It’s time to reclaim our day – Theatre Day 2013

One year ago, I discovered something new about the Australian arts industry. Something which I had absolutely no idea about.

TheatreSomething, I realised, many of my colleagues had absolutely no idea about. Something that, I am sorry to say, most of Australia still has absolutely no idea about.

My discovery was this: that the third Tuesday in February is officially known as ‘Theatre Day’ in Victoria – and it’s been so for 26 years.

You didn’t know that, did you? And if you did (smarty pants), perhaps you agree with me that this is something the arts community in Australia should be aware of, and should be celebrating.

Well, today is the third Tuesday in February – is anyone celebrating?

In December 1987, the Lord Mayor of Melbourne – Winsome McCaughey – proclaimed the Theatre Day as:

A day on which the City of Melbourne and the State of Victoria honour all those who derive their living from the Theatre. 

– Official Theatre Day Proclamation, 1987

Around the same time, Melbourne’s Green Room Awards were formed and a nice little tradition began whereby the nominations for Melbourne’s premier arts awards were released on the same day – Theatre Day.

Although in the early years after Theatre Day was proclaimed, the City of Melbourne and Arts Centre Melbourne would celebrate the event with parties for the arts community, somewhere along the line the significance of Theatre Day has been lost, and now we just hang out for the Green Room Award noms. No parties, no special recognitions, no ceremonies. Nothing.

Theatre Day Proclamation

According to Dr Mark Williams, a Melbourne Solicitor and Barrister with a PhD in 17th century Theatre History, it was thanks to the hard work of Melbourne’s theatrical community 26 years ago that Theatre Day came about in the first place. It’s such a shame that we, the theatrical community, aren’t recognising the event in the way it was originally intended.

Blair Edgar and Steven Tandy, founders of the Green Room Awards believed in the need for a special day to commemorate the hardworking folk who create the magic of theatre, both offstage and on. And so did the rest of the industry.

With the support of major companies like the Australian Ballet, Melbourne Theatre Company and several theatre owners in Melbourne, the pair’s hard work paid off when Winsome McCaughey believed in their cause enough to allow the City of Melbourne and greater Victoria the chance to ‘officially’ celebrate the arts community.

So my question today is, why aren’t we still celebrating with fervour and alacrity? Where did the passion go? Sure, the Green Room Awards nomination announcement is a form of celebration, but they seem to be all that is left to show for the work done over a quarter of a century ago in rallying for recognition. And, by definition, they only represent a small percentage of the theatrical world.

Theatre Day could and should be more than that.

Surely Theatre Day could use the support of Melbourne City Council in helping to spread the word and educate a new generation of theatrical folk about the history of the event. Surely venues and producers could get behind what could become an integral part of the Arts calendar (special Theatre Day rates? A speech at the final curtain about the significance of the day? A post on social media in solidarity?)

Have we become too engrossed in our own shows, our own organisations and the possibility of a nomination at the Green Room Awards to remember that we should be recognising the talents of all of our “Artists, Musicians, the Craftspeople who work in the Workshops, the Stage Crews, the Managements, the Publicists, the Media and the staff of every theatre enterprise in our community” [from the official proclamation]?

I am urging everyone to join with me in recognising not only the work of the talented men and women nominated for Green Room Awards today, but the work of theatre makers across Australia. Perhaps if Theatre Day Victoria gains more momentum, we might even manage to secure an officially recognised ‘National Theatre Day’ sometime in the future.

But the recognition needs to start somewhere, and it might as well be here and now.

Let’s reclaim our day – Happy Theatre Day!

Erin James

Erin James is's former Editor in Chief and a performer on both stage and screen. Credits include My Fair Lady, South Pacific and The King and I (Opera Australia), Love Never Dies and Cats (Really Useful Group), Blood Brothers (Enda Markey Presents), A Place To Call Home (Foxtel/Channel 7) and the feature film The Little Death (written and directed by Josh Lawson).

Erin James

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