Brisbane is about to get a new live theatre.
However whether it will be a 500-seat venue for live theatre or intimate performances – or around 1500 seats for theatre, musicals and ballet – is the debate Brisbane is about to begin.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk on Monday quietly announced – as part of the $3 billion Queens Wharf development contract – that a consultant who is yet to be appointed would spend the next 12 months investigating the nuts, bolts and brackets of Brisbane’s newest live theatre.
The consultancy will investigate what size of theatre best suits Brisbane from 2015, where it should be located, what features it should include and where it should be built.
- Brisbane’s main theatres in 2015
- The Playhouse at QPAC – 800 seats
- Queensland Theatre Company’s Bille Brown Theatre on Montague Road – 225 seats
- Judith Wright Centre – 300 to 350 seats.
- Cremorne Theatre at QPAC – 310 seats
- Brisbane Arts Theatre – 151 seats.
- The Powerhouse at New Farm – 300 to 520 seats
- Lyric Theatre at QPAC – 2000 seats.
- La Boite Theatre, Kelvin Grove – 400 seats; or 88 as a small theatre.
- A new 1500-seat theatre has been explored by Arts Queensland for some time.
However, this is what the industry thinks it needs.
Todd McDonald – artistic director La Boite theatre, Kelvin Grove
Mr McDonald said the consultancy needs to evaluate exactly what “Brisbane” needs.
“I mean, perhaps QPAC is flooding from the rim and we need another 1500-seat venue, but certainly I am not – as part of this organisation – able to comment on the need for quite a large-scale theatre venue, that a 1500-seat venue, in this city would be,” Mr McDonald said.
“From our point of view, we represent a different type of audience and we are developing our audiences as well,” he said.
“In Brisbane generally, the feeling that I get is that we need about a 500-seater.
“But that is again – that is what the Powerhouse theatre is. But that is a very specific kind of space, that Powerhouse theatre.
“But 1500 seems excessive to me. You would definitely want to see the proof of the audience numbers and the growth; particularly at QPAC.”
He said choosing a 1500-seat theatre and “filling it with musicals” is a different conversation that defining what a new theatre should be in Brisbane.
Sue Donnelly – executive director, Queensland Theatre Company
“The ideal size for theatre is about 500 seats, which is what the old Suncorp Theatre once held,” she said. It was demolished in 2007 for a new office tower.
“1500 is more for a ballet audience or an opera audience. Large-scale musicals want to perform in the big Lyric Theatre at QPAC.
“And at the minute the 800-seat Playhouse is too small for the ballet or the opera – the sort of productions they do – but for us, it is a bit big.”
In Brisbane, Queensland Theatre Company either plays in the 800-seat Optus Playhouse at QPAC, or at its own 225-seat Bille Brown Theatre on Montague Road at South Brisbane.
“The Playhouse Theatre is a lovely theatre, but it is sometimes too big for our shows really,” she said.
“So it is a real issue in Brisbane is the city not having that 500-seat size theatre.”
Ms Donnelly said the capacity of the Playhouse at QPAC ended up as a compromise between the Queensland Theatre Company (who wanted 500-600 seats) and Queensland Ballet who wanted 1500.
“So they did what they did in other states and cut it down the middle and built an 800-seater; which doesn’t really suit the purpose of either really.”
Ms Donnelly said QPAC did an excellent job managing the Playhouse, the facilities were very good.
“It is lovely theatre to perform on; it is just that the space is way too big.”
“I just think that 800 seats is just too big to get that sense of an intimate theatre. It is also very wide. In some seats you can feel disconnected from what goes on, on the stage.”
Brisbane does not have a 500-seat theatre; unlike Sydney, Perth, Melbourne, she said.
“We don’t have anything. And that’s the point,” she said.
“We have 800 in the Playhouse, or we have 225 in the Bill Brown or we have 310 in the Cremorne Theatre.
“Or we have around 400 in the Powerhouse. But it has no ‘fly-tower’ and you have to bring everything in.”
A fly-tower stores “backgrounds” and scenery which can be dropped behind the cast.
Queensland Performing Arts Centre – chief executive John Kotzas
QPAC is home to four Queensland arts bodies; Queensland Theatre Company, Queensland Symphony Orchestra, Queensland Ballet and Opera Queensland.
Mr Kotzas said QPAC has been arguing for several years that there now room in Brisbane for “one, two or three new theatres.”
“And I hope we have a plethora of theatres, because our population is growing at a rapid rate,” Mr Kotzas said.
He said in 2014 “about 1.4 million people” came to a performance at QPAC and audience surveys show people are “highly satisfied” with the shows and the venue.
He said an earlier study completed by Arts Queensland “two governments ago” had identified the need for a new 1500-seat theatre.
“Why I am very supportive of a 1500-seat theatre is because it is between the Playhouse – which is 800 – and the Lyric which is 2000,” he said.
Mr Kotzas said it was demanding for even a larger production – prepared to run at the 800-seat Playhouse – to jump up to the 2000-seat Lyric Theatre.
“It is difficult to sustain if you haven’t done the audience development work.”
Mr Kotzas said he did not want to dismiss calls for a 500-seat theatre.
“But I think you can go to the Judith Wright Theatre if you want say 350 seats, or you can come to the Cremorne, or you can go to the Powerhouse for around 500 seats.
“Or if you want 500 seats, you can just play the stalls of the Playhouse.”
Mr Kotzas said he was not against the expansion of community theatre at all, describing how Harvest Rain Theatre company had grown to perform at QPAC to 1200 people.
“So I don’t want to speak against little theatres, but if you are talking about what is the next big contribution that the state should do to the sector; it should be about how we grow and how we plan for growth over the next 20 years.”
Ruby Foster – Brisbane Arts Theatre administration and technical director
“We don’t need another QPAC, we need something in between Brisbane Powerhouse and QPAC; around 500 seats,” Mr Foster said.
“We take issue with offering another stage for national and international touring shows; whereas we need more space to showcase Queensland’s talent in this town.”
Mr Foster said their current production, Avenue Q, was competing against Les Miserables, a national touring version.
“We just don’t need another stage for more competition for more national and international touring shows.”
Other cities’ new theatres
Heath Ledger Theatre in Perth – around 500 seats.
Drama Theatre, Sydney’s Opera House – around 500 seats
Melbourne Theatre Company’s Sumner Theatre – around 500 seats.