For a teeny tiny theatre in the heart of Carlton, La Mama Theatre has been an enormous force in Australian theatre. It opened in 1967 inside a former silk underwear factory (pictured above) and became the model upon which many local independent theatres were based over the last 50 years. David Williamson – Australia's most successful playwright – wrote his first full-length work for La Mama, and actors including Cate Blanchett and Graeme Blundell have appeared on its stage.
But on May 19 this year, La Mama's beloved building was devastated by a fire caused by an electrical fault. The entire Australian theatre community was shocked that this historic venue was reduced to ashes.
The La Mama company – which also operates a nearby venue called La Mama Courthouse – was always going to forge ahead, but the fate of the building, at 205 Faraday Street, was uncertain for several months.
Now it looks certain that the building will rise again in the same site, thanks largely to a $1 million gift from the Victorian Government, intended to help "kickstart" further fundraising efforts.
La Mama has now revealed a more complete picture of their plans for the site, which will be home to a new theatre of a similar size and dimensions to the heritage-listed building that was burnt down. They want to retain the intimacy and spirit of the venue, but will finally have the chance to make it accessible, an ambition that had always been just out of La Mama's reach.
To ensure that the new La Mama feels like the old La Mama, they've appointed architect Meg White, who has a long association with La Mama. She's also a designer who's made sets for several productions since 1993, and was at one stage the venue's front of house manager.
The building is slated to be completed by mid-2020, and until then La Mama will operate out of La Mama Courthouse. The company is also intending to start a fundraising drive in early 2019, so keep your eye out on their social media channels for ways you can help out.