Adelaide Festival Centre
Adelaide Festival Centre at night with the River Torrens in the foreground
|Address||King William Street|
Adelaide, South Australia
|Owner||Adelaide Festival Centre Trust|
|Type||Performing arts centre|
|Capacity||Festival Theatre: 2,000|
Dunstan Playhouse: 590
Space Theatre: 350
Her Majesty's Theatre: 1,009
|Opened||2 June 1973|
Adelaide Festival Centre, Australia's first multi-purpose arts centre, was built in 1973 and opened three months before the Sydney Opera House. The Festival Centre is located approximately 50 metres north of the corner of North Terrace and King William Street, lying near the banks of the River Torrens and adjacent to Elder Park. It is distinguished by its two white geometric dome roofs and lies on a 45-degree angle to the city's grid. It is the home of South Australia's performing arts. Adelaide Festival Centre replaced the City Baths, which stood in this spot for decades.
The Festival Centre is managed by a statutory authority under the Adelaide Festival Centre Trust Act 1971 which is responsible for encouraging and facilitating artistic, cultural and performing arts activities, as well as maintaining and improving the building and facilities of the Adelaide Festival Centre complex.
The Festival Centre hosts the annual Adelaide French Festival in January, Adelaide Cabaret Festival in June, OzAsia Festival in September/October, the biennial DreamBIG Children's Festival in May, and the biennial Adelaide Guitar Festival in July.
Adelaide Festival Centre was built in three parts from April 1970 to 1980. The main building, the Festival Theatre, was completed in 1973, within its budget of $10 million. (Adelaide Festival Centre was completed for $21 million.) In comparison, the Sydney Opera House, also completed in 1973, cost $102 million. South of Adelaide Festival Centre, the Festival Plaza was completed in March 1977, comprising a then-controversial environmental sculpture by West German artist Otto Hajek. The sculpture was conceived as a concrete garden and iconic City Sign. The lego-like forms and colourful paint work across the plaza were designed to conceal an air-conditioning vent at the same time as provide a playful place to congregate. However, Adelaide's citizens never warmed to the idea, the sculpture suffered poor maintenance, and it remained one of Adelaide's most under-utilised public spaces until its demolition in 2018.
Adelaide Festival Centre's outdoor spaces also served as host to a collection of outdoor sculptures, including the prominent stainless steel Environmental Sculpture (also known as Tetrahedra), by Bert Flugelman.
The city baths and mint building occupied this site earlier.
In the 1960s, the Adelaide Festival of the Arts started to outgrow the city's existing venues, and there was a push to build a 'Festival Hall'. The originally proposed site was the Carclew Building in North Adelaide which had been purchased from the Boynton family by the Adelaide City Council for the purposes of building a Festival Hall. Liberal Premier Steele Hall lobbied the Federal Government for Tax Concessions for a public appeal for the Festival Hall, which was unsuccessful, until Prime Minister John Gorton called Hall from a prawn boat on the Gulf of Carpentaria and offered him either Tax Concessions or $100,000. Hall accepted the $100,000. While on a trip to London, Steele Hall visited the Royal Festival Hall on the banks of the River Thames and decided that the banks of the River Torrens was the ideal choice for the home of the Adelaide Festival of the Arts and the cultural heart of the city. During this time, the State Government changed but the drive for a new centre continued with fervour. When Don Dunstan became Premier he expanded the idea of a 'Festival Hall' into a 'Festival Centre' incorporating multiple smaller venues.
The Lord Mayor of Adelaide, Robert Porter, supported by Labor Premier and arts advocate Don Dunstan, launched a public appeal to raise funds to build a Festival Hall and establish Adelaide as a significant city in the art world. Most of Adelaide shared this vision and the appeal raised its target within a week. It was soon over-subscribed and the surplus was set aside to create a collection of artworks to grace the new State icon.
