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Uncovering Melbourne's 'off Broadway'

/ 14 Jun 2017
Melbourne’s theatrical scene is coming up roses, with a recent report showing the city’s six major historic theatres, dubbed the ‘East End’, contributed more than two-thirds of a billion dollars to the Victorian economy in 2014-15.

The group of theatres (Princess Theatre, Her Majesty’s, The Regent, Comedy Theatre, The Forum and The Athenaeum) hosted 1.5 million patrons from Victoria, interstate, and internationally, at over 1700 performances across 10 performance genres.

While the city’s major theatres are thriving, Melbourne’s smaller, independent theatrical scene is also flourishing. Just as in New York, where productions are defined as ‘Broadway’ or ‘off Broadway’ based on the capacity of the theatre, rather than its geography, many of Melbourne’s ‘off East End’ theatres have developed reputations for showcasing world-class plays and musicals – albeit on a smaller scale.

Some of Melbourne’s lesser known theatrical gems include:

Alex Theatre


Located in the redeveloped George Cinemas building, in St Kilda, The Alex is one of Melbourne’s newest theatres, but is rapidly gaining a reputation for showcasing high quality, innovative work. The venue has capacity to stage and rehearse live shows and screen movies, with two theatre spaces that regularly see ballets, musicals, plays and readings performed. Level 1, 135 Fitzroy Street, St Kilda, +61 3 8534 9300.

The Butterfly Club


The Butterfly Club is considered one of Melbourne’s quirkiest bars, notable for its remarkable collection of kitsch furnishings and ornaments, cheeky cocktail list and live performance program which includes cutting-edge cabaret, music, theatre, comedy and burlesque. Carson Place, Off Little Collins Street, Melbourne, +61 3 9663 8107.

Chapel Off Chapel


A former church just off South Yarra’s Chapel Street (hence the name), this venue has hosted artists such as Coldplay and the Foo Fighters. It opened in 1995 and has since earned a reputation as a progressive arts and entertainment venue. It also hosts performance events specifically designed to showcase up-and-coming new Australian musicals and performers. 12 Little Chapel Street, Prahran, +61 3 8290 7000.

fortyfivedownstairs


Theatre and gallery fortyfivedownstairs showcases independent visual art, theatre and music, with a focus on experimental and thought-provoking art forms. Located downstairs in a 19th Century brick building, the spaces are intimate and able to be adapted for every performance or exhibition. 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne, +61 3 9662 9966.

La Mama


This theatrical institution has launched the careers of some of Australia’s finest actors, directors and dramatists since its founding in 1967. Championing cutting edge and contemporary theatre, every year La Mama stages more than 50 new works in two unique, iconic and intimate spaces. 205 Faraday Street, Carlton, +61 3 9347 6948

The National Theatre Melbourne


This stunning historic building opened in 1921 as a cinema filled with an impressive 3000 seats. After various iterations, it opened as the National Theatre in 1974 and is now capable of holding an audience of almost 800 people. The theatre regularly hosts musicals and plays, but is also home to a ballet and drama school. 20 Carlisle Street, St Kilda South, +61 3 9534 0221.

Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre


Red Stitch has been presenting contemporary Australian and international plays since 2002. It is is considered Australia’s leading actors’ ensemble company, presenting the best new writing from around Australia and the world. Rear 2 Chapel Street, St Kilda East, +61 3 9533 8083.

Substation


Located in Newport, The Substation is a former electrical substation that has been beautifully converted into a multi-arts centre. It now houses the biggest visual arts gallery in the western suburbs of Melbourne, as well as a dance studio and a large-scale multi-purpose performance space. 1 Market Street, Newport, +61 3 9391 1110.

Theatre Works


Located in a prime position behind St Kilda’s Fitzroy Street, Theatre Works hosts an eclectic range of plays – and on show nights, features a buzzing bar and café. During its 35-year history, the venue has developed a reputation as a breeding ground for some of the city’s most innovative independent theatre productions. 14 Acland Street, St Kilda, +61 3 9534 4879.


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