Student Theatre Drowning

As the beloved home of dozens of student theatre groups on campus, the ANU Arts Centre has been witness to award-winning performances, launched the careers of dozens of ANU students, and provided a healthy and enjoyable university experience to hundreds of students.

The ANU Arts Centre is the backbone of the ANU theatre experience… and it may be replaced by a swimming pool.

The Union Court Redevelopment Proposal, as revealed and displayed, rather ironically, in the Arts Centre late last year has no current plans to retain or replace the ANU Arts Centre.

This will leave the campus devoid of a suitable indoor performance space for theatrical productions ‒ over the course of 2015, the Arts Centre was hired by 22 ANU affiliated societies and 12 external Canberra groups.

Though the redevelopment proposal has yet to be accepted by the University, with final plans to be confirmed over the next 3 months, venue hire has barred all bookings for 2017, causing alarm within the ANU theatre community. Even the administration of the Centre is uncertain of the plans for the Centre beyond 2016.

Chris Grange, the Executive Director of ANU Administration and Planning, and one of the main forces involved in the redevelopment expanded on the future of the ANU Arts Centre, saying: “Any proposal is highly likely to include the demolition of the Arts Centre.”

“What will replace it and whether that will include theatre facilities is still unclear… we aim to put something forward for approval over the next 3 months”, he commented.

Three months without certainty is undesirable for all parties currently invested in Union Court.

The decision to cease 2017 bookings has already forced external Canberra theatre groups such as Phoenix Players to move to alternative venues, decreasing the profitability of the Arts Centre if 2017 bookings are resumed.

For student groups, a move to alternative venues is just not achievable. There is no theatre in Canberra that is as accessible, or as affordable as the ANU Arts Centre for student groups. The Street Theatre, which will be the only remaining performance space on campus, is a commercial entity which does not cater to student groups, hence removing yet another suggested solution.

This could have an immense impact on many Clubs & Societies on campus, with ANU Interhall Productions believing that the demolishment of the Arts Centre could mean the dissolution of their company.

IHP Vice President, Jeevan Haikerwal, expressed that “the fundamental premise of our entire society is that communities can rally around art”.

“When the housing for the art form of theatre on campus is uprooted and not replaced, the community we have built within and around will no longer have the capacity to exist as it does.”

The Interhall Arts Committee (IAC) also has several major arts events that utilize the ANU Arts Centre ‒ Dance Night, Talent Show, Choir, and Theatre Sports.

Although the ANU prides itself in offering a complete residential experience, the integral part access to the arts has within residential and non-residential colleges does not appear to have been considered.

“The accessibility of IAC is very much dependent on centralised performance spaces”, IAC President Cameron Allan commented.

“By removing the arts centre, the ANU campus’ ability to facilitate artistic expression is lost.”

Residential college productions, with their more limited budgets and their inability to gain funds from the ANUSA Grants & Affiliations Committee may completely disappear.

Since 2010, the relationship between the performing arts and the ANU has been, at best, strained.

The 2010 review of the drama department saw the cancellation of all performances by ANU affiliated theatre companies, Papermoon and Moonlight, and eventuated in the resignation of the Head of Drama, Tony Turner, with the drama school absorbed into the BA English major. All but one staff member resigned from the ANU.

The Arts Centre followed a similar path, falling into serious disarray until the reins were passed to Facilities and Services in 2012. Since that time, the theatre has thrived, both physically and financially, under the management of the F&S Venues and Events team.

It is clear that the ANU has limited appreciation and understanding of the importance of the performing arts on campus. This has been reflected time and time again through the 2012 cuts to the School of Music, the restructure and obliteration of the Drama Department, and now, the complete disregard for a suitable indoor performance space in the Union Court redevelopment plans.

But then again, given the chance, Shakespeare probably would have had The Globe converted to an Olympic size swimming pool as well.

Kat Carrington is the 2016 N.U.T.S Artistic Director, the 2016 ANUSA CASS Representative, and was the 2015 ANU IHP Treasurer.