No one could accuse local theatre impresario Daniel Stoddart of not putting his money where his mouth is.
The founder of Hunter Drama and The Very Popular Theatre Company and wife Hayley have reaffirmed their commitment to Novocastrian theatre by purchasing their first commercial premises under the Stoddart Entertainment Group.
The former Teterin Engineering warehouse on Fern Street in Islington has been transformed into a world-class performance space and, from 2021, will become the home of both Hunter Drama and The Very Popular Theatre Company.
While Daniel said the decision to take on such a Herculean task, especially at a time when their industry has been decimated by COVID-19, was “nerve-wracking” his fervent belief in local theatre trumped any concerns.
“I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was a nerve-wracking decision, ” Daniel said.
“Very Pop was due to open our mega-production of Chess: The Musical at the Civic
Theatre exactly two weeks after the 13 March lockdown was announced. Of course, the production had to be put on hold, which was crushing. Then Hunter Drama had to pivot with the best of them, becoming, as far as we know, the first Australian drama school to transition to a full online learning environment.
“While this was happening, Hayley and I were contending with the looming prospect of the lease on our commercial premises in Broadmeadow expiring at the end of the year. We’d been searching for some time for the ideal premises and had all but resigned ourselves to it not happening when this gem came on the market. In June, we leapt headfirst into our somewhat scary but, undeniably, thrilling new future.”
A fair bit of elbow grease had to be spent over the past five months to get the site to where it is today and the current fit-out includes two large studio, where classes, workshops and rehearsals will be feld.
The custom-fitted foyer includes a laptop workstation, iPhone charging stations and a gallery installation showcasing highlights from Hunter Drama’s and Very Popular Theatre Company’s history.
There’s also a shop with a tempting and expansive range of play scripts and piano/vocal books from the world’s favourite musicals, as well as Hunter Drama and Very Popular Theatre Company merchandise.
“Positioned in the heart of eclectic and gentrifying Islington, we’re delighted to be adding a significant new entertainment facility to the cultural fabric of our region. And the best part is, the facility has plenty of room for us to grow – watch this space,” Daniel added.
All Very Popular Theatre Company rehearsals are now taking place in Fern Street and, from the start of 2021, all Hunter Drama courses and programs will be run from the new location.