It marks 30 years since our first season in 1985 – and three decades of a joyous and terrifying roller-coaster ride on two humble stages in a theatre that started life as a tomato sauce factory. We owe the ride to a momentous act the year before that very first season; one that saved the building, our home known as Belvoir St Theatre.
Over a single weekend in 1984 two ex-Nimrod workers Sue Hill and Chris Westwood managed to pull off what was, really, nothing short of a theatrical miracle. Their Pied Piper-esque feat of rallying-everyone-they-knew-to-throw-in-a-thousand-bucks-each-to-save-the-building-from-being-redeveloped-into-just-another-piece-of-faceless-inner-city-real-estate had an impact so great that it changed the nature of theatre in Sydney forever. The unstoppable commitment of Sue, Chris and all those original shareholders to this building as a vital art space was quite simply an act of love for theatre, for theatre-makers past and present, and for our city.
And we’re still here. Thirty years later.
David Marr sums it up so well in our book 25 Belvoir Street when he says: ‘Belvoir is so Sydney. It’s hard to see how time, place, money and talent could come together so perfectly anywhere but in this town to sustain a little company with no ideological axes to grind, one that’s highly theatrical but looks beyond theatre, worldly but childlike, chasing all its theatrical ambitions – black, white, foreign, gay, straight, feminine, masculine, new, old – with the same hope of giving delight.’
There were just two productions in that very first season of 1985. A fusion of music, mime, dance and drama, the one-act musical Ha Ha Ha Performing Humans opened in March, directed by Richard Lawton. Then Patrick White’s Signal Driver, under the direction of Neil Armfield (who was to become Belvoir’s first Artistic Director in 1994), opened in May featuring John Gaden and Kerry Walker in the lead roles of Theo and Ivy Vokes. Signal Driver only got off the ground after months of desperate fundraising – Neil was selling shares in the production just to raise enough money to start rehearsals before a sponsor came on board and kicked in the balance.
Director Neil Armfield (centre back) with playwright Patrick White (seated, front) and creatives and cast of Signal Driver, 1985.
We no longer have to fund each production by selling shares (though some days it still feels a bit like that!) and we’ve steadily grown year-on-year into a theatre company well loved and respected both around the country and around the globe.
After more than 10,000 nights in our theatre on two stages across more than 300 productions created by hundreds of writers, directors, actors and every other kind of theatre-maker there is, with countless lines of dialogue, tens of thousands of entrances and exits, hundreds of kisses, buckets of tears and about a zillion gallons of (mostly) fake blood, we’re still here doing it night after night.
Upstairs and Downstairs. Everyone remembers their favourite Belvoir moments; everyone who has walked through our front door in the last 30 years can tell you the bits they’ve loved and the bits they’ve loathed – the heated post-show debates into the wee hours at the bar attest to this. But it’s never dull. And we love it. And we often do it for love, not money. It is art, after all.
Here’s to another 30 years.
See you in the foyer!
PS: We had a party in August 2014 for all the original shareholders of Belvoir. Take a look here.