When I first heard about the opening of new theatre/playwriting hub MKA Richmond I thought it sounded like the kind of ambitious venture on the young, drunk or mildly deranged would attempt to pull off, but I checked out the opening the other week and was impressed to see an ambition being realised in a pretty professional way. Lots of industry support, nice venue, plenty of credibility, not a lot of naivety. One of those so-crazy-it-just-might-work things. The first gambit was a month of new play readings, a different one each night, and the season sounds like it kicked off well with sellout performances.
I've just received word that after only two days, the council has told MKA to shut down. A couple of local residents complained about increased foot traffic in the street (it's a 44-seater, so that's odd). The MKA folks have already found an alternate space to carry out the rest of the month's shows - in the QV complex - and the Richmond space will continue to operate as a kind of lab for development.
The full release is reproduced below:
CALL FOR SUPPORT / 5 NOVEMBER 2010.
LOCAL COUNCIL SLAMS THE DOOR ON CULTURAL HUB
Melbourne’s only new writing theatre as of Thursday November 4 is at the behest of City of Yarra bureaucratic red tape. Despite the intrinsic role of local government to support the values and beliefs held by the community through a rich cultural program, City of Yarra has opted to close the door on a promising creative venture that is set to benefit not only its constituents, but artists nationwide.
MKA Richmond, an intimate 44-seat theatre, from the outset offered itself as a gift to the artists of Australia. Artistic Director Tobias Manderson-Galvin said in his inaugural message “MKA Richmond will support the growth and development of Australian playwrights and dramaturgical practice as never before. Our company is committed to developing and producing extraordinary Australian theatre from new and established playwrights, and we will be persistent in our mission to have these voices heard here and abroad”. MKA was established primarily to foster a burgeoning community of playwrights in Melbourne, a contribution to the local theatre scene that not only has been lacking to date, but that many have been crying out for.
It is therefore most surprising that complaints from two nearby residents about additional pedestrian traffic in the area would lead to the closure of such a valuable artistic enterprise. MKA’s neighbours on Tanner Street include a hairdressing salon, a commercial gallery, the Cricketers Arms pub, a design studio, a brothel, and local residents. In this mixed-zoning area, it is inconceivable that a small writers theatre should be under attack.
Preliminary discussions with City of Yarra Statutory Planning Office together with the Arts and Cultural Services Office were extremely positive, insisting that MKA Richmond would be waived usual requisites such as the want for additional car spaces, due to its convenient proximity to the major public transport thoroughfares of Richmond Railway Station and Swan Street trams.
Co-founders Tobias Manderson-Galvin and Glyn Roberts were assured by the Council that they were a 'rubber-stamp away' from a gaining a permit to operate the space as a permanent professional theatre. Body Corporate of 24 Tanner Street similarly expressed its support for MKA Richmond and, additionally, their delight in the presence of a new cultural hub within the building. These meetings instilled in MKA the substantial confidence to warrant forging ahead with a short month long season of rehearsed readings in its pre-built theatre space and licensed bar.
Like Sydney’s Nimrod Theatre in the 1980s (now Belvoir St Theatre), the inability to secure the venue’s longevity initially disrupted artistic practice. However, through a wave of support from the likes of Patrick White, David Williamson, Peter Carey and Max Gillies, the future of the prestigious company, which continues to operate out of the same building today, was secured.
Yet unlike Nimrod, MKA Richmond’s pressures come not from the threat of demolition, but from the City of Yarra’s lack of support for a plentiful arts precinct in Richmond. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights serves as a pertinent reference under these circumstances, for Article 27 stipulates, “everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits”. The trampling of a promising professional theatre operation in a densely urban locale is in clear breach of the basic human right to experience culture within the community.
On the same day that MKA Richmond’s Tanner Street home was silenced, the company was overwhelmed by tenders for the housing of MKA OPEN SEASON in alternate venues.
MKA will be temporarily transferring to a new location in Jane Bell Lane QV: MKA Melbourne. OPEN SEASON will perform the remainder of the rehearsed readings in this new venue, while MKA Richmond will continue to operate as the home of Melbourne’s new writing theatre.
If you feel inclined to rally against the City of Yarra’s decision, we welcome written gestures of support in any shape or form to firstname.lastname@example.org. All messages would be sincerely appreciated.