La Mama Theatre receives rescue package as it prepares to rebuild

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La Mama Theatre company manager Caitlin Dullard and artistic director Liz Jones outside the Faraday Street building, which will be rebuilt.

Photo: Daniel Pockett

Less than a month since fire tore through Carlton's historic La Mama Theatre, the smiles on Liz Jones and Caitlin Dullard's faces say it all – the show must go on.

Indeed it has: most of its shows have continued, albeit in different venues, since the May 19 blaze collapsed the roof and gutted the interior of the heritage-listed Faraday Street building.

That's no mean feat. The small staff of the company, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, has kept things running from a corner of the nearby Kathleen Syme Community Centre.

But it is in desperate need of offices and theatre space for the next 18 months, or until the theatre is rebuilt.


They hope to retain as much of the original building's character as possible.

Photo: Daniel Pockett

A $180,000 rescue package from the state government will help it to keep staging its acclaimed independent theatre while it rebuilds.

The shock and devastastion the fire caused was etched on the faces of Ms Jones, La Mama's long-time artistic director and CEO, and Ms Dullard.

While the experience was heartbreaking, the response of Melbourne's arts community and the City of Melbourne has filled their hearts.

"I feel like I've had my heart totally broken, but in this process it's totally opened, the love's just poured in," Ms Dullard said.

Flames tore through La Mama Theatre in the early hours of May 19.

Photo: Metropolitan Fire Brigade

The grant will help the company pay staff and hire someone to manage the recovery project, but they need to raise more funds to secure a lease. Rent is an expense that wasn't in the budget, as the company owned the old building.

"Weve found a space we hope to run out of for the next 18 months," Ms Dullard said.

"Weve not got it over the line yet, we're hoping for some additional funds for the short-term venture, that can be used as both our offices and a temporary theatre space."

In the interim, they have a new season to launch and their first overseas tour to plan: the grant includes $30,000 for a production with Indonesian company Mainteater, to be staged in Melbourne in 2020.

"We feel so supported to move forward," Ms Dullard said. "Theres an actual hope and a future."


Debbie Cuthbertson

Debbie Cuthbertson is a senior writer and Saturday chief of staff at The Age.

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