warehouse space, offering facilities including a small theatre, two separate rehearsal rooms, a workshop-building space, four offices, a kitchen, plus front-of-house bar and foyer areas.

However, Jelk says Rumpus always knew its use of the premises would not be permanent.

“We’re in a position now of having to find a new venue, but also as an organisation we’re looking at changing the way we’ve been working,” she says, explaining that the collective’s members have had to dedicate hundreds of unpaid hours to keep it running over the past four years.

“The aim was to show that an organisation with a focus on supporting seasons by independent artists in Adelaide would be beneficial and create more vibrancy and life and excitement in Adelaide’s arts industry, in the independent sector, and we feel like we’ve proved that.”

Nescha Jelk (right) with Rebecca Mayo when Rumpus opened in 2019. Photo: Johnny von Einem

Rumpus has hosted an annual curated season of four or five shows during its time in Bowden. Its focus is on supporting independent and diverse grassroots and emerging artists, with those in the season given free use of the space and other assistance.

A number of new local theatre groups have presented their first work at Rumpus, including Good Theatre Company with Hamlet in the Other Room, The Corseted Rabbits with Di and Viv and Rose, and CRAM Collective with Something Big. Other successful productions have included the Ruby Award-winning Clock for No Time and Adelaide theatre-maker Katherine Sortini’s 2022 Adelaide Fringe hit All the Things I Couldn’t Say, a return season of which has had to be postponed until a new venue can be found.

Jelk says Rumpus has also provided opportunities for independent directors, actors and other creatives who have then gone on to secure roles with larger arts companies.

“One of the things I’m really proud of is all the new connections that have come out of Rumpus,” she adds. “You’re seeing all these collaborations between recent Flinders and AC Arts acting graduates who are forming these amazing relationships and making work together, and there’s this real sense of community within the independent sector.”

The venue has also attracted new audiences, especially people in their 20s and 30s: “Having a space that does attract younger audiences is, I think, good for the ecology of our local arts industry.”

Coldhands, by South Australian emerging playwright Dora Abraham, had its world premiere at Rumpus. Photo: Jamois

So what’s next for Rumpus?

In the short term, Jelk says, the collective is looking for some type of warehouse space ­– “even if it’s just for rehearsal space for Rumpus members” ­– so it can maintain a level of support for the independent theatre community. Ultimately, it hopes to find another venue in or near the CBD where it can offer similar facilities to those it has had in Bowden, with the potential income earned by being able to rent out spaces and operating a bar adding to the financial viability of the organisation.

“And it needs to be accessible – that’s the real tricky thing, finding spaces that are wheelchair-accessible and also reasonably centrally located.”

Going, going… Rumpus’s furnishings will be going under the hammer at a garage sale. Photo: Saige Prime

At the same time, Rumpus is seeking more substantial funding support, with the huge amount of volunteer hours being committed by the collective’s dedicated executive committee and other  team members no longer sustainable. In line with this, Jelk sees cause for optimism in the new National Cultural Policy, one of the pillars of which is supporting artists as workers.

“This time of finding a new space is also a really good time for us to have a reset and figure out how we can strategically shift the way that we work and lobby for some more funding opportunities to be able to pay people.

“We’re putting in an expression of interest for the Australia Council [now Creative Australia] multi-year funding – the tricky thing is, because we don’t have a venue it puts us in a slightly more vulnerable spot when asking for that support.”

Jelk acknowledges multi-year funding would be a game-changer for Rumpus, which she says isn’t eligible for support through Arts SA’s Arts Organisations Program after recent changes to the criteria.

With the closure last year of Adelaide’s iconic Bakehouse Theatre highlighting the lack of affordable and accessible venues for independent and emerging theatre-makers, it seems vital that Rumpus secures a new home and a sustainable future.

“Is it something that Adelaide needs? Absolutely,” Jelk says.

“There is a real lack of venues, but also just culturally… Rumpus is where a lot of artists are getting to test stuff out and really grow and develop, and that then feeds into the bigger organisations.”

Details of Rumpus’s Housecooling Party + Garage Sale can be found on its Facebook page.


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