Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Revived hub of independent theatre has plenty in store

The Store Room Theatre, formerly home to some of Melbourne’s most innovative independent theatre companies, is preparing a dynamic new program for 2009 after being dark for over a year.

Based above the Parkview Hotel in North Fitzroy, the Store Room – an intimate, 63-seat venue – picked up a swag of awards, including a coveted Green Room Award, within a few years of opening its doors in 1999.

It quickly developed a reputation for staging exciting productions by emerging theatre makers, and became a meeting place for Melbourne’s independent theatre community.

“It became a very sought-after venue to present work at, and it was quite hard to get work on there,” recalls writer/performer Angus Cerini. “So even though they were a really small venue above a pub … it had a lot of cache to it; and that’s represented by the kind of shows that went in there and their kind of audiences. The audiences that the Store Room managed to attract in a very short space of time would put a lot of really well-funded organisations to shame.”

All that changed in 2006 when the Store Room’s management announced a new direction for the theatre.

“We remodelled the company to have a stronger, more dedicated focus on the development of new work,” explains Store Room co-founder, Todd Macdonald.

“Instead of being a venue for hire, the company became a core group of around 11 artists – our Artistic Associates – with the company focused specifically on those artists and developing their work.”

While Macdonald stands by the merits of that development model – during which time the company was rebranded as the Store Room Theatre Workshop – there was a cost: work continued on behind the scenes, but no new productions were staged. The theatre has been dark since November 2007.

Consequently, the Store Room’s profile has fallen considerably – as has the degree to which it is funded by Arts Victoria.

It was this loss of funding which spurred Macdonald to return to the Store Room and once again take up the Artistic Director’s role, having previously resigned from the position in 2005 following the birth of his children.

“I decided that the time was right for me to come back, and – looking at some of the funding challenges that we had ahead of us – that a restructure of the company would be best,” Macdonald says.

That restructure will see the company’s existing development model fused with a curated program of new productions, and a new residency program.

“It’s what excited me the most, to take the existing structure of us being a development incubator … and expand that and link that again with us being a vibrant independent company venue,” Macdonald explains.

A call for expressions of interest from companies wanting to participate in the Store Room’s 2009 program was issued earlier this month.

“There’s a two-pronged approach: we’re going to ask three companies to come in to three month residencies here, and we’re also looking – possibly with those companies, or otherwise with companies who present us with a proposal – to program a series of shows again in July through to October.”

Melbourne’s independent theatre sector has responded to the news of a reinvigorated Store Room with delight.

“I think it’s very good news,” says Liz Jones, Artistic Director of Carlton’s La Mama Theatre. “I think the more venues we have and the more vital the scene, the better. Because the smaller the scene, the smaller the perception of the importance of theatre.”

Sunday Age theatre critic John Bailey also welcomed the announcement.

“There aren’t many venues that offered the same kind of thing that the Store Room did,” he says.

“They were a hub, but there was also an aspect of community about it, in that at openings or otherwise you often saw the same faces, and you had people going because of the venue. There was a sense of artists with similar kinds of ideas or goals working together; not necessarily making the same kinds of shows at all but definitely sharing a certain kind of spirit, and all gathered there and managing to cross-pollinate and find each other’s ideas, which was quite unique.”

That sense of community which the Store Room fostered is something that Todd Macdonald is keen to renew.

“What’s brilliant is that we’ve got a venue, and it’s a really well known venue, and it’s a well loved venue. I’m looking forward to getting the heart of that beating again, and getting people back in here and creating more of a community around our artists in Melbourne and in Fitzroy again.”

An edited version of this article appeared in The Age on Wednesday February 18.


caoin said...

An edited version of this article appeared in The Age on Wednesday February 18.

One of many more I hope.

richardwatts said...

Thanks mate - I'm hoping the same! xx

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