IT’S the performing arts centre you have when you haven’t got a performing arts centre.
That’s Mesley Hall, but even Leongatha Lyric Theatre seems resigned now to the idea that the former school hall, a properly redeveloped school hall mind you, is the closest thing they’ll ever get to a proper performance space.
Never mind that its two neighbours, Bass Coast and Baw Baw are pouring millions into their purpose-built performing arts centres; Bass Coast around $1.6 million of its own ratepayers’ money and Baw Baw almost $11 million into the West Gippsland Arts Centre redevelopment ($4m from each of the State and Federal government).
So South Gippsland Shire, a considerably better heeled municipality than Bass Coast we are told, is getting off lightly, or has been up until now.
Last Wednesday leaders of the Leongatha-based theatre group came, cap in hand, to the shire council to ask them initially to be the lead agency in a memorandum of understanding with the Leongatha Secondary College but ultimately there will be a request for funding and grant application support.
The logic of former Lyric president, Peter Western, who with Neil Warren OAM, made the presentation to council, is hard to fault.
And he delivered it with the practiced art of someone who has stood on his feet in exactly this forum many times, including as a shire president.
Mr Western said it made sense on several levels for the shire to be the lead agency, on behalf of the community, in seeking an agreement with the Leongatha Secondary College for community use of Mesley.
The secondary college as one of Lyric’s two key partners over the years, is a willing participant.
Number one, said Mr Western, we might not be here in 30 years time. You might be, but we need a structure in place that ensures access by the community whether we are here or not.
Mr Western said a completed agreement between the shire and the secondary college, with community support coming from user groups including Leongatha Lyric Theatre, which uses it 20 per cent of the time, would enable the shire, the school and Lyric Theatre to go out for government, local government and philanthropic trust funding.
“We need an agreement between the shire and the college to commit to ongoing financial involvement,” Mr Western said.
“We propose to develop a business case in February 2018 around the development of a performing arts centre for South Gippsland in Leongatha.
“It will provide what we have needed for a long, long time and tried to start financing in 1989.”
Mr Western said the group had put its money where its mouth was stumping up $80,000 of its own money towards $110,000 in improvements, principally the new retractable seating which had been warmly welcomed by audiences.
“When we set up for our recent play, Our Country’s Good, a judge from the Victorian Drama League (VDL) said he was surprised to see we had a performing arts space in Leongatha.
“So it is better but it’s not complete,” he said.
In response to the submission, both Cr Alyson Skinner and Cr Andrew McEwen expressed their support with Cr McEwen noting that a healthy community is one that spends money on both sporting and cultural facilities and the shire had been lacking with the latter over the years.
Both Cr McEwen and Cr Shinner thanked the Lyric officials for taking them on a tour of the facilities at Mesley which Cr Skinner acknowledged were “cramped”.
A formal request from Lyric for the shire to take up negotiations with the secondary college is imminent.
Councillors join chorus for theatre upgrade