State Theatre says Festival Centre “not fit for purpose”, seeks new home

The State Theatre Company says it wants to build “a new home” – a multi-faceted theatre precinct it argues Adelaide currently lacks – as it seeks to shift out of the Festival Centre, where it has lived for the past 46 years but now argues is not “fit for purpose”.

Feb 06, 2020, updated Feb 06, 2020
The State Theatre Company performing A Doll's House in the Festival Centre.

The State Theatre Company performing A Doll's House in the Festival Centre.

In a submission to Infrastructure SA’s 20-year plan, the company said a new “purpose-built theatre” would become “the central hub for a number of professional Adelaide-based theatre companies and theatre-makers, creating a vibrant new multi-faceted theatre precinct – something Adelaide lacks but which many of the great cultural cities of the world enjoy”.

“Discussions are underway with property developers and investors about a new home for State Theatre Company and local theatre makers whereby State Theatre Company will be the anchor tenant on a long-term lease,” it said.

Urging Infrastructure SA to consider the proposal as part of its long-term strategy, it suggested “a professionally equipped, purpose-built theatre akin to Queensland Theatre’s newly-renovated Billie Brown Theatre in Brisbane or Melbourne Theatre Company’s Southbank Theatre or Sydney Theatre’s soon-to-be-refurbished Wharf Theatres”.

“With the right site, we could operate a car park that would provide a long-term revenue stream for the Company or a property developer who invests in the site, just as the Australian Ballet has done in Southbank Melbourne,” it said.

But asked today about the proposal, the company appeared to distance itself from its submission – authored by former executive director Jodi Glass, who resigned in December.

“Infrastructure SA had a process inviting submissions and invited us to make one – we did so to assist in the long-term planning for arts infrastructure in SA,” chairman Joe Thorp said in a statement.

“There are currently no firm plans nor any budget bid.”

However, the submission noted that State Theatre benefactor Roger Salkeld had already secured “a significant donation for an anonymous donor to commence the capital raising program by pointing out the synergies that result from having all of the Company at one address”.

It also contained a letter in support from developer Jamie McClurg of Commercial & General, who wrote that the new vision, “if realised, would see the development of a new permanent home… with performance and production facilities all housed in a single, multi-faceted development complex that will also act as a central hub for other leading SA theatre companies, performing artists, designers and practitioners”.

“We confirm that we are in dialogue with you about making the above vision a reality,” he wrote.

“We believe that this development will not only be a significant cultural landmark for SA, it will activate substantial new economic activity, by establishing a central hub where the creation, development, production and performance of main-stage and independent theatre in SA can occur and flourish…

“We are confident that such a development not only has the potential to be an attractive commercial opportunity, it is likely to activate substantial philanthropic, public funding and government support.”

Freedom of Information documents released recently to the State Opposition suggest the 20-year Infrastructure Plan may have already been before cabinet, and it is expected to be made public early this year.

In its submission last year, the State Theatre Company lamented that it is forced to operate “over multiple sites and has done for many years”.

“This is inefficient, resulting in reduced productivity and waste of resources and increased operating costs and is no longer sustainable,” it said.

The company blames the Festival Centre’s “increasing focus on using [its] venues, facilities and resources to present its own programs featuring non-South Australian (ie national and international) touring shows and artists at the expense of locally produced and performed work”.

“While the centre’s own administration and programming have expanded over time… simultaneously the operating conditions in the Centre have deteriorated and are no longer fit for purpose,” the submission stated.

“This means that our Company can no longer fulfil its strategic purpose at the Adelaide Festival Centre.”

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It detailed that it had correspondingly been forced to relocate its administration operations several times, while “in the past two years, the significant construction and precinct redevelopment works in and around the Centre have severely interrupting the Company’s operations resulting in the Company having to relocate its entire production facilities… to temporary facilities [the former Wigg & Son building on Port Road] in mid-2018”.

The submission, which details the need for state and federal funds in addition to private donations, argues the company requires premises that allow it to “determine our own future and in so doing, spark a new wave of energy in theatre-making in a world otherwise dominated by remote, isolated, digital screen experiences”.

“Concurrently, in Adelaide over the years entire performance and rehearsal venues have been demolished (Union Hall) or are no longer available for performance hire (Scott Theatre) or [are] inadequate professional spaces that are not of professional standards or fit for purpose or technically compromised (Queen’s Theatre, Lion Theatre, Arts Theatre, Royalty Theatre) or are just too small (Lion Theatre, Odeon Theatre, Bakehouse Theatre, Holden Street Theatres),” the submission notes, adding that professional local companies including the State Theatre Company, Zephyr Quartet, Slingsby, Australian Dance Theatre, Windmill Theatre Company and Patch Theatre Company “are struggling to find suitable, available rehearsal and performance venues”.

“This is a recognised vulnerability in the Adelaide performing arts community [and] a problem that the Adelaide Festival Centre cannot solve – [it] is not within its charter or plan to solve; and, it appears, unwilling to solve,” it said.

“Adelaide lacks professional quality, affordable performance venues and rehearsal spaces beyond those controlled and operated by the Centre that enable local arts companies to produce and present high-quality works artistic works to a broad cross-section of the population.”

The company has operated from the Festival Centre for 46 years and has been its resident artistic company since the early 1970s, staging an average of five to six productions a year in the Dunstan Playhouse.

However, it insists, “to fulfil State Theatre Company’s strategic purpose and secure the Company’s future, the Company must establish a new home for itself away from the Adelaide Festival Centre”.

“Adelaide lacks a home for South Australian theatre – a true theatre precinct – where theatre is conceived, made and performed by professional local artists and entrepreneurs.

“There is an opportunity to develop a significant new cultural asset for Adelaide and the SA arts sector, and through this sector, the South Australian community as a whole.”

Asked whether it believed the State Theatre needed a new home and whether it was considering funding for such a proposal, Premier and Arts Minister Steven Marshall pointed to the release of last year’s Government Arts and Culture Plan, the first for the sector in over two decades.

“South Australia has a rich cultural history, with fantastic events, productions and festivals that are a big part of our DNA,” Marshall said in a statement.

“This plan was the direct result of extensive consultation with groups across the arts sector, and will be used to guide and prioritise future work and investment.”

However, there is only one specific reference to the State Theatre Company in the entire document, and that is in a photo caption.

The Government confirmed yesterday it was actively considering options for a second city sporting stadium.

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