WA Ballet chairman John Langoulant has called for the State Government to offer incentives for developers to build a lyric theatre at Elizabeth Quay.
His Majesty's Theatre, the 110-year-old home for ballet, opera and touring productions, did not measure up to the demands of the 21st century, Mr Langoulant said.
His Majesty's is one of five major WA arts buildings to share in $7.8 million of new funding to upgrade lighting, wi-fi and other facilities over the next four years.
The improvements, announced by Arts Minister John Day yesterday ahead of the State Budget, average out at $390,000 a year at His Majesty's, the Art Gallery of WA, State Records Office, WA Museum and the State Library.
Mr Day said the funds came on top of the $5 million spent each year to maintain buildings across the culture and the arts portfolio.
Arts advocates said the funding would do little to defuse a ticking time bomb of expensive maintenance for the State’s ageing cultural facilities, including 33 heritage-listed buildings.
The Chamber of Arts and Culture urged the State Government to take action on the maintenance backlog.
“Experience has shown that heritage buildings require constant and costly maintenance,” chamber executive director Henry Boston said. “This type of expenditure cannot be ignored and by not addressing the issue properly it simply creates a false economy.”
Mr Langoulant, reporting a $321,000 surplus for the WA Ballet after uneven ticket sales in 2013, said he appreciated that the Government had a crowded capital works program and that financial times were tough.
Planning and paying for infrastructure had to be long-term and imaginative, Mr Langoulant said.
“We are at the stage where novel funding opportunities are needed,” he said. “With all the developments being put into Elizabeth Quay, an imaginative process with the development of those buildings ought to be about talking to the developers about the possibilities of them incorporating a lyric theatre.
“That’s been done in other places but for reason which always escape me it doesn’t seem to get any currency here.”
Mr Langoulant was sure any issues about the operational responsibility for the theatre could be worked out.
“This is a once-only opportunity. Once those buildings are up you are not going to build a lyric theatre so now is the time to do it. Now is the time to push for it.”
Mr Langoulant said the 1200-seat His Majesty’s had inadequate backstage and audience facilities, with too many restricted-view seats.
“You just can’t maximise revenue from the theatre because you always have to discount those seats,” he said
Sets for two 2013 WA Ballet shows, La Sylphide and Onegin, needed to be cut down to size to fit the small stage, resulting in higher costs.
The WA Ballet opens its two-week season of Giselle on Friday.
“As much as we love the history of His Majesty’s it is now showing its age in all the wrong ways,” Mr Langoulant said.
“Sooner rather than later major decisions will need to be taken to ensure Perth has a lyric theatre that can adequately accommodate 21st century productions.”
An indigenous cultural centre has been earmarked for Elizabeth Quay in the long term and a designer’s concept for an iconic concert hall sparked public debate last week.
International stage producer John Frost last year bemoaned Perth’s lack of a 2000-seat lyric theatre, saying many major musicals did not come here because of this missing performing arts link.
Mr Day said he understood the support for a lyric theatre and an indigenous cultural centre but they were not included in the first-stage plans for Elizabeth Quay.
“The Government is always prepared to consider the various ways in which infrastructure projects can be funded,” he said.
The debate over the future of the Perth waterfront came as the Queensland Government yesterday released a 20-year masterplan for its Southbank riverside cultural precinct, which Premier Campbell Newman said would make the other States green with envy.
The plan includes expansions to the Queensland Art Gallery and Queensland Museum, a dedicated science centre, a new five-star hotel and/or office space to be built over the Queensland Performing Arts Complex, a new 1500-seat theatre and all-seasons outdoor venue.
Mr Campbell said the plan, to be costed after a period of public consultation, would make South Bank and South Brisbane Australia’s leading arts and culture hub.