State Theatre backs away from Festival Centre exit

The State Theatre’s new administration has further distanced itself from a proposal to quit the Adelaide Festival Centre, despite the Company describing the facility as not “fit for purpose” in a recent submission to Infrastructure SA.

Feb 07, 2020, updated Feb 07, 2020
Construction works at the Festival Centre.

Construction works at the Festival Centre.

InDaily revealed yesterday that former executive director Jodi Glass, who resigned in December, wrote to the independent infrastructure body last year asking it to consider “a new home” for State Theatre and other performing arts companies “away from the Adelaide Festival Centre” when it releases its 20-year plan in coming weeks.

The company is yet to replace Glass at its helm, but recently-appointed chair Joe Thorp yesterday distanced the new administration from the proposal, saying it was for “long-term planning” purposes and there were “currently no firm plans nor any budget bid”.

That retreat has now gone further, with a joint statement from Thorp and Adelaide Festival Centre CEO and Artistic Director Douglas Gautier committing State Theatre to remain at the Dunstan Playhouse complex “for many years to come”.

“We are committed to ensuring that the Dunstan Playhouse complex at the Adelaide Festival Centre remains State Theatre Company SA’s performance hub for many years to come,” the statement said.

“We are both working hard together to achieve that, and with the other small and medium SA theatre companies to increase their presence at the Festival Centre as well.”

It’s a significant departure from last year’s submission, which argues for a new “purpose-built theatre” that 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”.

“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,” the submission stated, revealing it had already secured a significant donation towards planning for the move.

The display of solidarity is also a long way removed from the position articulated to Infrastructure SA, which blames much of State Theatre’s ongoing tenancy woes on 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.”

Speaking to InDaily today, Glass said as she was no longer with the Company she did not have “any views on what they’re doing”, but said she “absolutely” stood by the litany of complaints about the Festival Centre in her submission.

“They’ve been around for many years, and they’re facts,” she said.

“The company has been relocated many times, and the production facilities are no longer in the Festival Centre… [the Company] has outgrown the space.”

She also noted that “interruption” from the ongoing building works at the Centre was “significant”, citing noise, water leaks and wall damage.

She said the continuing works were causing “access issues for audience members and artists using the premises”.

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“It’s effectively a building site,” she said, noting that State Theatre is a “lessor in the precinct and a hirer of venues” which “has no control over what those building works were doing”.

However, she insisted the plan for a new “home” was not born out of those interruptions, and dated back to before her tenure with “conversations about the potential of taking over the Lions Arts building” – where its administration had relocated – but that proposal proved unviable.

“This is not a new idea,” she said of the submission.

“The idea of securing a venue that State Theatre Company could use, outside the Festival Centre, has been around for at least 10 years… it’s something that we had a lot of discussions about over the entire time I’ve been there – not just in the last year.”

The Infrastructure SA submission contained a testimonial in support of a new arts hub from prominent developer Jamie McClurg, who today told InDaily: “We’re supportive of State Theatre in whatever they choose to do, because we obviously think there should be new money – both public and philanthropic, and commercial – put into art.”

He said his “vision” for SA was “to be supportive of things that create jobs and opportunity for younger people”, arguing “the future is really about non-commoditised things”.

“Art is something that can be non-commoditised – we can create jobs around it that are not just commodity-based jobs, and all of that leads to greater job prospectivity,” he said.

“From time to time we’re requested to give opinion about the prospect of different ideas that would create potential, so without fear or favour we give opinion as a long-term investor in the city, and also from a public perspective in terms of public policy.”

The State Theatre barely raised a mention in the State Government’s recently-released Arts plan, which did however flag a prospective new concert hall build.

Premier and Arts Minister Steven Marshall today said the new hall was “absolutely” still on the table.

“The Arts and Culture plan has now been finished, and there’s a specific recommendation regarding the business case for a concert hall,” he told InDaily.

“We haven’t made an actual appointment in that area, but we’re considering all those recommendations and we’ll have announcements in the coming months.”

-Additional reporting by Stephanie Richards

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