is our festival state to blame?

Since late September there has been a groundswell of hue and cry around this fair city of Adelaide in the diminishing amount of theatre spaces and venues to hold the types of shows that festivals attract or can contain multi-media / multi-artform works or just hold our fine G & S Soc’s.

Paul Grabowsky the Boss started it all by bagging our theatres saying “The (venues) in existence have started to be not always appropriate for the sort of work that’s being made,” – Adelaide Advertiser September 27th, 2009.

There is certainly lot of opinion around from our beloved ’tiser and arts heads including an ever strengthening facebook community.  So we at CWTP have decided to gather the momentum to see if we could make a huge snowball to chuck somewhere this coming summer.

In Patrick McDonald’s November 3rd Advertiser article “Too few theatres for our festival” it was quoted that “The Premier has ordered an audit of the state’s existing and planned performance venues to see if they can meet demand, especially at peak festival times.”

Let’s help the Prem and peek at some of the existing ones first…

  • Scott Theatre and The Union Hall at Adelaide University.

We are not too sure that these two lecture theatres could really be called drama theatres or proper performance spaces any more so lets keep them as lecture theatres. Besides Adelaide University isn’t going to reinstate their drama course after 10 or so years now are they?  The last time this writer saw something at the Union Hall it was a woeful attempt at stand up comedy by Will Anderson quite a few Fringe’s ago.  Brink’s beautiful work “When The Rain Stops Falling” at the Scott Theatre in 2008 was marred with director Chris Drummond having to deal with the flattened and wide space of that particular stage and auditorium, giving the performances a shouty and disconnected tone.

  • Theatre 62  / Star Theatres on Sir Donald Bradman Drive

This two small theatre complex with extremely limited audience parking has been run by Mighty Good Productions since in the latter years of the 90’s.  The main theatre’s original ground level open space with slight raked seating suffered an abomination at the hands of Mighty Good early in the 2000’s when they added a permanent heightened stage pros arch design rendering it totally useless for anything but their pantomimes.  The little blackened chapel theatre next to it was a difficult shape to begin with but at least it could hold an intimate performance.  This theatre space used to be good before Mighty Good made it mighty bad.  Whilst its proximity to the city is excellent there is no exciting arts friendly businesses near by to coffee it up and no new tram routes planned in the near future conveying eager audiences into the area.  Going there feels a little bit like going to the drive in at Gepps Cross and you’d rather stay in your car and make out.

  • AC Arts – The x-space and the other one.

Can someone please put a rocket up TAFE’s proverbial and maybe allow some reasonably priced and flexible access to their brilliant x-space?  This relatively versatile black box is a gem and it’s right in the middle of the city!  But it’s controlled by a government body that seems to have missed the point in why it was an arts centre in the first place.  It’s lost its way with its courses and has no idea about how to integrate their suffering arts practise into the contemporary arts industry.  The recent review on the organisation by Robyn Archer, we think has fallen on deaf ears.  We all know that the other venue in that complex, the one that shall never be spoken of, is a right off and just plain vertiginous.

  • Out Of The Square (OOTS) Venues : Golden Grove Arts Centre | The Arts Centre, Pt Noarlunga | The Parks Community Centre | Shedley Theatre, Elizabeth | Marion Cultural Centre | Hopgood Theatre | Barossa Arts and Convention Centre | The Starplex, Gawler & (as previously mentioned) The Star Theatres, Hilton.

In the State’s Strategic Plan the OOTS programming consortia probably ticks the audience development box but very few of them tick the box for originality in promoting or harnessing a high quality cultural development program for their culturally diverse constituents.  None of these venues are in the city centre, but with a little bit of encouragement probably could be used better by our existing artists. That is if the councils or organisations that own them actually thought that there was benefit in having high quality professional and community artists in residence and encouraging unique ecosystems of cultural development.  Take one look at the soon to be burgeoning Substation, the beautifully original and culturally ingrained Footscray Community Arts Centre both in Melbourne, or The Casula Powerhouse in Sydney as examples of peak arts bodies in the suburbs.  The blinkered vision of the Adelaide Festival in recent years has not allowed our state’s major arts festival be a festival for all.  It makes us remember Peter Sellers attempt in 2002 at utilising some of these venues was actually somewhat visionary, the Parks Community Centre programming in that year was exemplary.  But we wouldn’t like to admit that would we? The Adelaide Fringe with its open access programming can only sit on its hands and wait for venue opportunities to appear or encourage somewhat inexperienced venue manager / operators to try and compete with the ever increasing ugliness of the Garden of Unearthly Delights.  The Fringe is in a prime position to take the temporary venue problem around festival time and really reinvent it.  It used to, think back to Star Club days and pre Uni SA Lion Arts Centre events why can’t it now?  Is it because it went annual and is now having to pour all it efforts into keeping it that way?

  • Vitalstatistix at the Waterside Workers Hall, Port Adelaide.

The Port Adelaide Enfield Council so need to get their A into G.  Along with the Harts Mill and other buildings in the area, Waterside came to life recently at the Port Festival and this Council should be taking very comprehensive notes.  Vitals of old is no longer and possibly could look into providing many more opportunities for great high quality arts and community events to occur year round as it struggles with lack of Australia Council cash.

