Monday, February 22, 2010

Historic Theatre under threat

We discovered on our visit to the Castlemaine (in regional Victoria) on Saturday that the historic and attractive Theatre Royal is under threat. Ironically the problem is because of the cinema's age, and it is also exacerbated by the same longevity. The summary of the issue on the theatre's website says:

The Castlemaine Theatre Royal is a 150 year old gold rush building that requires expensive refurbishment to meet modern Building Code regulations. If the required works are not completed the Theatre will be forced to close.

Many of the Theatre Royal’s heritage features are now non-compliant due to modern Building Code regulations. These include the height of the handrail on the main staircase, the height of the balcony barrier and the size and nature of the external fire escapes. The works will be complicated and expensive due to Heritage restrictions.

Because of today’s tough economic times, the operators of the Theatre do not have the necessary financial resources to bring this 150 year-old building up to modern building standards. Over the past five years they have made a significant financial contribution to the building (in the region of A$200,000 - US$180,000, £116,000), however these essential works are beyond their means.

They need A$300,000 (US$270,000, £175,000) to bring this 150 year-old building up to standard. Apparently, the Theatre Royal meets the Heritage Section ‘Jobs Fund’ criteria as it provides significant social, cultural and economic benefit to the community. We’ve certainly found the ice creams of great value. And one of the reasons I like it very much is because of the very Art Deco fa├žade. Australian often seem to lament their 'lack of history' but as here we do seem to be a bit careless of really supporting the history we do have.

The Theatre Royal has been around for 150 years. It is the oldest continually running theatre on the mainland and an entertainment, community and tourist hub. If it goes, we lose a cultural icon, and there is no guarantee that the theatre business will come back.

Since it first opened its doors in the 1850s the Theatre Royal has served the district by continually providing entertainment in the form of plays, concerts, recitals, cinema and live music, as well as a restaurant and bar. In recent years it has behaved as a much needed community venue for welcoming new residents such as the Sudanese and Burundi, and has also played host to major film premieres such as Rabbit Proof Fence and Romulus My Father.

The theatre has a form here enabling concerned locals to support the application. Anyone that feels they can justify adding their name to the list is asked to do so, it’s a neat place!


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