The ANU theatre scene has been ‘saved’, thanks to the dedicated efforts of the theatre community. However, there has been a lot of confusion and miscommunication between student groups and the ANU administration about both the interim theatre plan and the final redevelopment design. Hence, due to popular demand, here is a comprehensive guide to ANU theatre in 2018 and beyond.
In late 2015 to early 2016, rumours circulated regarding the lack of theatre facilities in the new Union Court redevelopment plans. The Save the Arts Campaign was launched with the explicit aim to ensure the existence of ANU theatre – through the inclusion of a venue on campus and a comprehensive plan for the interim construction period. With the endorsement of the ANUSA Student Representative Council (SRC), the campaign culminated in a submission to ANU Council with 500+ signatures and 70+ testimonials from students, ANU theatre groups, alumni, and the wider Canberra community.
The submission and the campaign were considered successful, as members of the ANU Executive pushed for the inclusion of a theatre in the redevelopment. As the 2016 National University Theatre Society (NUTS) Artistic Director and ANUSA CASS Representative, I was invited to sit on the Cultures & Events working group. This group was tasked with assessing the specific requirements for the Cultures & Events building.
The Interim Theatre Plan
A key facet of the Save the Arts campaign was to ensure that external venue hire was subsidised by the ANU during the construction period to the cost of the Arts Centre . The external venues available to student hire were almost double the cost of the Main Stage ($1,050 per week for 342 seats) for less capacity.
Canberra Repertory Society (Rep), the production company based in Theatre 3, supported the ANU campaign and later struck a deal with the ANU Administration to ensure the subsidisation of venue hire for ANU theatre groups. In 2018, Rep will provide up to 12 weeks of venue hire in the academic periods for student productions, by adjusting their own production season slightly.
There are approximately 20 productions operating at ANU so this deal with Theatre 3 was insufficient for sustaining the entirety of ANU theatre. And so the Save the Arts Campaign reignited to ensure that this subsidisation was extended to other external venues. Earlier this year, this agreement was extended to include the Ainslie and Gorman Arts Centre venues – those being the Ralph Wilson and C-Block Theatre.
This plan is not perfect. For many productions, the subsidised venue hire costs are still too high for the capacity the venues provide. Additional costs have been added for the inclusion of staff and ticketing for some venues. Most notably, the disorganisation of this plan has led to problems of matching production companies and venues. Small productions have been given access to Theatre 3, which has the largest capacity of the options available under the subsidy, whilst musicals and revues have not. This is not by any means the fault of the student groups or Canberra Rep, but the fault of the ANU Administration for not providing enough structure for this interim theatre plan.
The Final Design
The Cultures and Events building within the new Union Court precinct will include theatre facilities. This will include a dedicated theatre with flexible seating and staging, with capacity up to 120 seats. This will operate as a teaching space for ANU Drama as well as a venue for the majority of ANU theatre shows. There will also be limited access to a 500-seat events space for larger musicals and revues. This space will further operate for other events and lectures.
An interior design working group was established during Semester 2 2017 to discuss specifics of the building. This group included the School of Music venue team, representation from ANU Drama, and student representation. The working group submitted a wish list to the architects working on the project. This included specifics about seating, stage configurations, and technical components regarding sound and lighting. It remains unclear, currently, what elements will be included in the final design.
The Future of ANU Theatre
Though the ANU will have theatre facilities available in 2018 and beyond, this doesn’t guarantee a sustainable or quality future. Our theatre community is remarkably decentralised. Before 2016, there was limited collaboration and resource or information sharing between production companies. The community came together in crisis. With high turnover of production teams and executive, this isolation has set in again. Answers aren’t easily obtained and support is not available. Without institutional support, ANU theatre will only be as good as the individual people who pursue it.