“I will invest ONE MILLION DOLLARS into the Victorian Arts sector” – Mr. Aleksander Vass of The Vass Theatre Group.
At a time when the incumbent Government has cut $87.1 million dollars from Arts funding nationally. At a time when independent and co-operative theatre companies are only just beginning to find identity in a landscape dominated by titans. At a time when the idea “what will work for Australian audiences” has never been under more rigorous fire, entrepreneur Aleksander Vass has invested ONE MILLION DOLLARS (capitals intended) into renovating the George cinema into a theatre and arts complex in Fitzroy St., St Kilda.
Spurred undoubtedly by the successes of the Hayes Theatre in Sydney, Mr Vass’ move is the latest in a string by businessmen taking creative risks for independent theatre, risks which hinge upon the exposure of Australian audiences to a wider variety of performance than has historically been viable.
Only seating 110, The Hayes has quickly established itself as a watering hole for Australia’s best and brightest Musical Theatre stars. In its debut season earlier this year, The Hayes played host to Sweet Charity which was nominated for 8 Helpmann awards, winning 3, and which subsequently booked a nation-wide tour including a showing at the Opera House. Currently, The Hayes is the home of its namesake, Nancye Hayes OAM – as she treads the boards in the world premiere of the Edwardian murder mystery Beyond Desire.
The hallmark of this critical acclaim seems to be the creative board of the Hayes itself, which through extensive vetting has managed to ensure only the highest calibre of performance is produced. The seating restriction then, becomes a marketing boon, as seasons are strictly limited and audiences clamour to see the ephemeral wonder of each Hayes show. It is the perfect storm of top tier talent being attracted to work on creatively risky ventures which ordinarily would not have been possible through larger production houses.
Perhaps Mr. Vass see’s something of this glimmering future for his Alex Theatre.
The complex comprises three theatres in total, one which seats 500, another smaller theatre to seat 330 and a blackbox/rehearsal room which can be converted into a 250 seat theatre. But what is truly remarkable is the philosophy espoused by General Manager Richard Fitzgerald (formerly of Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne), who sees his role as one of “allowing mid-sized plays to be commercially viable before they gain momentum and move to bigger venues for longer runs.”
Already booked as a venue for the Melbourne Comedy Festival in 2015, everything seems on track for a rosy opening of the Theatre in February. Whether or not Mr. Vass has intended to do so, a gauntlet has been thrown at independent theatre maker’s all over Melbourne. Dare you to bring something wonderful and difficult and brilliant to Melbourne audiences? Melbourne may not yet be as prolific as London’s West End, but a few more businessmen like Aleksander Vass, and one day, we just might.