New Gippsland Performing Arts Center promises accessible ticket prices and inclusive space

A new outdoor space for performing arts and gatherings has officially opened as part of Latrobe City’s new $42 million Gippsland Performing Arts Center neighborhood.

The partially covered area, equipped with electricity, lighting and sound, was designed to host events such as farmers markets, children’s and group activities, buskers and traveling artists.

Another section of the outdoor space channels a laid-back Federation Square setup, complete with bean bags and a large screen.

“Families who have been to the library for story time can also come and enjoy the outdoor enclosure here at GPAC,” said Latrobe Mayor Kellie O’Callaghan.

“We are acutely aware of the connections between the other spaces we have in the creative compound and how they intersect with CBD – it really is an opportunity for people to come together.”

Kellie O’Callaghan and Dan Clancy describe the new GPAC as an inclusive space.(ABC GippslandRachael Lucas)

Make a place accessible

The GPAC complex serves as an upgrade to the former 227-seat Latrobe Performing Arts Center built in 1972, now known as The Little Theater.

With a 25-metre-tall flight tower and a stage as large as the Melbourne Arts Centre, the 750-seat, two-level accessible theater also features a soundproof viewing box.

This was designed for theatergoers who are sensitive to light and sound stimulation, who have vocal ticking or difficulty staying still for the duration of a performance.

Light-filled foyer with tree-shaped pillars
The tree-shaped pillars in the foyer of the new theater were milled from Heyfield wood. (ABC GippslandRachael Lucas)

There is also an accessible ticket pricing model.

Latrobe City Deputy Mayor Dan Clancy said the facility will make concession tickets available to anyone in the community experiencing financial hardship.

“There should be no obstacles preventing anyone within our community from accessing the theatre,” said Cr Clancy.

However, accessibility and viability of venues for cash-strapped local artists and performance groups hoping to hire the theater remains a work in progress.

Local theater manager Phillip A Mayer, of the Here There and Everywhere Theater Company, questioned the viability of building a 750-seat theater in a city where much local patronage is driven by community productions on a smaller scale.

Balcony and stalls, and horizontal rows of red seats.
The new theater can accommodate an audience of 750 people.(ABC GippslandRachael Lucas)

“The big space is inaccessible to us and they have raised prices at the Little Theater,” Mr. Mayer said.

“The reality is that we’re just going to have to use smaller venues that will do door chords.”

With household budgets tightening as the cost of living soars, Mayer thought GPAC would struggle to attract big, seat-filling shows.

“Most people here will be going to Melbourne to see the big shows,” he said.

Cr Clancy insisted the board was monitoring the market threshold for GPAC’s corporate, educational and community rental rates, and producers were welcome to negotiate with the venue.

He suggested bands in need of financial support investigate partnership agreements with local organisations, or whether their show meets the funding requirements of Creative Victoria and Regional Arts Victoria.

Performing arts training center

In the same way that Traralgon has become synonymous with world-class junior tennis, as a training ground for future stars, Latrobe City Council hoped the county would develop a reputation as a training center for the creative industries.

Large theater stage with red curtains and lights
GPAC’s large theater stage can accommodate large-scale tours.(ABC GippslandRachael Lucas)

“Tech Connect is a partnership between Arts Center Melbourne, which is a registered training organization for training across Victoria,” said Cr Clancy.

“Traditionally, people had to go to Box Hill TAFE 20 years ago to get their Certificate II in Lighting or Sound Design, or their Riggers Ticket.

Cr Clancy said the Little Theater building would serve as a training centre, with technicians, sound designers, set designers and engineers from all over Victoria coming to Gippsland for training.

“It’s really good for Gippsland, for the technicians who work and live here but also for people who stay extra nights, buy meals and things from the shops here,” he said.

“It’s an economic engine that’s starting to change the landscape across Gippsland, not just here in Latrobe.”