Past, Present and Future

Plans for the Marian Street Theatre

More than 3000 have signed a petition to re-open the Marian Street Theatre (MST), that much-loved and venerable grande dame of culture in this municipality.

First opened as a community hall in 1906, the building – with significant upgrades – became a theatre in 1966. Plays featuring actors of the calibre of John McCallum, Ruth Cracknell, Jackie Weaver, Ron Haddrick and Nancye Hayes were performed to packed houses for the next 35 years. From 2001 to 2013, the theatre was used solely by Australia’s longest continually running children’s theatre, the Marian Street Theatre for Young People. In many cases, three or four generations of families have attended children’s theatre productions, or been involved in the development of them.

However, in December 2013 Council closed the doors of the theatre, and it has remained unused ever since.

Why did Council take this action? In his report, Strictly K, consultant Les Currie stated that wiring and rigging in the theatre were unsafe, while large portions of the ceiling over the stage were either damaged or missing. Mould downstairs raised health concerns. According to Mr Currie, maintenance was poor, with issues such as blocked toilets and no handles on fire doors ‘falling on deaf ears’.

The cost of fixing these problems was put at $410,000. However, there were other issues that needed addressing, including accessibility, an improved connection to the street, relocation of the toilets from the foyer area, a new stage door, and reducing the size of the stage to increase the capacity of the auditorium from 280 to 300 seats – a bare minimum for professional theatre.

Architect Cecilia Kluger’s vision was to create a space that was “inviting, inclusive, inspiring and relaxing”, “the place to go, see and be seen.” We members of the Save Marian Street Theatre committee couldn’t have put it better ourselves.

To carry out this work will obviously cost a lot more than the budgeted $410,000. The 2013 Soft Tread report estimated the repairs alone would cost $947,000, as well as extra money for noise mitigation.

But to propel the building into the 21st Century – to make it a true modern venue for professional theatre, as well as for jazz, art shows and the like – a true arts centre – will cost millions.

And that’s where the Save Marian Street Theatre committee comes in.

We have put forward a business plan to Council which involves our team firstly preparing an up-to-date architectural scope of works – a vision for the theatre, if you like – then, when that’s approved, raising the bulk of the money needed to renovate the theatre.

On June 27 2017 Council voted to provide us with $37,000 in seed funding which we are using to generate tax-deductible status for the SMS Theatre group, and to carry out a study by a professional fund-raising organisation to identify prospective donors. We are very grateful to the far-sighted councillors who supported Cr Cheryl Szatow’s motion in favour of the grant.

The SMS committee does not want to run the theatre. At this stage, we are working in partnership with Council to raise the money to carry out the necessary capital works. How the theatre is managed subsequently will be a matter for the future.

We understand that it will cost money to run the theatre, but that’s the case with every other Council-run performing arts centre in Sydney: the Glen Street Theatre, the Riverside Theatre at Parramatta, the Concourse at Chatswood, and many others. Indeed, both the upgrade and running costs of Marian Street Theatre are estimated to be far below that of other theatres. It also costs money to run a sports facility, such as a football or baseball ground or an indoor basketball stadium. We believe both sports and the performing arts should be integral components of any well-balanced community.