Brother, can you spare a … new theatre?

By Mark Naglazas

Fremantle’s cherished Spare Parts Puppet Theatre has cancelled the remainder of its 2022 season after the State Government condemned the auditorium in which the shows were to take place.

In a move that caught the company off guard the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries has informed Spare Parts there will be no more performances in their Short Street, Fremantle theatre because it is unsafe.

It was such short notice, according to Spare Parts, the company has been forced to cancel the world premiere of The Secret Garden, which was about to go into rehearsal. And if an alternative venue is not found they will also put on hold their summer season of Hare Brain.

Ironically, Spare Parts offices and rehearsal space, which are in the heritage-listed part of the complex, are structurally sound and will continue to house the company’s wide range of activities.

Spare Parts Artistic Director Philip Mitchell was disappointed that the Government did not notify the company before announcing its decision as it did not give them time to find a new performance space for The Secret Garden.

Our world premiere of the famous work by Frances Hodgson Burnett was highly anticipated, especially after the reception of our new works last year, The One Who Planted Trees and Beanstalk, which have been nominated for eight 2022 Performing Arts WA Awards, including Best Mainstage Production and Outstanding New Work”. Beanstalk just won the big prize so it makes the current situation more of a slap in the face for the company.

Though we do not currently have a picture of when we will be able to return to our beloved theatre, we are resilient, and we are determined to again perform there in the foreseeable future. In the meantime, we will make alternative arrangements to make sure we perform for of our loyal audiences as soon as possible.”

Spare Part’s theatre has been a looming problem for some time, according to Executive Producer Kate Henerbery. “We have been in constant conversation with the Department for many years about the state of the poor shape of the building and the need for a long-term solution,” she said.

We have been advocating for not just a rebuild of the theatre but a reorientation of the entire space so it has a greater connection to the park [Spare Parts famously faces Pioneer Park where many of their activities take place]. The park will be better activated and there will be greater engagement with the community and the whole train station area,” she said.

This transformation would cost between eight to ten million dollars, according to Henerbery. “It’s obviously a significant investment, but in the context of all the infrastructure projects that are going on in Western Australia at the moment it’s a modest one.”

That things have come to the point of a season being cancelled is remarkable as Spare Parts Puppet Theatre is one of Western Australia’s most successful and cherished arts companies.

It has a long history of touring regionally, nationally and internationally, they have an extensive training program (this includes a partnership with WAAPA) and are deeply connected to the independent theatre sector.

We need the Department and the Minister, in particular, to understand the full impact of what we do. Fixing the theatre is going to be the most timely and cost-effective solution to this problem because relocating us anywhere else is going to be a huge expense. We have a heap of facilities here that we can use. It is really just theatre that is the problem,” said Henerbery.

And we don’t want to have to leave Fremantle which is part of our heritage.

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