A performer with cerebral palsy has spoken of his dream of appearing on the stage at Her Majesty's Theatre in Ballarat.
But Thomas Banks says his hopes will remain out of reach without extra cash to make the 144-year-old theatre open to everyone.
The 28-year-old writer, comedian and stand-up artist was in Ballarat yesterday to help push for funding that would allow the city's theatre to become accessible to all - including artists with disabilities.
"I would love to perform here but at the moment I can't so that's why these works are so important," he told The Courier. "My work is important for regional audiences to hear, but it's also about having the same opportunities as everyone else."
It's really important for people with disabilities to see their stories represented on main stages, because we are under-represented as it is in societyThomas Banks, actor, playwright and disability advocate
Currently artists with limited mobility cannot access the stage directly - and would only be able to get on stage with a slow hydraulic lift to the right of the stage.
Mr Banks has previously performed at the Mining Exchange in Ballarat with a one-man show, Someone Like Thomas Banks. He was also recently the subject of an award-winning documentary Thomas Banks' Quest for Love about dating as a young gay man with cerebral palsy.
"It's really important for people with disabilities to see their stories represented on main stages, because we are under-represented as it is in society," he said.
Malcolm Sanders of Regional Arts Victoria is fully behind the campaign to make treading both the boards and the auditorium open to all.
What's vital about having performers like Tom in these spaces is people get to see the world through other eyesMalcolm Sanders, Regional Arts Victoria
"It's vital to have venues that are accessible to the community," he said. "This is one of Australia's oldest theatres.
"To bring this beautiful old lady into the 21st century is a necessity to make theatre relevant for our future audiences and accessible to everyone - it's just vital."
He said if Mr Banks were to perform at the theatre, it would be a proud moment for him personally and the city as a whole.
"I would be in the front row," he told The Courier. "We started work about 10 years on Tom's first show when Tom's dream was to create something from a monologue. Every time I see Tom on stage, I just brim with pride."
"What's vital about having performers like Tom in these spaces is people get to see the world through other eyes and to experience the world in other shoes and find out about diversity. It's crucial."
The Mayor of Ballarat Samantha McIntosh also said she would be delighted to see Mr Banks perform at the theatre.
I would be proud as punch to be here on the day we opened with full accessibility to have Thomas here as our star on stage. It would mean so much to us as a city, it really would.The Mayor of Ballarat, Samantha McIntosh
"I would be proud as punch to be here on the day we opened with full accessibility to have Thomas here as our star on stage. It would mean so much to us as a city, it really would."
It is not only the stage that is hard to navigate for those with mobility issues. Patrons are unable to get to the auditorium directly, nor the Long Room function area, the Dress Circle, and dressing room.
Toilets are only accessible by one lift, at the bottom of a ramp, which only takes two people at a time and is operated by staff - meaning carers can get left behind.
THE QUEST FOR FUNDING
One of Australia's most historic venues, Her Majesty's Theatre is affectionately known as Her Maj and is the oldest theatre in the country in continuous use. It is now owned and operated by the City of Ballarat council.
Emergency works on the venue began early last year after serious structural issues were discovered - and campaigning began for $20 million to secure its future.
Ahead of the 2018 election, the Victorian state government pledged $10 million for the theatre after the City of Ballarat launched the Save Her Majesty's campaign.
Work was also supported by a $2 million grant under the state's Living Heritage Program, and $5.3 million from in the council's latest budget.
However, the theatre was overlooked in the 2019/20 federal budget announced last week. The $5 million sought now would help make the theatre more accessible, including new lifts for artists and patrons at the back-of-house, giving them direct access to dressing rooms, toilets and the stage.
A lift at the front-of-house would also link directly to the dress circle, Long Room and theatre offices.
Conservation work is due to be finished later this year, and if funding is secured, the theatre would be fully accessible by 2021.
For Sharon Eacott, who lives with multiple sclerosis and is a member of Ballarat's disability advisory committee, finding that extra cash is crucial.
"Going out is hard work [if you have mobility issues]. It's a major drama coming to anything. It's like planning a military campaign."
"It is all about feeling like you are a valued member of the community and not feeling as though you are a nuisance.
"If it's easier for me, it's easier for everyone."
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