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Sydney theatres underutilised and inaccessible

Sydney theatres underutilised and inaccessible
February 1, 2016

A research project into theatre venues in Sydney has revealed a shortage of accessible theatres and the underutilisation of many of the city’s existing theatres.

Investigating the challenges faced by the city's theatre-makers, Steven Hopley’s newly released Sydney Theatre Report 2015, also identified a severe shortage of affordable, suitable theatre venues in the NSW capital.

Playwright, director and theatre producer Hopley’s six month research has produced a document with a detailed analysis of every venue in Sydney including seating capacity, days per year used, days used for theatre and hire rates. 

Summarising his findings from the 82 page document he highlightsin three key points:

• There is a severe shortage of theatre venues in Sydney – with no hire venues (non-curated) available under 100 seats, or under $2,000 per week in rental, particularly discouraging younger and emerging artists from involvement within the industry.
• Sydney’s theatres are greatly under-utilised – with an average of only 29% use for performance, and 18% use for theatre, across the 2014/15 financial year.
• Sydney’s theatres are not being used for theatre – with 51% of Sydney’s theatres used more frequently for other styles of performance, or for purposes other than theatre.

With utilisation, the report found Sydney’s theatre venues were used for performance less than a third of the time, with non-performance events and rehearsals accounting for some of the remaining usage.

However, Hopley found that theatres were often empty, and, with performances included dance, music and comedy, only 18% of performances were actual theatre productions.

Hopley also conducted an online poll of independent producers which found 91% of independent producers surveyed have had to postpone or cancel a show due to the lack of a suitable venue, and 55% have had to make creative compromises because of the venue shortage.

He found that 64% of independent producers have cited finding an affordable venue as the single biggest problem they face in putting on a show in Sydney.

In the report’s introduction, Hopley summarised the Sydney theatrical landscape of the past  10 years, stating “the closure of two performance spaces in the Tap Gallery at Darlinghurst recently was a disaster for the independent theatre sector, but this is the mere tip of the iceberg.

“The last decade has seen: the historic Footbridge Theatre renovated into a lecture hall; the Crypt in Balmain strangled with red tape; the Sidetrack Theatre ransacked; an independent space on Alice Street in Newtown demolished; the hall that housed the Actors Centre performances lost in their move; the Newtown Theatre’s lease on the St George’s Hall cancelled for use as a school hall; the Cleveland Street Theatre left abandoned; the Valhalla, once the historic New Arts Theatre, stripped to bare brick by developers before a heritage order could be placed on it; and some very funny things indeed have happened on the way to the Forum.

“The New Olympia Theatre opened in Paddington on a short-term lease in late 2014, with the potential for a second theatre on site, but despite the creator’s best efforts to hand his theatre over for continued use, no support could be found, so the theatre opened only to close again after a few months.

“Two UNSW theatres – Io Myers and Studio 1 – have been earmarked for demolition in the next few years, along with the Bondi Pavilion Amphitheatre, and in the time I have spent writing this report, the historic Fig Tree Theatre – once known as the Old Tote – has been closed, and the Archway 1 Theatre has been given notice of eviction by City of Sydney council.

“And then there are the internal shifts that are the inevitable result of a dwindling choice of venues: theatres changing hands, becoming more insular and exclusive, moving away from performance hire to conferences and private functions and, of course, skyrocketing hire rates.”

Looking to the future, the report calls for several points of action to improve the situation, including greater financial investment in the arts, and more support for artists in the independent sector, from all levels of government; a lowering of hire rates across the board, and greater transparency from venues on their rates and additional charges; more co-operation within the industry; and the opening up of school venues for community use.

Click here to view the Sydney Theatre Report.

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