Sunday May 19 was a very poignant day for the La Mama Theatre community as it not only marked the one year anniversary of the devastating fire that raged through the building on that fateful day in 2018, but it was also the day that a public fundraising effort was launched to support the building of La Mama’s new home at the original Carlton site.
Requiring a complete rebuild, plans for the new La Mama home are well underway with the intention to restore the original building but also make important improvements; in particular ensuring La Mama is an accessible space at all levels. The rebuild plans include a modest inclusive new building which will allow La Mama to revitalise its role as a hub for independent artists.
La Mama’s CEO Liz Jones – and the 2019 recipient of the Sue Nattrass Award for exceptional service to the live performance industry – is cognizant of La Mama’s continual and vital role in the support of artists and their performances and says that they are very proud of the fact that they have not had to cancel a performance because of the fire. ” We set up a replica La Mama at the Trades Hall in Carlton to house all the productions that had been planned for almost all the Faraday Street venue in 2018,” explains Jones. “In 2019 we limited ourselves to the La Mama Courthouse and used The Burrow space in Fitzroy to house our Explorations season.”
La mama has long been acknowledged as the grass roots support for the development of new work in this State. It has continually fostered, nurtured and encouraged writers, actors and directors in its 50+ year history and stands as the pivotal beacon of trust for all theatre creatives to hone their skills and find their uniqueness.
There is no doubt that the 2018 fire dealt a devastating blow to the La Mama family but there have been other challenges, says Artistic Director and CEO, Jones. “The first big challenge was in 1976/77 learning to run La Mama with a newborn baby and no previous experience and initially no one to help me…The next in 2006 when the Australia Council threatened to end our funding…The next when the building was offered for sale in May 2008 for 1.7 million and we started with $50,000 in the bank ( we bought it in September!)…and then in May 2018 came the FIRE!”
Throughout it all, though, Jones’ love for La Mama – its heritage, its people, its legacy – is palpable: ” Personally speaking, for me La Mama is a sacred sight. It is the most precious building in the world! It is very gratifying to realize both in 2008, and again in 2019, that so many others in this city (indeed in this country!) feel the same way. And that they are prepared to contribute generously to its survival.”
The design might be new but Jones and architect, Meg White, are intent on keeping the original spirit of La Mama alive and well in the new structure. Jones indicates that the plans are looking magnificent. “The venue will still house a performance space, but will be beautifully enhanced with a rehearsal space, staff work space and will now be completely wheelchair accessible,” she says. “The design is modest and elegant, very much in line with the re-instated La Mama. We’re hoping to be open for performances from the beginning of 2021.”
Further to the fund raising effort, La Mama acknowledges the generous $1 million dollar contribution toward the rebuild from the Victorian State Labor Government. La Mama is now calling on their valued community – from audience members and Carlton locals to everyone who appreciates theatre nationally– to help raise the last $1.25 million to get them to the finish line. Jones’ hope is to raise 3 million dollars to build and refurbish the space as per the wonderful new design.
La Mama is calling upon the community to raise funds from 19 May–30 June 2019.
Funds can be donated via: http://lamama.com.au/supportlamama.
VIVA LA MAMA!!
*All drawings, images and associated documentation are pending authority approval. Renders have been used to help illustrate the project but cannot exactly represent the final project. The final materials and finishes may differ from those shown in the images. Renders by Cottee Parker Architects.
Liz Jones Headshot: Ponch Hawkes