The West

The final curtain has come down on Deckchair Theatre, bringing its turbulent three-decade history to an end.

Deckchair Theatre’s board of directors took the decision to wind up the Fremantle-based company because of dwindling audiences, declining corporate support and the economic downturn.

“The cultural and economic landscape has changed greatly since Deckchair’s establishment 30 years ago, particularly post the GFC, making it difficult to maintain a sufficient level of income through box office and sponsorship,” Deckchair Theatre chair Dr Dorothy Wardale said in a statement today.

“This, when combined with continuing restraints on funding levels across the three tiers of government, as well as rapidly changing audience behaviours unfortunately means the organisation’s future has become unsustainable.”

Deckchair artistic director Chris Bendall was hugely disappointed over the demise of the company but they had done everything within their limited resources to remain afloat.

He is also proud of Deckchair’s achievement of bringing to the stage new plays (over a 100 during the life of the company).

“We have been one of only two companies in the country dedicated to exclusively developing and presenting new Australian plays,” Bendall said in the same statement.

Unfortunately, the admirable brief of nurturing new Australian work – an expensive and often unrewarding process at a time when audiences have little stomach for the unfamiliar and untried – ultimately proved fatal.

Deckchair's demise will surprise few in the Perth arts scene.

While the company enjoyed a golden age in the early 1990s, winning plaudits and audiences for such populist community-based shows as Emma, for much of the past decade it has struggled financially and artistically.

It reached its lowest ebb in 2007 when the Australia Council withdrew its triennial funding to Deckchair for low artistic standards.

Deckchair managed to recover some financial stability and artistic respect since Bendall took over in 2008.

It dominated the 2011 WA Equity Awards with The Modern International Dead and Ingle Knight's recent John Curtin/Walter Murdoch drama The Fremantle Candidate was critically acclaimed and attracted healthy audiences.

It has also managed to secure a national tour for Ursula Yovich’s show The Magic Hour, which opened in May to rave reviews.

But critical acclaim was not enough to either stir the interest of the local community or lure audience to the port city to spend an evening at Victoria Hall, which is in the middle of a $570,000 refurbishment.

The closing of Deckchair also means their planned show Sketches of Freo, which was to consist of four short works by Ingle Knight, David Milroy, Hellie Turner and Kate Rice, will not go ahead.

Patrons who have already booked for advertised events or booked the venue in the remainder of 2012 will be contacted by Deckchair staff within the next few days.

The West Australian

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