Students have taken a bow in the Arts Centre for the last time, as the theatre’s final shows ended on Saturday night. The Arts Centre will be demolished next semester as part of the Union Court Redevelopment.
Demolition of the Centre has been fraught with controversy. Not one, but two “Save the Arts” campaigns protested the ANU’s decisions. The first aimed to ensure there would be a theatre space in the new Union Court, which was successful – ANU promised a 150 seat theatre in the planned “culture and events space”, as well as two smaller “event pavilions”. The second campaign launched when it emerged that, although ANU had promised to subsidise other theatre venues, it would not provide space for the current schedule of productions. ANU subsequently agreed to subsidise alternative venues.
The change still presents a number of challenges for theatre groups. Interhall Productions (IHP) producer Ria Pflaum and Nation University Theatre Society (NUTS) Artistic Director Matt Barton both said their groups were “still figuring out” where they would store their extensive props and costumes: Both groups currently have dedicated space in the Arts Centre. Pflaum said they would need to go through Venue Hire to find a new storage area, but that currently Venue Hire was unable to help them – possibly due to the resource shortage that has been affecting clubs since the start of the year. Productions will also lose the familiarity of the Arts Centre’s light and sound system. Rowan Rowlands, lighting designer for The Last Five Years, explained that newer tech is not always better. “The Arts Centre is an old building,” he said, “but old means there’s less that can go wrong.”
Other groups will also be affected by the demolition. The XSA has a common space upstairs in the Arts Centre, and “have not been guaranteed” a place in the Redevelopment, according the Executive Brandon Tan. “We were only notified less than three weeks before we were required to evacuate the space,” he said, adding he “felt very uncertain”. The group is currently trying to find places to store its furniture and books.
Barton described NUTS’s ‘The Last Five Years’ as a “bittersweet ending for the Arts Centre”. The musical, whose cast is just two actors and a pianist, was well suited to the intimate environment of the Drama Lab. IHP’s ‘Into the Woods’ sold out on its final night, according to Pflaum, who said she was very happy with how it had gone. The set was particularly noteworthy, featuring staircase of giant books and a moving, light-up beanstalk. “We were able to nail it [the set] in,” Pflaum said, since they would not have to restore the stage to its original condition for future productions.
While these shows were the last in the Arts Centre, the building will remain standing for some time. According to the developers, demolitions will not occur until the Pop-up Village is completed. Observer understands, however, that areas may be cordoned off before this, with the XSA given a move-out date of 1 June. Complications with The Gods Cafe have also added some uncertainty – they are considering legal action after refusing to move to a significantly smaller space in the Pop-up Village.