Save the Arts Pushes for Venue Subsidy

Theatre groups are concerned for the future of student productions during the Union Court redevelopment process, even as the ANU has sought to confirm the nature of the new theatre facilities.

A deal is in place with the Canberra Repertory Society, the owners of Theatre 3, to provide space for student productions while the Arts Centre is demolished and Union Court is redeveloped.

But this has not assuaged worries about the future of student productions.

Kat Carrington, a Save the Arts campaign organiser, said that this venue will not be able to accommodate everyone.

‘There are only three to five slots available for semester two.

‘About 20 production companies use the Arts Centre, and there are about 24 productions a year,’ she told Woroni last week.

Emails seen by Woroni suggest that theatre groups – including Burgmann College, Fenner Hall, the ANU Arts Revue, and other Halls and Colleges – have been scrambling to secure performance spaces.

Campus theatre groups have called on the ANU to subsidise hire fees for the Ainslie and Gorman Arts Centres theatre spaces to a comparable level with the ANU Arts Centre.

But the ANU’s executive director of administration and planning, Chris Grange, said in an email seen by Woroni that his ‘understanding is that we achieved enough additional theatre time with the Rep [Theatre 3] to provide the alternatives we need. This means we would not book time at other theatres, and in any case, the Gorman Arts Centre is a bit far away to be considered as a good option.’

Carrington said that the spaces at the Ainslie and Gorman Arts Centres were the only spaces available to campus theatre groups that have not been booked out.

Woroni understands that a suggestion has been made by a member of the Canberra arts community to provide a circus-style tent on campus during the redevelopment process as a performance space for student productions.

Meanwhile, the Arts Centre will be demolished in May or June.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic), Marnie Hughes-Warrington, told an update meeting on the Union Court development on Thursday 16 March that the specific demolition date could not be determined, as it would depend on when The Gods Café vacated their premises.

She also said the demolition date depends on whether the Arts Centre contains asbestos, which was ‘probable’.

The director of the 2017 Med Revue, Jonathan Peake, said that the demolition plans for the Arts Centre have been a ‘huge pain in the arse’.

Peake said that the Revue would be performed at Canberra Grammar School this year because no other space was available on campus. ‘It’s been a nightmare. I only managed to lock it in a month ago,’ he said.

Rehearsals for the Med Revue have been taking place in the Burgmann College chapel and a room in the psychology building. The Revue has now secured limited time in the Arts Centre Drama Lab.

The disruption caused by the demolition of the Arts Centre has added around $4,000 in extra costs to the Med Revue, which donates its profits to charity. ‘Donating less money is not what we want, but I’m glad we can still go ahead,’ Peake said.

Peake fully supports the Save the Arts campaign, and calls on the ANU to subsidise venue hire – something the university executive was reluctant to confirm or deny at the ANUSA ‘State of the Project’ meeting.

The Save the Arts campaign was formed last year by prominent members of the ANU arts community to agitate for a theatre space in the redeveloped Union Court. ‘Hopefully the campaign wakes the uni up a bit,’ Peake said.

‘It was always understood that the Arts Centre would be demolished,’ Carrington said. ‘But we wanted to ensure there would be a theatre, or theatre spaces, in the final plans to the same capacity as we have currently.’

The ANU has confirmed there will be a theatre space in the redeveloped Union Court, stating that current plans should be confirmed in the coming weeks by the architects.

The new outdoor amphitheatre is planned to seat 300, with a total capacity of 600.

There will also be a 200-seat theatre, while an events facility will be able to host 1000 non-seated.

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