The stage is set for a theatre at Katoomba, with widespread community support for the concept but sharply conflicting opinion about who should run it and no guarantee of council funds to bring it on.
The issue of the future of the old Katoomba library was discussed at a packed and tense council meeting last week, with the mayor, Mark Greenhill, imploring all to remain polite and respectful of others’ opinions.
He allowed 10 individuals to speak about the proposal, more than the usual three for each side because of the level of interest in the issue.
While support for using the hall as a theatrical space was unanimous, some want the Katoomba Theatre Company to manage it while others believe that is the wrong course to take.
Yvonne Hellmers, who has worked in theatre for more than 30 years, told the meeting the issue was about “access and equity”.
“I fully support a theatre space being able to run at the hall. But that space must be managed by council to absolutely ensure access for all the other theatre professionals and community groups wishing to use the venue, not only now but into the future,” she said.
But Tom Colless, representing the Katoomba Chamber of Commerce, said the viability of the project depended on having professionals running it. “It makes good sense,” he said. “Don’t lets give ratepayers another white elephant.”
KTC chairman Stephen Measday said his group wanted to manage a new theatre “because we are trained professionals and we are capable of doing it”.
And actor Tiriel Mora told the meeting there were already numerous community halls across the Mountains.
“How many community halls will it take to boost tourism in the Upper Mountains? None. How many theatres will it take? One.”
He said a theatre “will generate revenue back to the council, it will be a beating heart in the centre of town, a vibrant, beating heart. A hall just won’t do these things.”
But Ian Milliss, a committee member of the Blue Mountains City of the Arts Trust, said council had only limited resources and “turning these over to one small group would inhibit others”.
Councillors also spoke, discussing the broad interest by a range of groups in using the space and issues of access if KTC had management control.
In the end, they voted to have council manage the bookings for a six-month trial period. They also authorised staff to consult with any group which had responded to the expressions of interest and wanted to fit out and use the hall as a theatre.
KTC welcomed the chance to talk with
council staff about the design and fit-out of a theatre, said its artistic director, Larry Buttrose. And he maintained his group was best placed to manage it, promising it would be made available to all theatre, dance and music groups, local, amateur, professional or touring.
“We have already had discussions with Sydney Theatre Company, Belvoir Street and other companies, to include us on their touring program. This has never happened before – the Blue Mountains community has been denied all these productions. Touring shows have come to Penrith, then sailed past us, on to Bathurst and Orange. Our community has missed out,” said Dr Buttrose.
“Could the council give that kind of artistic management, to attract these premier companies? Is its staff skilled in theatre promotion and artistic management?”
Clr Don McGregor said: “Given the range of speakers we heard from on Tuesday night, there is a very rich resource there of highly qualified, professional people to take advice from on how a community theatre might be structured.”
Ms Hellmers said she was happy that council will manage bookings “to ensure fair access and hire rates that are affordable”.