Is this the start of something big? The Alex Theatre St. Kilda

“I will invest ONE MILLION DOLLARS into the Victorian Arts sector” – Mr. Aleksander Vass of The Vass Theatre Group.

Alex Theatre, St Kilda. Image by Jim Lee 2014
Alex Theatre, St Kilda. Image by Jim Lee 2014

At a time when the incumbent Government has cut $87.1 million dollars from Arts funding nationally. At a time when independent and co-operative theatre companies are only just beginning to find identity in a landscape dominated by titans. At a time when the idea “what will work for Australian audiences” has never been under more rigorous fire, entrepreneur Aleksander Vass has invested ONE MILLION DOLLARS (capitals intended) into renovating the George cinema into a theatre and arts complex in Fitzroy St., St Kilda.

Spurred undoubtedly by the successes of the Hayes Theatre in Sydney, Mr Vass’ move is the latest in a string by businessmen taking creative risks for independent theatre, risks which hinge upon the exposure of Australian audiences to a wider variety of performance than has historically been viable.

Only seating 110, The Hayes has quickly established itself as a watering hole for Australia’s best and brightest Musical Theatre stars. In its debut season earlier this year, The Hayes played host to Sweet Charity which was nominated for 8 Helpmann awards, winning 3, and which subsequently booked a nation-wide tour including a showing at the Opera House. Currently, The Hayes is the home of its namesake, Nancye Hayes OAM – as she treads the boards in the world premiere of the Edwardian murder mystery Beyond Desire.

The hallmark of this critical acclaim seems to be the creative board of the Hayes itself, which through extensive vetting has managed to ensure only the highest calibre of performance is produced. The seating restriction then, becomes a marketing boon, as seasons are strictly limited and audiences clamour to see the ephemeral wonder of each Hayes show. It is the perfect storm of top tier talent being attracted to work on creatively risky ventures which ordinarily would not have been possible through larger production houses.

Perhaps Mr. Vass see’s something of this glimmering future for his Alex Theatre.

The complex comprises three theatres in total, one which seats 500, another smaller theatre to seat 330 and a blackbox/rehearsal room which can be converted into a 250 seat theatre. But what is truly remarkable is the philosophy espoused by General Manager Richard Fitzgerald (formerly of Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne), who sees his role as one of “allowing mid-sized plays to be commercially viable before they gain momentum and move to bigger venues for longer runs.”

Already booked as a venue for the Melbourne Comedy Festival in 2015, everything seems on track for a rosy opening of the Theatre in February. Whether or not Mr. Vass has intended to do so, a gauntlet has been thrown at independent theatre maker’s all over Melbourne. Dare you to bring something wonderful and difficult and brilliant to Melbourne audiences? 

Melbourne may not yet be as prolific as London’s West End, but a few more businessmen like Aleksander Vass, and one day, we just might.

Chris Fung

Hailing from the wind-blasted steppes of Mongolia, Chris Fung is a highly accomplished mathematician, award-winning potato grower, and habitual liar. Two specialities which have lent themselves perfectly to his current career in Musical Theatre. Chris met former AussieTheatre Editor Erin James when they were both cast members of the Australian national tour of 'The King and I', wherein Chris was fortunate enough to understudy and play the title role to 25 audiences at the Princess Theatre in Melbourne. 

The King that is, not Mrs. Anna. 

Chris studied at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music (B. Musical Theatre), at Sydney University (B.A. in Performance Studies and Education) and at the School of Hard Knocks (B. ing a very bad man that nobody wanna mess with)

Chris Fung

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