Art, Local History

A History of the Stork Theatre: The Birth of Open Air Theatre in Melbourne

January 26, 2017
inner circle magazine

The history of the Stork Theatre is an intriguing affair, representing the birth of open air theatre in Melbourne.

In 1999, Helen Madden began staging drama in the Stork Hotel, but it was long before this, back in 1983, that the true spirit of the Stork Theatre was spawned, as Madden had the idea to bring open air classical theatre to Melbourne.

But finding a suitable location for such a venture proved harder than first thought. A natural amphitheater was needed, but it was important not to venture too far from the city. After extensive location searches across Melbourne, it soon became clear that the Yarra riverbank in Fairfield Park would be the perfect location, providing a natural amphitheatre to showcase Helen’s dream . Importantly, it was also one of the hubs of the Greek community in Melbourne.

For two years Helen experimented, working to bring her vision to life. A temporary pop-up theatre construction was created using scaffolding that was erected each season, staging a comedy and a tragedy on the same night – one in English and one in modern Greek, mirroring the Ancient Greek practice of staging open-air theatre as popular entertainment.

The model was proved to be a huge success, gaining both recognition and notoriety, and eventually leading to the construction of a permanent theatre supported the local Northcote Council and some other influential bodies.

In 1985, and modelled on the 12,000 seat amphitheatre in Epidavros, southern Greece, a 500 seat ‘bush amphitheater’ was designed and constructed, at last providing Melbourne with a permanent and dedicated home for open-air theatre. The amphitheater was designed to meet not only the intensely demanding theatrical needs, but also to preserve the natural environment in which it harmoniously stands.

The Northcote Amphitheatre Board was soon established by the Council with representation from the arts, local community groups and the corporate sector.

 

The Amphitheatre, now called the Fairfield Amphitheatre in Fairfield Park, is now used regularly for theatre and festivals.

Fast forward to 1999 and Helen and Paul Madden developed Stork Theatre at their city hotel, bringing popular performance readings of ancient Roman and Greek epics anchored every season.

The Rage of Achilles from Homer’s Iliad

The Stork Theatre is continuing the traditions this summer, bringing us The Rage of Achilles from Homer’s Iliad, this time at local favourite La Mama Courthouse in Carlton.

2700 years ago Homer wrote his Trojan War story, but now in 2017 the Stork Theatre is presenting something Australia has never seen before – a performance of The Iliad using only Homer’s words.

The show is running from 7th – 19th February 2017 and is strictly limited season. To find out more and to book tickets head to storktheatre.com.au.

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