The fight to save Her Majesty’s Theatre is garnering support from both homegrown artists and Australia’s most eminent performers.
Musical theatre stars Jacqui Dark and David Hobson, ballerina Brooke Lockett and renowned stage actor John Bell have all added their voices to the choir calling to protect the historic theatre.
Many were shocked to discover the toll 143 years of theatrical history has taken on the beloved venue. Sections of the stage are now unsafe to hold more than one person at a time, and cracks have appeared in wooden beams supporting the roof.
City of Ballarat is currently lobbying state and federal governments for an additional $15 million to carry out repairs, make improvements to disability access at the venue and modernise facilities. The council has committed $5.3 million for the project, alongside $2 million from Heritage Victoria.
The Courier understands it could take up to 18 months for construction to be finished, if the project received full government funding.
Hobson’s musical milestones on the Her Maj stage
Ballarat-born opera and musical star David Hobson said his earliest memories of theatre were formed in the “cultural hub” that is Her Majesty’s, watching his father Phillip onstage.
“During my formative years, it really did create that buzz and magic of the arts, and [Her Majesty’s] felt like the centre of the arts for me as a boy,” he said.
It then played an instrumental role in his growth as a performer, with important career milestones such as his first production ever at the age of 10, and his first full operatic role in La Boheme for the Victoria State Opera.
“I think it’s vitally important we somehow keep it alive,” Hobson said. “There’s something about retaining a working theatre that has a history, for both performer and audience alike, that gives an air of authenticity and excitement.
“It’s an energy you can’t replace. It’s like trying to imagine not having the AFL Grand Final at the MCG.”
Ballarat’s ballerina says it’s where her dreams took flight
In a city filled with ballet studios, Ballarat-born Brooke Lockett rose above the rest and forged a successful career as a ballerina. A former lead dancer for the Australian Ballet, performing internationally in London, Tokyo, Paris and New York, she said her “dream for dance came alive” on the Her Majesty’s Theatre stage.
“I grew up on that stage, and my love for the art form grew on that stage,” Lockett said.
“It’s your normal when you grow up in Ballarat, but as you get older and travel around, it’s known for being such a beautiful theatre, and people tell you that … you become almost patriotic about it.”
Like so many young local girls, Lockett pulled on her pointe shoes every year for South Street competitions which she said was a “wonderful way” to hone her craft.
“It was always my home, and is and will forever be a space I walk into and feel so at home in,” she said.
Her Maj’s spotlight glimmered on opera star Dark
Fresh off hosting theatre’s biggest night Helpmann Awards operatic mezzo-soprano Jacqui Dark said while many modernised theatres were “a bit soulless and homogenous”, Her Maj a “personality and character” all its own.
“From my early teens I did Ballarat Light Opera Company junior and senior shows … and then I did all those eisteddfods, and the number of times you’d sit in the dark out in the wings, and be watching the start of so many incredible careers...” she said.
“Working in Her Maj, you learn so much about theatre, its conventions and just how to behave. It’s steeped in history.”
Bell rings on the virtue of protecting our “priceless” old theatre
Australia’s pre-eminent stage actor and director John Bell, who holds both an Order of Australia and is a member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE), said in his visits to Her Majesty’s it was a “lovely theatre”.
He said it was “extremely important” gold rush-era theatres are preserved, as they give places a sense of history, and “remind people where the town came from, what it used to be, and what it could be again”.
“They only become more and more priceless as the years go by,” Mr Bell said.
“People from here go all over Europe to admire the ancient buildings, but we have to start building our own and preserving our own. We’ve got a lot more to offer than just Bondi Beach and the Great Barrier Reef.”