Photo by Rick Evertsz
This month marks one year since a devastating fire ravaged the renowned La Mama Theatre in Carlton, impairing the popular space’s capabilities as one of the preeminent theatres in Melbourne.
But it’s not all doom and gloom, as the team at La Mama are ardently looking towards the future with their new initiative ‘Rebuild La Mama’ seeking to renovate and improve the theatre with help from local community donations.
“The government of Victoria have certainly been behind us,” says Artistic Director and CEO Liz Jones of the body who have already funded $1 million into La Mama’s redevelopment. “They are really aware of what an asset we’ve been for the last fifty years.”
Jones is excited for artists and audiences to experience the renovated and improved La Mama, but it’ll take more than just government funding to get the theatre back into shape. She hopes that donations from the local community in Carlton and theatre-lovers across Melbourne will assist in the funding process because “there has been so much evidence for people believing in the value of La Mama”.
As for the theatre itself, the team at La Mama have decided to “restore the old building exactly as it was, because [they] feel that the performance space is a very precious space” that ought to be preserved.
“We didn’t want to create a new building that impacted on the old building in a negative way, or even hide from the view of the street,” says Jones. “We really wanted to keep to the spirit of modesty and integrity that has always been a part of La Mama and made it really quite unique. When some things clearly work very well, you don’t need to fix it.”
But there will be “marvellous, new introductions” to these refurbishments as well. An entirely new wing will be built, containing “a rehearsal room downstairs that can turn into a weather-resistant foyer for audiences [and] an upstairs for staff working facilities”.
Most important out of these inclusions is that the “new building will have an internal lift, [making] the entire precinct wheelchair accessible; which it never has been before”.
Actors and playmakers will benefit greatly from these changes, especially since the destruction of last year’s fire decreased the amount of viable space for artists to utilise. “What we can offer artists [right now] is gravely reduced,” says Jones.
“In 2020, [we] can only offer artists a one-week season, which means it’s very hard to get their work reviewed, we can never fit the audiences that want to come to these very short seasons. [So] it will be very liberating for the artistic community and for us when we get into our new building.
“We’ll [be able to] go back to producing over 40 works a year and about 30 creative developments. At the moment that’s been drastically reduced, more than half.”
Theatre-goers across Melbourne should be excited by the prospect of a new and improved La Mama theatre. “It’ll go back to being that intense sculptural space that is just great for experimentation; it encourages cutting-edge, different kinds of theatre.”
Aiming at providing inclusivity and improved spaces for artists and audiences going forward, La Mama deserves to be maintained as one of Melbourne’s best loved theatres. But improvement won’t just happen by itself and La Mama needs your help to make it possible.
La Mama is calling upon the community to raise funds from now until Sunday June 30. Donations can be made at lamama.com.au/supportlamama.