  • Queen’s Theatre

It’s gorgeous and a great venue if one can afford to invest in the infrastructure.  It should be a venue that continues to surprise and challenge us at festival time or any time for that matter.  However we are not putting our hands up to manage it.

  • Odeon Theatre

Does Patch Theatre Company moving into the Odeon really preclude and deprive all the eastern suburbs schools their real in theatre experience?  We thought the Rudd bonus for schools was being used to build these schools another black box venue or multi function sports theatre or arts gym.  Look closely, there’s plenty of them, being used by the artists of tomorrow.  Just not today.  Carclew and SAYAB should also be looking into how best to program that venue with edgy young peoples performance art … maybe let the kids take over and see what they can do.

  • The Adelaide Festival Centre

The SA Government in 2006-07 committed $8 million to refurbish the Dunstan Playhouse at the Adelaide Festival Centre and all we got was some glass sliding doors some new toilets, funny shaped seats and something akin to the main control desk on the Starship Enterprise in the foyer.  Past the foyer and in the auditorium it’s a little bit more comfortable than it was and so it should be. We really think the Fezzy Centre should be concentrating on making the bistro “the place” with some simple yet alternate programming any night of the week, not just a place to “foyerize” on opening night.

  • Bakehouse Theatre / Holden St Theatre / Higher Ground

Each of these theatres are making a fair fist of it, both in the good sense and the bad sense of a fist.  But lost opportunities abound since their programming is often weak and at best haphazard.  Again installing existing companies and artists into these venues might just assist this lack of focus.  Are their programming / curatorial visions encouraged through their funding agreements?

Now let’s look at the planned ones…

In the same Patrick McDonald ‘tiser article of Nov 3rd it was reported…

“Mr Rann said the State Government had committed almost $100 million towards three new performance spaces over the past three years. This included $52 million to upgrade the Adelaide Entertainment Centre and build a new multi-purpose venue for 2500 people, due to be completed early next year.”

Sorry Mike but that venue from the outside looks to be a huge black box that will just compete with the Thebarton Theatre in the popular concert stakes and quite possibly take away some of the Gov’s patronage from across the road. Music is part of the arts, yes, and it will be good to see more bands visit Adelaide that can pull that sized crowd but we think Mike’s been duped into thinking it will hold any multi art performance in the near future.  Even the AEC website states they are constructing a new medium sized live entertainment venue (re; live music).

We would also like to take this opportunity to be the architecture police here and blatantly declare that the Ent Cent is now the worst piece of architecture in Adelaide EVER.  They’ve turned an aircraft hanger into … well … an aircraft hanger …. with a black box stuck uncomfortably to it’s front corner … and a large connecting semi-enclosed dome forecourt that reeks of a circa 1980’s biosphere design! The non integration of these so called additions with the existing building and the ugly “look at us we have entered the digital age because we have a scrolling LED sign” Channel 7 building is, to say the least, utterly atrocious and we demand retribution on the architect!  Anyway enough of that, at least the Ent Cent will provide a destination for the new Pt Rd tram, the real question here is; Can Adelaide patrons actually get off their backsides and buy tickets enough in advance to encourage great live bands to actually play here outside of a summer festival event?

“The new, $43 million Adelaide Film and Screen Centre at Glenside would also have two film studios which could double as “black box” performance spaces of 400 and 1000 square metres respectively, Mr Rann said. The South Australian Film Corporation was already taking expressions of interest from other arts companies to book these venues from mid-2011.” – again from the Patrick McDonald article.

Great! Two new venues for Mike’s most treasured part of the arts industry.  FILM.  Our reporter Hansard here at CWTP noticed that questions were being flown around the houses of parliament as to just what actually these film studios and black boxes could double as.

  • The Old Royal Adelaide Hospital for the Contemporary Arts (or) the new MARJ.

The Minister Assisting assisted rumour that once the new hoppy was built, the east end of North Tce (ie: the site of where the RAH currently sits) could become a contemporary arts centre to house all manner of artists and venues, seems to have gone very quiet since the economic downturn – upturn – straight ahead.  We know that some arts organistions have been consulted to possibly take part but is this actually a good idea?  Do we need another old building magically and tragically transformed into an arts venue?  Maybe we should be thinking of building an iconic contemporary arts building that really says CONTEMPORARY ARTS in all its multifaceted glory.  One that houses and generates not just the here and now but the here and now and in 20 years time.  With the exception of perhaps the Festival Centre and the Samstag why do all our forward thinking arts organisations have to be housed in the shells of the past.  Maybe we need something like this before a new sports stadium?

A discussion about venues reiterates our fascination with bricks and mortar and edifices to properly contain art.  Quite often it negates the actual interface that happens between the artists, their audience and the venue / theatre they use or are trying to maintain.  The ensuing audit must encourage and study these interactions in depth and in detail, reducing it down to only percents of capacity will effectively stifle any possibility of arts growth in the next decade. If we could encourage some higher quality, innovative, inclusive, expansive programming from our existing artists and orgs to occur around the existing venues on an ongoing annual basis then maybe we might be able to provide the Adelaide Festival with a few really excellent venues in the near future.  Thanks Paul.


About weavesthyme

Weaves Thyme lives in Adelaide South Australia and therefore only thinks parochially (like most of the media based in South Australia)
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