Australia's first multi-purpose arts centre was designed from the inside out by architect John Morphett. Work began in Elder Park in 1970 and on 2 June 1973 the Festival Theatre opened. Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, officially opened the venue at a gala performance of Act Two, Scene 1 of Beethoven's opera Fidelio and Beethoven's Choral Symphony.
The Playhouse, Space Theatre and Amphitheatre soon followed and Australia's first multi-functional performing arts complex was complete. The flourishing Festival Centre became a role model for many other performance venues as they strove to emulate its functionality and versatility. Since then, it has become a place that South Australians regard with pride and a strong sense of ownership. 40 years later, it still maintains its status as a national arts icon.
As well as managing the theatres and surrounding areas of the complex, the Festival Centre is one of Australia's most active arts centres and presents a wide range of arts activities and performances for the community.
Performance and other venues
Adelaide Festival Centre has two locations: the primary performance and administrative hub on King William Road, and Her Majesty's Theatre located on Grote Street. These two locations house six different venues: the Festival Theatre, Dunstan Playhouse, Space Theatre, Her Majesty's Theatre, Artspace Gallery and the QBE Galleries. The Festival Centre also houses function spaces including the Banquet Room.
- The Festival Theatre is the largest proscenium arch theatre in Adelaide, seating close to 2000 people. It was designed as both a lyric theatre and concert hall, and is used not only for theatrical productions and large concerts, but also for graduation ceremonies, seminars and many other community functions. Its huge backstage area makes the stage area one of the largest in the southern hemisphere and a favourite of companies with large sets. It also houses the Silver Jubilee Organ, a 'hovering' pipe organ built and donated to mark the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II.
- The Dunstan Playhouse, located in the Drama Centre behind the main building, is a more intimate venue, seating 620 people on two levels. South Australia's State Theatre Company has been based here since 1974, and uses the theatre, the rehearsal rooms and the extensive production workshop also housed in this second building.
- Her Majesty's Theatre was built in 1913 and originally called the Tivoli. Located at 58 Grote Street, Adelaide, the theatre is currently under major redevelopment and is set to reopen in 2020.
- The Space Theatre is a versatile studio theatre with no traditional stage or fixed seating, meaning its configuration is completely flexible. It can be turned into a theatre in the round, a corner stage setting, or a cabaret venue. The theatre seats anywhere from 200 to 350 people, depending on the configuration.
- The Artspace Gallery is a gallery exhibition space. Situated in the second building above the Dunstan Playhouse, Artspace hosts a variety of performances, particularly during Adelaide Cabaret Festival.
- The Terrace (formerly called the Amphitheatre) is an outdoor space overlooking Elder Park and the River Torrens.
In 2003, the area around the Adelaide Festival Centre was substantially redeveloped by the State Government. The much-maligned Festival Plaza was redesigned, including opening the underground plaza to the sky and building a pedestrian suspension bridge to link the plaza to the nearby Riverbank Precinct, as well as a small number of cafés, restaurants and retail outlets. The Riverbank Precinct and Convention Centre were hoped to attract more people to the plaza and surrounding area, but due to the decision not to develop cafés and shops in the new precinct (in favour of more convention centre car parking), the area remains under-patronised.
A huge section of this site is being developed, and is slated for completion around 2020. A short branch from the Glenelg tram line to the Festival Centre was constructed in 2018 and opened in October of that year.
- Sydney Opera House Archived 18 November 2006 at the Wayback Machine
- Festival Centre Plaza
- Morgan, Felicity. , Flinders University, Interview with Marjorie Fitzgerald OAM.
- Campbell, Lance. By Popular Demand: The Adelaide Festival Centre Story, pg 18.
- Llewellyn-Smith, Michael. Behind the Scenes: The Politics of Planning Adelaide, University of Adelaide Press
- Boisvert, Eugene (13 October 2018). "Trams start running on Adelaide's North Terrace extension seven months late". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 14 October 2018.
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