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Curtin University
Hayman Theatre

History of Hayman Theatre

Performance Studies

The Theatre Arts course opened in 1973 and was based in Hayman Hall at what was then WAIT (the Western Australian Institute of Technology).

The course initially supported two resident theatre companies, a student company Theatregoround and a professional company WATC (the Western Australia Theatre Company). Both the course and the companies were originally led by Senior Lecturer and Artistic Director David Addenbrooke. WATC’s public productions were staged by professional directors with professional actors and students providing minor roles and technical support. WATC’s first production, Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, directed by Addenbrooke, was both a critical and box-office success. By 1975 the combined companies had performed for more than 28,000 people on campus.

In 1977 under Tony Nichols, the building and course were radically restructured. The old school hall-type proscenium stage was blocked off and raked seating and grid lighting installed. What had previously been two upstairs lecture theatres became what we now call the Theatre Upstairs and the Theatre Office.

Units of the course were redeveloped and linked by the roughly historical/chronological spine that still shapes it today. The major production program began to expand with a greater emphasis on student participation. Our first pantomime – Babes in the Wood - was staged in November 1977 establishing an annual tradition which continued until 2011, when it was replaced by STAGE ONE an initiative that generates and premieres a new play by a Western Australian playwright and gives students the opportunity to work with a professional playwright and director on a new work. The inaugural production for STAGE ONE was Reg Cribb’s Broken Valley directed by Emily McLean at the Subiaco Arts Centre. Lunchtime and Sunday night theatre programs began to develop in 1978 and continue to this day. On no other West Australian campus can staff and students enjoy free, regular theatre experiences throughout the academic year.

Unfortunately the main theatre in the Hayman Hall was closed in 2006. Since then all major productions have been held in the Theatre Upstairs or at off campus venues around Perth.

Theatre Upstairs

The Theatre Upstairs is held in great affection by theatre students past and present; generations of them, including Frances O’Connor and Adam Mitchell have taken their first steps as actors and directors there; many young playwrights such as Kate Mulvany and Caroline Reid have seen their first scripts brought to life there.

The present Hayman Theatre complex was originally two lecture theatres; on the ground floor was Hayman Hall and upstairs was the smaller Philips Lecture Theatre. The back wall of this space could be raised to transform it into a balcony for large events such as graduation ceremonies.

When Hayman Hall became the permanent home of WAIT’s Theatre Arts course in 1973 the Philips Theatre fell into disuse. One side was commandeered as a control position for lighting and sound operation during public productions but the other remained just a general storage area until David Addenbrooke and John Manford, the course’s first technical director, realised its potential as a small theatre for student productions. Manford removed the seats, built the first wooden stage over the lower tiers and put up a house curtain. He also installed a simple lighting system using portafloods. The space was named after the original experimental Theatre Upstairs in the Royal Court Theatre in London where Addenbrooke had previously worked, and he directed its inaugural production Sylvia Plath: A Dramatic Portrait.

However the theatre was little used before the major refurbishment of the whole complex in 1977 which resulted in the present Hayman Theatre structure and the re-location of the Theatre Offices to where they now are in the left side of the former Philips lecture theatre. In early 1978 the first lunchtime theatre presentation took place a production of Harold Pinter’s The Lover, directed by Steve Jodrell. Over the next few years, due largely to the apparently insatiable enthusiasm of the students, the number of productions grew so that by the early 1980s there was something on every week of semester and they were 15 week semesters in those days. A special unit was established and senior students became responsible for the management of the whole Lunchtime/Sunday Night Theatre program. Student involvement with the running and content of the Theatre Upstairs is now woven throughout all of their units, so the focus of student learning remains hands-on and experiential.

Over the years the Theatre Upstairs has become technically more sophisticated and gained such luxuries as a control booth and dressing room but the format of the program has remained essentially as it was originally conceived by Tony Nicholls in 1979. Each year approximately 20 student-driven productions are produced in the Lunchtime/Sunday Night Theatre program and 5 Major Productions (either on or off campus) are produced with either staff or guest directors.