It might seem that hiding your theatres and galleries in out-of-the-way places would be bad for business – given the size and dominance of the NGV, or the Princess and Regent theatres, it’s a sentiment previous architects and impresarios clearly agreed with. And of course Melbourne's famous street art is about as visible as you can get.
But it turns out hiding your bushel can be very good for arts and showbusiness, not to mention cultural caché. Here are some of the harder to find theatres and galleries dotted inconspicuously around the city.
Recommended: the best art exhibitions in Melbourne this month.
This theatre and gallery space is probably the least secretive on the list, given it stages some of the city’s most lauded and popular work (their recent production of Angels in America was a hit, even if it won a scandalously inadequate number of Green Room awards). But it does fulfil that classic Melbourne vibe by disguising itself as a toilet and burying itself several floors underground. It’s also ludicrously impressive once you’re down there.
Chapel off Chapel might be the go to venue in Prahran for indie theatre, but there’s another cop on the beat now, and it’s getting some love from the smaller cabaret shows that can’t fit into the Butterfly Club. Created by Miao Mangmang and Craig Bryant, the MC Showroom has a focus on musical theatre, but with a cool black box space, and a location just off Chapel Street, it’s a venue on the rise.
BLINDSIDE shouldn’t be a secret at all given its vital role as an artist-run gallery space in the heart of the city. The Nicholas Building has long been a haven for artists, packed as it is with boutique retail spaces, jewellers and galleries. But Blindside, with its serious commitment to emerging and cutting-edge artists, is one of the truly necessary arts spaces in the city.
Neon Parc has its better known cousin in the CBD, but the Brunswick iteration is just as important and is way harder to find. It’s also far bigger, which enabled them to exhibit some large-scale Dale Frank works on opening. They've also showed works by Rob McLeish, Elizabeth Newman, Elizabeth Pulie, Darren Sylvester and Paul Yore, but pretty much everything here is worth catching.
Buxton isn’t so much secret as new, and given its location directly opposite MTC’s Southbank Theatre, it won’t take long before it becomes a fixture of the local art scene. With its swanky, white spaces and generously proportioned rooms, it provides a terrific showcase for some seriously important contemporary art. They've previously shown work by Juan Davila, Ricky Swallow and Patricia Piccinini, which should give an indication of their clout. A space worth watching.
Given that the Stables is located in the Meat Market complex, itself a bit of a hidden performance gem in Melbourne’s North, it’s surprising that so few of Melbourne’s savviest arts lovers know about it. It’s effortlessly cool, with concrete floors and high ceilings. It’s wonderfully flexible, embraced as an art gallery and performance venue. It’s also bloody hard to find, and therefore has Melbourne written all over it. It’s been a space for hire for the last couple of years, notably for Poppy Seed festival, and has hosted visual arts exhibitions like Stephen Baker’s Moonshine. It’s a secret weapon for an arts complex that already has an arsenal of them.