July 8, 2018
North shore icon The Marian Street Theatre will reopen as a new $9.8 million cultural centre for Ku-ring-gai with three performance spaces, and a continued emphasis on performances by and for young people.
The fight to save the home of Australia’s longest continuously running children’s theatre enlisted the support of actors such as Hugo Weaving, Miriam Margolyes, Rachel Gordon and Jordan Hare – and other prominent Sydneysiders such as former Governor Dame Marie Bashir and playwright David Williamson. A committee that included former Australia Council head and Macquarie University Vice Chancellor Di Yerbury fought to reopen the doors of the Killara theatre which closed five years ago. More than 200 supporters packed the visitors gallery of the Ku-ring-gai Council chambers last month when the nine-member council voted unanimously to rebuild the historic theatre.
Built in 1906 as a community hall, Marian Street became a professional theatre in 1966 and remained so until 2001. The Children’s Theatre began in 1967, with the first all-young people performance in 1969 under the helm of actor/director Audrey Blaxland.
Three generations of Blaxlands, all descendents of the Blue Mountains explorer Gregory Blaxland, have been involved with the theatre since, including Audrey’s daughter, playwright and children’s author Wendy, and her grand-daughter, Jessica Blaxland Ashby, who is now the business manager of Marian Street Theatre for Young People. Drama classes and young people’s performances have continued at a different venue.
“We are looking forward to returning home in three years,” says 29-year-old Ms Blaxland Ashby, who grew up in the theatre both as an actor and in the audiences.
“In a month we raised $6000 to help save the theatre, so clearly it means a lot to generations of Sydneysiders who either grew up performing here or who came to see productions.”
“Re-opening our doors is not just about theatre history, it’s also about re-opening a magical space for the community to come to see young people perform onstage and for them to harness their imagination – something you can’t get from a screen.”
Marian Street Theatre Company closed in 2001 due to the collapse of its major sponsor HIH Insurance, but the children’s performing troupe continued at the theatre until it closed its doors in 2013. They continued performances at nearby Knox Cultural Centre, where this school holidays a 15-strong cast will perform Pearlie in the Park. The comic urban fairy tale, by Wendy Harmer, co-host of ABC 702 Sydney’s Breakfast Radio program, will be presented daily (except Sundays) at 10.30 am and 1pm until July 21. The show’s director Margie McCrae, says it is essential to return to the Marian Street space, as it has been a refuge for generations of Sydney children.
“They catch the train up to Marian Street in Killara and they find themselves in a group of people like them – I’ve seen shy kids and many suffering all sorts of things – from cyber-bullying to a hard time at home – completely transformed by this theatre,” she said.