Yesterday Martin Foley, Victoria’s Minister for Creative Industries, released this statement:

$40 million will support major maintenance works and behind-the-scenes upgrades at Arts Centre Melbourne, including replacing the State Theatre’s decades-old flying system, critical to the staging of 200 performances each year.

While making it clear that I understand that the Arts Centre Melbourne, the flagship of the Ministry’s asset portfolio, must be maintained at the highest possible standard, I would like to see the matter viewed in a slightly different light and from a slightly different angle.

In the first place, many of Minister Foley’s readers haven’t a clue what a flying system is. It’s the gubbins that allows scenery, stage lighting, drapes and so-on to go up and down. At, for example, Her Majesty’s Theatre (where, as it happens, I am employed) the in-house system is entirely manually operated, with the loads on one side of the system counterbalanced by iron weights on the other. In the State Theatre the system is hydraulically-powered and electrically-controlled, but in respect of function and layout the two systems are in other respects very similar. The system at Her Majesty’s is younger, having been installed in 2002 to replace a system that had served Victorians reliably for well over a hundred years. It is routinely inspected and maintained, when bits and pieces wear out we replace them and I do not expect to exchange the entire system for another one in this century. I find it hard to believe that our friends at the Arts Centre have so irretrievably neglected maintenance that their flying system needs complete replacement.

Nor can I help mentioning that “the staging of 200 performances each year” is a fairly light duty cycle. Her Majesty’s Theatre (did I mention that I work there?) presents twice as many, in a quiet year.

Elsewhere in his statement, Minister Foley says

The National Gallery of Victoria will receive $28.7 million to continue its wildly successful Summer Program, which has attracted more than 5 million visitors over the last four years, including record numbers of tourists.

Her Majesty’s Theatre, with its friends in Melbourne’s East End Theatre District attracts over 1.5 million visitors per year. We also put a lot more bums on seats that the Arts Centre or the Australian Open. We also employ more people, and we do it all year round.

I welcome every indicator of the Andrews government’s continued commitment to Victoria’s creative industries; I delight in the prospect that Melbourne’s capacity and reputation as an arts and culture destination are continually enhanced and I do not begrudge the state’s investment in the state’s assets. Actually, that’s not quite true – I confess to misgivings about

$10 million for … a state-of-the-art training, treatment and rehabilitation facility for elite golfers.

I just want your readers to realise, and remember, a Minister of the Crown boasting about visitor numbers, economic impacts and so-on does the community a disservice by omitting mention of the huge contribution made by the heritage Theatres of the East End Theatre District – Her Majesty’s, the Princess, the Regent, The Comedy, the Forum and the Athenaeum.

Matthew Peckham,

Manager, Production & Capital Works, Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne.

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