ANU Musical Theatre Company Cancels Production, Citing Venue Issues

The Drowsy Chaperone

By Eliza Croft

The ANU Musical Theatre Company (MTC) has cancelled its production of ‘The Drowsy Chaperone’. The MTC Executive has said this was due to difficulties securing an appropriate venue, but a number of students involved in the production have expressed frustration at the Executive for not doing more.

The MTC (known as Interhall Productions, or IHP, until 2017) has staged an annual production every year since at least 2013. This year’s production was to be ‘The Drowsy Chaperone’. Auditions were held in Week 6, and rehearsals began approximately two weeks ago. On Tuesday, however, it was decided that the show should be cancelled.

The MTC Executive told Observer the cancellation was “due to the inability to find a suitable venue”. “The Executive had entered the year believing we would use the Manning Clark Theatre [MC] for the show,” they said. However, the Executive said this ultimately proved unviable, as MC is used for classes during the day and thus could not be used by the production until after 6pm. The Executive said they considered setting up the orchestra underneath the seating in MC, to avoid having to set it up before each show, but that the risk of the instruments being damaged made this option “untenable”.

The Executive told Observer that the plan to hold the show in MC was abandoned in February. They said they had explored other potential venue options after that point, and discussed these options and the possibility of cancelling the show with the production team throughout the month of May.

However, a number of students involved in the production said they were not expecting the cancellation. A member of the production team said the Executive’s “blunt handling” of the cancellation decision was “a shocking blow”. They acknowledged that issues such as low funds and the problems with the Cultural Centre had “made things more challenging”, but that ultimately, the issue was that the Executive “weren’t willing to do the work” to overcome these challenges.  “The Executive’s work ethic has been lackluster at best,” they said, adding that much of the investigation into other venues had been completed by the production team.

Cast member Zoe O’Leary Cameron told Observer that she had tried to help secure a venue through contacts, and that this venue option was supposed to be discussed on Tuesday – but instead,the cancellation was announced. “The overwhelming feeling is that the executive have basically committed to complete practical inaction over the entire year so far when it comes to this show,” she said. She added that she could not understand why the Executive did not do more, given they are largely experienced performers and “well connected in the theatre scene”.

The MTC Executive told Observer  that it would be “an injustice” to say the team did not pursue other venue options. They said that a number of other venues had been considered, but none satisfied the four elements of availability, price, quality, and location such that the show could be both feasible and of sufficient quality.

The Executive secured a tentative booking at the Belconnen Theatre, where last year’s production was held, but that this “was too far afield, had no place for the 12-piece orchestra already sourced, and was not able to facilitate the creative vision of the Production Team”. The Playhouse at the Canberra Theatre Centre was also an option, having been tentatively arranged by a member of the production team, but this was “going to cost too much to be feasible”. The Executive said they and the production team had worked to secure extra funding, but “the risk that we would have forced a cast to put in 4 months of work only for them to not have a venue due to the money falling through was too precarious for us to continue with”.

Cast member Caitlin Baker told Observer she felt “absolute disappointment” as a first year set to perform in her first ANU musical, but that overall the Executive should not bear the blame. “The best students I know are theatre kids, and I think despite severe organisational faults the majority of the fault falls on ANU and their lack of support,” she said. Baker said that a friend had told her she should transfer to the University of Sydney if she was “serious about pursuing theatre” as an extracurricular activity. Baker said this lack of a competitive theatre scene is “grounded in our lack of a suitable venue on campus”.

O’Leary Cameron echoed this frustration with ANU’s theatre facilities. She said that as a result of the Save the Arts campaign in 2016, “the planners originally agreed to creating a useable large theatre space” in the redevelopment. She highlighted issues with both MC and the Drama Theatre, such as a poor backstage area, and said that by allowing such shortcomings,  “Chancelry have effectively endorsed the slow death of accessible large scale theatre on campus.”

An ANU spokesperson said that the spaces had been designed in consultation with theatre groups. “Kambri has been designed for the whole ANU and broader community to enjoy. The events and live performance spaces are multi-purpose and are designed to facilitate live music, drama, public lectures and classes,” they said. “ANU has worked closely with all stakeholder groups, including the ANU Musical Theatre Company, from the very outset of the Kambri design, construction and operational phases and has incorporated the feedback of those involved in that process,” they added.

Students involved in the production told Observer they were concerned that this year’s cancellation casts doubt on future MTC productions. The MTC Executive said they would be holding a “public strategic planning session to ensure the Society remains viable into the future”, and that the society would be holding a Special General Meeting and a ‘Showstopper’ performance event on 30 May.

The ANU spokesperson said that the booking process for spaces such as the Cultural Centre will be reviewed in October, and that feedback can be sent to [email protected]

Anthony Lotric contributed to reporting.


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