The Playhouse in its first incarnation opened in 1979 and was the home of the Hunter Valley Theatre Company (HVTC) Australia’s first regionally based full time professional theatre company dedicated to new and original work. Designed by local architect Brian Suters and built following a community funding raising drive, the Playhouse in its first incarnation gave rise to a number of landmark Australian productions.
Productions included John O’Donoghue’s A HAPPY AND HOLY OCCASION and ESSINGTON LEWIS: I AM WORK, David Allen’s ONCE A BOLD COLLIER and Stephen Abbott’s HEADBUTT. While shows are ephemeral this history created lasting community memories and it was considered a set back to the region’s performing arts and cultural development when the HVTC in 1996 folded and then the Playhouse closed in 1998. Many in the community did not accept that a fundamentally well designed performing arts space was allowed to close down, albeit with significant safety and access problems compounded by other issues including deteriorating technical equipment and below standard cast and audience facilities.
Following a community based campaign that sought an affordable, well equipped and comfortable performing arts space for local practitioners, Newcastle City Council and the NSW Ministry for the Arts committed a combined $1.5 million to refurbish Newcastle’s moth-balled Playhouse Theatre.
There is a new auditorium-seating plan, a lift that provides access to the first floor foyer and second floor auditorium entrance, a comprehensive technical fit-out, new rehearsal and dressing room, foyer bar and box office. Considered architecture and design, a public art commission, a restored mural, historic poster wall and memorabilia are all part of the comprehensive upgrade to the interior. In short, the Playhouse is a new home for the performing arts in Newcastle. Above all the Playhouse is about providing local practitioners and their audience access to a venue that has as low as possible operating cost that is located in the heart of Newcastle’s Civic and Cultural Precinct.