Arts centre dream

PERFORMING arts in Leongatha is scaling new heights with Leongatha Lyric Theatre’s show Mary Poppins being hailed as the best ever show performed by the group following its finale on Saturday.

No sooner has the curtain come down on this blockbuster than Lyric has announced it will stage the big hit American musical, Hairspray in 2017.

Taking on her first ever directing role for Lyric Inverloch’s Louise Adkins will bring a wealth of experience having performed in shows for Lyric and Wonthaggi Theatrical Group and in demand as a singing and dancing teacher.

Hairspray is an American musical featuring 1960s style dance music and downtown rhythm and blues.

The cultural feast does not stop there either with The Great Southern Star Eisteddfod set to hit the Mesley Hall next month where hundreds of young dancers will compete from across Gippsland and Melbourne.

With the wealth of talent in Leongatha and the town providing a vibrant hub for education the push now is for a dedicated performing arts centre.

For many years Leongatha has been overlooked for funding for a purpose built theatre with funding going to Warragul, Wonthaggi and the latest Traralgon, meanwhile Leongatha is crying out for its own performing arts centre.

While Wonthaggi is looking for funding to revamp its theatre Leongatha has had to make do with Mesley Hall in the Leongatha Secondary College grounds.

Seen as the traditional home of Lyric Theatre, Mesley Hall has seen many award winning productions staged by the local company for more than 50 years but increasingly the task of staging big musicals is becoming more difficult and obviously would be a lot easier with a purpose built centre.

Talking to The Star last week Mary Poppins co-director and Lyric committee member Peter McAlpine, still on a huge high after the success of Lyric’s latest blockbuster musical that was a complete sell out, said the dream has always been to see a purpose built performing arts centre established in Leongatha.

An option being explored by a small sub-committee would be the development of Mesley Hall which Mr McAlpine said would require a huge injection of government funding.

“Mesley has been Lyric’s  home for so long but it really does need major funding for extension works that would see the stage size increased as we had to add an extra five metres to the stage for Mary Poppins, just to accommodate the 70 strong cast.

“We need to extend out the back so we can get sets in from the back, as at this stage we can only bring everything in from the front foyer and this just isn’t practical.

“We need a bigger stage and wing area as these are way too small and the orchestra pit needs to be extended, as for Mary Poppins the orchestra was crammed into a small space and it is always very hot for the musicians, not exactly ideal.

“It would be great to have Mesley set up as a theatre permanently so we didn’t have to pack up the chairs and tiered flooring after every show.”

Mr McAlpine said Lyric has worked hard for many years raising money to build better facilities for performers and the audience that has seen the coffers just about dry after the huge $70,000 expenditure for new chairs for the tiered floor, of which only about $23,000 was grant money and took the group about 20 years of saving to achieve

“The chairs were a must to add to the comfort of the audience as we were losing numbers due to the uncomfortable chairs. So this has been a big improvement along with new carpets and curtains for Mesley and we have had great feedback from people saying how comfortable the chairs are and the whole theatre experience is more enjoyable.

But Mr McAlpine said it is getting harder and harder designing sets to fit the small Mesley area and to keep people safe, certainly no mean feat with a huge production like Mary Poppins, thankfully handled to perfection by award winning set designer Colin Mitchell.

“If we had better facilities it would be a lot easier to stage productions, we could stage more shows and the performers and audience would be a lot more comfortable,” Mr McAlpine said.

He  said a new centre or improved facility would not only benefit Lyric theatre but dance schools for concerts and the schools would be able to use it for performances and wouldn’t have to travel to Wonthaggi like Mary MacKillop College had to do for its Fame Junior musical.

The newly returned Member for McMillan Russell Broadbent was disappointed he had to turn down an invitation to attend the fabulous Mary Poppins musical due to election commitments but told The Star last Friday, “I think having an arts centre for Leongatha is a great idea, and I encourage the South Gippsland Shire Council to make an application under the Federal Government’s Building Better Regions Fund.”

Mr McAlpine said,  “The actors, production team, orchestra are crying out for something even half decent”.

A strong campaigner for better performing arts facilities in Leongatha South Gippsland Shire councillor Nigel Hutchinson-Brooks said, “My wife and I and the grand children were at the opening night of Mary Poppins, and it was a quite outstanding production.

“A dedicated Performing Arts Centre (PAC)  for Leongatha is certainly a great aspirational goal, and it may happen at some time, “ he said.

“I am on the Board of a medium sized Melbourne private school that has just started building a new PAC with seating for 750. The cost fully fitted out will be a touch under $14 million.  In that case the project has the full support of all the school’s stakeholders.  So I am in touch with the issues around the idea of a PAC, but I am not sure a majority of our population would put one near the top of a priority list, as much as I would like to see it.

“On returning to Council in 2012 I was appointed the Council’s representative on the Leongatha Education Precinct (LEP), and I had the aim of getting a major upgrade to Mesley Hall through in this term of Council. Unfortunately this has not happened, and not without trying hard.

“The issue is that I have not been able to find any one person in the Education Department who can make any decisions. If the land was Crown Land it would be relatively easy, but because the Department controls the land there are multiple people with a finger in the pie.

“The Leongatha Secondary College do not want the day to day management of the hall, but it still wants to have the use of the ‘home economics’ room, and use of the hall for exams. Trying to find a corporate structure that can take responsibility for the hall, and have the ability to borrow or seek funding from various agencies has proved elusive, and frankly I have found the issue most frustrating.

I believe enormous improvements could be made to the hall, extending the stage out the back and on the sides and new changing rooms underneath could be accomplished for a fraction of the cost of a new purpose made facility – say around $1.5 million.

If I am returned to Council at the October elections, I will seek to be appointed to the LEP Board again to have another go at knocking heads together at the Education Department.


Short URL: http://thestar.com.au/?p=19151

Posted by on Jul 19 2016. Filed under Featured, News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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