Like so many others before them, the new owners of the Theatre Royal in Castlemaine have long dreamed of owning a live entertainment venue.
It wasn’t until last week that Felicity Cripps, Tim Heath, Andrea Distefano, Campbell Hynam-Smith and Jono Hill turned that dream into a reality.
The oldest, continuously-operating theatre in mainland Australia was theirs and they have plans to have the venue run at it’s full potential.
“A theatre was always something we all fantasised about owning but never thought would be possible,” Felicity said.
“The first time Andrea came to Castlemaine, (her partner) Campbell took her to see Cat Power and she said 'We should buy this place'. It was amazing.”
Four of the five owners live in Castlemaine with Felicity’s partner Tim having grown up with Campbell in town before moving to Melbourne.
“Campbell and Tim, they’ve been friends for years. We were all in Melbourne and decided at a similar time to move back to the country for a change of scenery,” Felicity said.
“In the mean time, Campbell and Andrea had been working with Jono in the film industry. Campbell also worked with Jono in hospitality.”
Felicity, Andrea, Tim and Campbell also had a taste of what running the Theatre Royal entails when they helped out the former owner in managing the venue.
“We were lucky to have a trial run. The former owner needed some management, so the four of us came in to manage it with an idea that we might take it over,” Felicity said.
“But the timing wasn't right and it didn't work out, so we had to step away.
“When it came on the market, we just had to go for it. After we spoke to Jono, who was really inspired the first time he visited us here, and we put in a bid and went from there.”
With years of experience in the film, music and hospitality industries, the quintet have already started to renovated, remodel and refresh the Theatre Royal.
Tim is the guitarist and singer in The Basics which features songwriter Wally De Backer (better known as Gotye) while Felicity also plays in her own band The Felicity Cripps Band.
“For us we wouldn't be doing this if it wasn't for the theatre. All of us have several passions,” Felicity said.
“Tim and mine are very music focused, Campbell and Andrea are both in the film industry as a cinematographer and film producer, and Jono has worked in the film and hospitality industries. We all also have experience in hospitality as well.
“This feels like the kind of adventure that can fill all those aspects and passions.”
Felicity said the theatre has a great reputation as a regional venue as well as being known for its historical features.
“It has been a revered venue that has amazing sound, great capacity and a historical aspect,” she said.
“But in last few years it hasn't been operating at its full potential. I think the music industry is really desperate for more regional venues.
“This is a rare find, with it also having the cinema aspect and being able to cater with the hospitality side.”
Work has already started on helping the theatre fill its potential with the front bar being renovated and fresh coats of paint hitting the walls.
“The previous space was almost impossible to work in, so we want a more economic use of space, to open it up and make it comfortable and easily able cater for a lot of people,” Felicity said.
“We are also hoping we can close in winter months for a few weeks to do a proper re-do.
“Things like floors where vinyl is past its time, freshening up and doing everything we can without wanting to modernise but rather hark back to when it was in its prime.”
Plans are also in place to make the courtyard a venue for more local music acts.
“Tim has been talking to touring agencies and friends in industry and we will hopefully have an eclectic mix of music, bands and even dances,” Felicity said.
“Tim’s band The Basics are going to play on New Years Eve and Wally (De Backer) is coming out from New York for that, which will be very special.
“We'll also reinvigorate the film program. Andrea has finger on the pulse in getting new releases but we are also thinking along lines of Astor and Nova cinemas in Melbourne and bringing out arthouse films, some classics and trying to get a broad spectrum that appeals to all ages.”
Mount Alexander manager economy and culture David Leathem said the new owners had an opportunity inject new life into the community as well as the theatre.
“They have a chance to refresh (the venue) and look at the services they provide and how they integrate that,” he said.
“They can build on that strength but also develop it even further.
“It is one of businesses has a lot of elements, so challenge is to explore new elements to engage the community as well as visitors and tourism.”
Mr Leathem said other developments around town had shown Castlemaine as an emerging tourism destination.
He highlighted that The Theatre Royal and The Bridge Hotel in Castlemaine had both been named best regional live music venue at The Age Music Awards in past years.
“Wider Castlemaine is emerging as a tourism destination and it is because of the strength of our arts, culture and the burgeoning food and wine. The Theatre Royal blends all three,” he said.