Victoria’s Minister for Creative Industries, the Hon Martin Foley MP, joined the La Mama team in Carlton on Thursday (22 November) to mark the beginning of the theatre’s rebuild.
The ‘turning of the sod’ ceremony was held 18 months after a fire, caused by an electrical fault, gutted the heritage theatre.
The rebuild was made possible by a partnership between the Andrews Labor Government and philanthropic groups, as well as an outpouring of support from Australia’s arts community.
The Labor Government contributed $1 million to kickstart the fundraising campaign, which was matched by a philanthropic alliance comprising Gandel Philanthropy, John T Reid Charitable Trusts, Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation, Sidney Myer Fund and a fifth anonymous donor.
Additional funds were raised by the community with individual donations raising more than $215,000.
Minister Foley said the fundraising efforts to save La Mama showed how much the theatre is cherished.
‘Over the last 18 months we’ve seen just how beloved La Mama is by the community – the unprecedented philanthropic alliance, the generosity of so many donors and our government’s contribution all reflect that,’ he said.
Despite initial concerns, reports earlier this month that La Mama Theatre was once again ablaze were proved false after a fire broke out at a restaurant on University Street, directly behind the theatre.
‘It’s been a tough few years for the La Mama team but today we look to the future, to seeing the theatre rise from the ashes and to the exciting next stage of La Mama’s history,’ Foley concluded.
The importance of La Mama and its place in the Australian arts ecology was highlighted by actor, singer, television presenter and Artistic Director of Adelaide Cabaret Festival, Julia Zemiro.
‘Often in your career you can feel stalled. La Mama allowed me to put on a show with my ideas in a supported and encouraging way.’
‘Often in your career you can feel stalled. La Mama allowed me to put on a show with my ideas in a supported and encouraging way. Making your own work is vital and La Mama is one of the few places in this country where you can put on a piece of work and have people turn up to watch it. It’s also a whole community of performance – and that’s pretty wonderful to be around,’ she told ArtsHub.
Zemiro also reflected on the importance of the rebuilding campaign, saying: ‘We often see important and interesting buildings knocked down for real estate. There’s no thought about wanting to preserve the culture of a place and time. La Mama to me was always a place to visit and walk by and think about all that came before. So when the building caught fire, all that history was disappearing. We love to visit artistically significant building and places in Europe and we have one right here. So the rebuild is important to restore and revitalise all that beautiful history as well as charging into the future,’ she said.
A new purpose-built building
The design for the Faraday Street site will see the heritage theatre rise from the ashes with the replication of unique features like the internal staircase, fireplace and trapdoor.
A new purpose-built building will nestle in front of the rebuilt theatre to complement the main site, delivering a much-needed rehearsal space and facilities for artists and staff. It will also be fully accessible.
The project will also improve accessibility and amenity across the whole site, and considers environmental impact with solar panels, a water tank and double glazing.
The team behind the project includes lead architect and former La Mama staff member Meg White and construction firm Cottee Parker.
La Mama’s Faraday Street theatre is expected to reopen in 2021.The existing La Mama Courthouse Theatre, around the corner in Drummond St, Carlton, continues to operate as usual.