One of Australia’s oldest professional theatre companies focused on young people is moving to Bendigo.
Arena Theatre Company will run its base from the second story of the Old Fire Station in View Street and draw on local talent from schools and the youth community to create original theatrical works and projects.
It will operate as part of Bendigo’s Capital Venues and Events complex as its first resident theatre company.
Capital Venues and Events general manager David Lloyd said Arena’s arrival highlighted the strong arts and culture scene that Bendigo has developed.
“For a nationally recoginsed, 50-year-old theatre company to choose a regional city to base themselves in, and for that city to be Bendigo based on strength of our arts and culture, is a really important moment,” he said.
“Arena has been producing theatre for young people, and with young people, for 50 years. Some of their work is world-renowned. We will see some amazing theatre for young people coming out of Bendigo.”
The move comes after Arena lost its Federal Government funding in 2016 but artistic director Christian Leavesley and the Arena board developed a strategy to re-develop as a regionally-based theatre company.
“We were starting to move to more regional audiences and looked closely at some of the regional areas around Victoria with a view to moving to one of them,” Mr Leavesley said.
“Bendigo was by far the most attractive because of the culture that is already here. We felt we could slot in and do terrific work building on the great strengths that already exist here.”
The relocation is supported by the $7 million Bendigo Arts and Design package funded by the state government.
Mr Leavesley said Arena had a focus on creating original theatre works with young people in primary and secondary schools.
“Young people are at the heart of the creativity. We construct works with young people and then take it to another level with professional artists to develop those works into things we can take internationally,” he said.
“One of the great things about the model is getting to see what sparks young people's imaginations and then make amazing work from those experiences.”
Mr Lloyd said it was a chance for the arts and theatre scene to develop even higher levels of professionalism.
“There is no intention for this to replace the great work that companies like Bendigo Theatre Company and Nexus Bendigo Youth Theatre do or what the schools themselves do,” he said.
“One of the things Arena identified in Bendigo was what already exists in our community. You need that strong undercurrent of cultural activity, people participating in arts and culture and strong infrastructure, which Bendigo has, to make it possible for them to move.”