No room with a view

by Jane

This article was first published in the July 2012 Adelaide Review

Adelaide’s theatre community is in urgent need of space to rehearse their work.

Preparing for the world premiere season of Involuntary with the Adelaide Festival Centre’s inSPACE program, director and choreographer Katrina Lazaroff found her company missing one integral feature: rehearsal space.

After “looking all over Adelaide” Lazaroff was lucky the Adelaide Festival Centre staff solved the situation by splitting rehearsal time between the Dunstan Playhouse and Space Theatre.  “It’s almost never heard of that you get to rehearse in a theatre,” she says.

In 2010, Arts SA prepared an audit into the lack of suitable performance spaces for Adelaide’s professional dance and theatre community. Alongside citing a lack of suitable venues, outdated technical equipment, and inadequate disabled access to performance spaces, the audit also spoke to a lack of rehearsal space.

Two years on, companies are struggling to find suitable space to develop and rehearse their work, and few are as lucky as Lazaroff. Chris Drummond, Artistic Director of Brink Productions, says every show “involves a saga where our production manager Françoise spends weeks and months looking for a rehearsal space.”

Their latest work, Land & Sea, was forced to rehearse in their performance space, the Queen’s Theatre. While an evocative venue, it is, in effect, an empty warehouse with a concrete floor and tin roof, which Drummond describes as “harsh, cold and incredibly noisy due to the building site next door”.

“As an industry we are in an absurd situation where, say we were some kind of manufacturer, we would be equipped with all the materials, machinery, skilled staff and resources to make a product and yet we have no factory floor on which to operate”, he says. “In the case of a funded company like Brink, we have all this infrastructure in place and yet we spend months wandering around Adelaide wondering where we can set up shop.”

Rehearsals, which often last about four weeks, come with many requirements, both for the wellbeing of the cast and creatives in the room, and for stability in technical requirements. Drummond’s list of requirements is long and fair, and includes silence, access for set pieces and corresponding ceiling height, exclusive access to the space so markings and props can be left after hours, and things as basic as access to toilets and power for a kettle.

As Drummond describes them, rehearsal spaces are a “very specific kind of empty room”.

“None of these requirements are luxuries for a professional rehearsal room,” he says. “But because a rehearsal room appears to ‘just be an empty room’ such spaces are undervalued and not invested in.”

Young dancer and choreographer Erin Fowler has found support from Leigh Warren & Dancers and Australian Dance Theatre, each with their own studio space, in creating her work, but she says there is “only so far you can stretch that generosity”.

Fowler, like many young graduates and other independent artists, has become adapt at cutting corners and using unlikely spaces to create her work. She describes having “numerous rehearsals in my backyard and living room – even the Botanic Gardens”.

“Sometimes this approach works, and new and unusual spaces can certainly add something to creative work – but it should be a choice rather than a necessity.”

Fowler cites the lack of rehearsal space as one of a confluence of factors impacting on the choice of many of her peers to move interstate. Rather than following this flow, however, Fowler is doing her bit to try and improve the facilities at home.

Along with arts facilitator Amber Cronin, Fowler is working towards establishing The Mill, a “new multi-arts hub with rehearsal and exhibition spaces and artist studios”.

“We hope to attract a wide range of artists – from dancers and theatre-makers to photographers, visual artists, costume designers and writers,” she says. “At this stage we’re still in the challenging process of securing a space and gathering support – but once that is locked in we’re both really passionate to get this project happening in a big way.”

While The Mill won’t solve all of Adelaide’s issues in venues for both rehearsal and presentation, to see it get off the ground would be a huge leg up, particularly for other young artists like Fowler.

“If Adelaide can support the development of a multi-arts rehearsal space, I see real benefits for the performing arts culture,” Fowler says. “I also believe it will encourage our artists to stay working in Adelaide, rather than potentially moving to other states with greater infrastructure and support.”

For Drummond, though, the search continues in preparation for the next production. “After four years hard work both here and in London, the script, most of the design and artistic company are in place. We have the theatre booked, co-presenters on board, we have potential future presenters watching our progress here and in the UK and all our marketing material in evolution. But we still have no idea where we will actually make the work!”