La Mama Theatre (Melbourne)
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|Address||205 Faraday St, Carlton, Victoria
La Mama Theatre is nationally and internationally acknowledged as a crucible for cutting edge, contemporary theatre since 1967. Valued by artists and audiences alike, La Mama is treasured for its continued advocacy of those seeking to explore beyond mainstream theatre. As a not-for-profit association, La Mama is producing work by theatre makers of all backgrounds and encouraging works that deconstruct and critique form, content and social issues. Described by its founder Betty Burstall as “essentially a playwright’s theatre, a place where new ideas, new ways of expression can be tried out, a place were you can hear what people are thinking and feeling”, La Mama is the home of alternative and experimental local theatre.
The theatre, an initiative of founder Betty Burstall, was inspired by the "off-off-Broadway" theatre scene in New York City. Betty and her husband, film maker Tim Burstall, had just returned from a trip to New York and wanted to re-create the vibrancy and immediacy of the small theatres there. La Mama was modelled after the similarly named New York venue La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club.
"I got the idea for La Mama when we went to New York in the sixties. We were poor. It was impossible to go to the theatre – even to see a film was expensive – but there were these places where you paid fifty cents for a cup of coffee and you saw a performance, and if you felt like it you put some money in a hat for the actors. I saw some awful stuff and some good stuff. It was very immediate and exciting and when I came back to Melbourne I wanted to keep going, but there didn't exist such a place. So I talked around a bit, to a few actors and writers and directors, sounding them out about doing their own stuff, Australian stuff, for nothing ... I decided on Carlton because in 1967 it was a lively, tatty area with an Italian atmosphere and plenty of students ..." (Betty Burstall)
At a time when the production of Australian plays was almost non-existent (and financially risky), La Mama's non-for-profit organisation provided the venue for the performance of new experimental Australian theatre works. Today, La Mama’s model of giving artists upfront funding to present work in a rent-free venue, with 80% box-office return, is unique in Australia. This model supports a high artistic risk/low financial risk proposition for artists and encourages a high volume of activity. In addition access to rehearsal and meeting space, administrative, marketing and technical support and ticketing means for artists, lack of money and infrastructure is no barrier.
The simple two storey brick building was built originally as a printing works for AR Ford in 1883, and after serving various industrial purposes it was leased in 1967 for use as a small theatre to nurture new Australian drama. Designed by Carlton architect George S Clarke, it faced a right-of-way off University Street, which is south of and parallel to Faraday Street. The land in front of the Theatre is currently used as a forecourt for the community and affords a view of the Theatre from Faraday Street. - See more at: http://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/5446#sthash.yGRZAHpT.dpuf
The first play performed at La Mama was a work by a new Australian writer Jack Hibberd, entitled Three Old Friends (1967), whose most successful play Dimboola opened there in 1969. The production of Australian works at La Mama soon became a staple, and within the first two years of its life twenty-five new Australian plays had premiered there. La Mama Theatre operates today under the direction of Liz Jones, who took over the theatre as its artistic director in 1976.
La Mama also nurtured new works by composers, poets, and filmmakers. The opening of the alternative theatre provided a home base for many important figures in theatre and film including Hibberd and Alex Buzo. It was also regularly used by underground performance troupe Tribe (who later collaborated with Spectrum). The theatre's house troupe, the La Mama Group, established by actor-director Graeme Blundell evolved into the Australian Performing Group.
La Mama's foundation marked the beginning of the emergence of a distinctly Australian style of theatre. La Mama facilitates the development of people, providing opportunities, pathways and creative empowerment on an incomparable scale. Emerging artists see La Mama as an entry point to the industry, established artists return to La Mama for the unparalleled freedom and artists and audiences from around Australia and the world come to be part of the iconic institution.
The theatre is also socially important in having challenged political and cultural life in Australia by laying bare the issues, myths and mores of society with Australian settings, narratives and most importantly, vernacular. It embarked on a crusade against Australian censorship laws and produced a number of shows specifically attempting to taunt local officials with explicit public performances which were 'rich, relevant and ribald'. The La Mama Theatre is a significant cultural institution of contemporary Australian theatre and is symbolic of the cosmopolitan character of Carlton, which is recognised nationally. - See more at: http://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/5446#sthash.yGRZAHpT.dpuf
La Mama’s list of Alumni reads like the who’s who of Australian theatre including such greats as David Williamson, Cate Blanchett, Jack Hibberd, Graeme Blundell, Judith Lucy and Julia Zemiro. La Mama is proud to play a crucial role in fostering the distinguished careers of so many established and emerging Australian artists. In recent years, La Mama artists such as The Rabble, Daniel Schlusser and Nicola Gunn have gone on to perform at the Melbourne International Festival and MTC’s NEON Festival of Independent Theatre. La Mama veteran Jack Charles continues to work across the country, and in 2013 La Mama regular Ben Grant was touring internationally with Robert Lapage.
- Jones, Liz with Betty Burstall and Helen Garner, La Mama: History of a Theatre (Penguin Books Australia, 1988)
- Robertson, Tim, The Pram Factory: The Australian Performing Group Recollected (Melbourne University Press, 2001)