La Mama Theatre looks to the future after smashing its fundraising goal.
27.11.2019

La Mama Theatre looks to the future after smashing its fundraising goal.

Photo: Darren Gill

Since opening its doors in 1967, Melbourne’s La Mama Theatre has been a breeding ground for lateral thinking, independent performance makers.

Shock was felt throughout the community when La Mama Theatre went up in flames in May 2018. Only the external brick walls remained, but La Mama co-CEO Caitlin Dullard is now pleased to announce they’ve reached the $3.1 million fundraising target to rebuild and restore La Mama in its original location on Faraday Street in Carlton.

“It was clear on the morning of the fire that we were going to rebuild, and it was made very clear to us by our community on that day that we had the support to do that,” Dullard says.

“It was incredibly heartening. Obviously on the first day we didn’t have any kind of knowledge of how to do this, but there was an understanding that we were supported and we were going to do this.”

Betty Burstall founded La Mama after being turned on by the creative freedom evident in New York City’s small theatre scene. La Mama quickly became a space for alternative ideas and a breeding ground for a uniquely Australian voice within the theatre context.

“It was a game changer,” says Dullard. “Before La Mama was created, most of the theatre in Australia was really based on English texts. There was no Australian voice, so La Mama pioneered this concept that there was a multitude of Australian voices within our community and we didn’t have to go beyond the seas to find the stories.

“In 1967, that was a significant turning point for what theatre could be and for what performers and writers and creatives understood their practice to be.”

Since the beginning, La Mama has supported its artists by taking care of the necessary infrastructure so they can focus on the creative work. It’s a model that definitely didn’t exist in Melbourne prior to La Mama and hardly exists elsewhere now. 

“It’s obviously a model that is needed and wanted and valued by all the theatre makers and artists who continue to knock on our door,” Dullard says.

La Mama has continued operations since the fire at the La Mama Courthouse venue on Drummond Street, Carlton. The rebuilt theatre – which will closely resemble the much-loved original – is set to be back in action in 2021.

Once they’d made the decision to rebuild on the Faraday Street site, there was a mountain to climb in order to reach the $3.1 million target.

“That includes insurance payout, which covers exactly what was there, but we took this as an opportunity to modestly grow and improve our infrastructure,” Dullard says

The Victorian Government contributed $1 million, which was matched by a philanthropic alliance consisting of the Sidney Myer Fund, John T Reid Charitable Trusts, Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation, Gandel Philanthropy and one anonymous donor.

“That was an incredible example of philanthropy and community and government working together,” Dullard says. “It also meant we were very well positioned to launch our fundraising campaign with the remainder amount to our general community. We’ve had more than 600 individual donors contribute, adding up to $215,000.

“They’re the smaller players, but they’re the vital ones as well. They’re the actors and the audiences and the everyday people who are giving us money and saying, ‘Please continue’.”

They’ve put together an improved design that includes a second building. It’ll house a rehearsal hub downstairs for artists to develop their work and an office space upstairs.

Another key improvement is that La Mama will be made into a fully accessible venue for the first time.

“There’s the inclusion of a lift and a platform lift and wheelchair accessible toilets. It will also be significantly improved in terms of the sustainability elements. We’ll have solar panels and double-glazed windows and insulation and water tanks.

“As devastating as it was, there are some really positive outcomes for the future.”

The La Mama rebuild is scheduled for completion in early 2021. For updates and more information, head to lamama.com.au.