Young at Heart: Theatre will enrich our city

TODAY I went for a walk on the wild side. Rob and I were invited to an update on the new Ulumbarra Theatre with the inimitable manager of The Capital theatre, David Lloyd, David Stretch, who is the newly appointed business development manager, and a group of fellow enthusiasts of the project.

The instructions were clear. Wear boots, warm clothes, be prepared for rough pathways and builders’ “stuff” everywhere, but come and dream with us. We did all of that.

On went the hard hats and the hi-vis safety jackets and we all felt a touch of the Tony Abbotts about us!

Having recovered from that particular vision of ourselves, we proceeded to make our way into what will eventually be the entrance to this new theatre.

As we walked down that cold, desolate corridor, David Lloyd explained the different facets of the theatre. He pointed out where a ticket booth will be housed, where facilities will be built for students to hone their home economic and theatre skills, where gardens will be developed, the actual position of the stage, the auditorium, stalls and the circle.  These craggy old walls deserve this process of extraordinary change and imagination.

How fitting to also be able to offer a superb venue for those students who complete their final two years of study at the Bendigo Senior Secondary College. The new venue will offer the opportunity for students to gather together as one school, rather than in fractured groups as has happened in recent years when venues used by BSSC were so much smaller and less comfortable. 

Such bleakness and sadness of the cells on either side reminded us of how fortunate we are to be born today and not 100 years ago, when conditions in the goldfields were uncomfortable whatever one’s circumstances, and in a gaol... horrendous!  The cells are tiny, airless, with a small chink of light near the ceiling. The total desolation of facing life in this grim, harsh prison would be enough to send most prisoners into a state of utter despair. The gaol only closed its doors finally and irrevocably in 2006 when the site was decommissioned and taken over by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development.

How fitting and exciting that today we are embarking on a project which can be placed in the centre of such a heartless, cruel environment that will offer instead a place of enlightenment and learning, of joy and excitement. 

The theatre will seat nearly 1000 people. It is a mammoth task to change a prison into a theatre of these proportions, to incorporate our history and our heritage in such an imaginative and creative design. The architects and engineers deserve our utmost awe and admiration. 

The stage is only slightly smaller than the State Theatre in the Arts Centre in Melbourne. This will enable full opera and ballet companies to bring their work to Bendigo. It will attract orchestras and performers from all types of musical and theatre disciplines. Complex stage scenery and the mechanics of operating lighting, sound, props et al are all part of the 21st century theatres of today. We have them all within this new space.

This theatre will also attract graduation ceremonies, school concerts, major speakers on the circuit... the list is endless in its variety and all of this is so enriching for our community of Bendigo. There are already more than 100 bookings for next year, which in itself brings work and money into this city. Importantly, large conventions can be held and catered for. 

Bendigonians can be extraordinarily proud of the status this theatre will bring to this city. 

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