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Marian Street Theatre To Soon Hear Its Fate

28-Jun-2018
Written By Emma Brancatisano

Performance Photography By Margie McCrae


A team of young performers on Sydney’s North Shore is in the midst of bringing an urban fairytale, written by playwright and radio show host Wendy Harmer, to life.

Behind the scenes, a long fight to save the Marian Street Theatre the group once called home is nearing a tipping point.

“Being able to walk into a professional theatre - to the lights going down and the stage being set - is just about the best experience young people can have,” Marian Street Theatre for Young People’s (MSTYP) Artistic Director Margie McCrae said. “That’s how we build the audiences of tomorrow. It’s vital we get it back.”

The council-owned Marian Street Theatre has for almost 50 years remained a cornerstone of the Ku-ring-gai community, yet its history has been turbulent.

“We’ve certainly had some highs and lows,” Ms McCrae said, of one of Australia’s oldest performance and training organisations for young people.

When adult theatre company Northside Theatre Company ceased trading in 2001, the MSTYP stepped in as the sole occupier.

“We took on everything … we developed the aspect of young people learning by being in that professional theatre space,” Ms McCrae said. “They loved it. We were very grateful council allowed us to stay there for those years.”

But the organisation has been without a home since December 2013, when Ku-ring-gai Council closed the theatre, citing primarily safety concerns.

The group was forced to relocate its performance and rehearsal requirements to temporary sites, including Knox Grammar School.

Years later, the Save Marian Street Theatre Committee is finalising the details of a revised plan to return a theatre and community hub to Ku-ring-gai.

“When the theatre closed, there was a resolution from council they would do everything they could to get it open again as quickly as possible,” Chairman John Townend said.

Three reports followed and by 2016, no plans had been made. “The mayor at the time felt that if we could get the community involved, it may help council to seek a resolution,” he said.

In June last year, after tabling a business plan, the committee received a $37,000 grant to kickstart fundraising and carry out a feasibility study. The study returned figures, which have since been updated to reflect an estimated $7.5 million project, approximately $2.25 million of which will come from council.

“There is a big financial requirement of council. We are also asking that they find a way to assure residents this theatre will remain a theatre for the next 25 years,” Mr Townend said.

But the committee chairman said the project, which will include primarily a revamp of the additions to the existing 300-seat theatre, will create a “must-visit community cultural centre in Ku-ring-gai which we are desperately lacking”.

Concept designs show plans for a second 140-seat theatre, a cafe and a creative learning centre, as well as an amphitheatre built into adjacent parkland, bringing professional adult theatre, many genres of music, art and cultural exhibitions to the area.

“A big part of what we have done is to try and reconnect with the community,” he said. “After 17 years of there being no professional theatre, we desperately needed to do this.”

“Council has to feel confident that what we’re putting forward is credible and that they feel the community wants to have it,” Mr Townend said. “I think if they feel those things, they’ll vote for it.”

While Ms McCrae is also hoping to return the theatre to the community, she is focused on its upcoming performers.
“We need to be respectful towards young people, to expose them to the experience of being in a live theatre. That matters a great deal,” she said.

With council approval, Mr Townend hopes a three-year fundraising program and an 18-month build will see the theatre close to reopening by 2022.

“We are going into something that we believe will work. But there is no guarantee,” he said.

A vote is expected to be held at a council meeting in May.

The MSTYP’s production of ‘Pearlie in the Park’ will be held at Knox Cultural Centre from July 7 to July 21. For tickets, visit
mstyp.org.au. To have your say over the future of the theatre, visit
savemariansttheatre.com

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