La Mama Theatre (Melbourne)

The La Mama Theatre is a theatrical venue located at 205 Faraday St, Carlton, Victoria. It opened in a former factory building on July 30 1967 and still operates today under the direction of Liz Jones.

The theatre, an initiative of Betty Burstall, was inspired by the "off-off-Broadway" theatre scene in New York City. Betty and her husband, film maker Tim Burstall, had just returned from a trip to New York and wanted to re-create the vibrancy and immediacy of the small theatres there. La Mama was modelled after a similarly named New York venue.

"I got the idea for La Mama when we went to New York in the sixties. We were poor. It was impossible to go to the theatre - even to see a film was expensive - but there were these places where you paid fifty cents for a cup of coffee and you saw a performance, and if you felt like it you put some money in a hat for the actors. I saw some awful stuff and some good stuff. It was very immediate and exciting and when I came back to Melbourne I wanted to keep going, but there didn't exist such a place. So I talked around a bit, to a few actors and writers and directors, sounding them out about doing their own stuff, Australian stuff, for nothing ... I decided on Carlton because in 1967 it was a lively, tatty area with an Italian atmosphere and plenty of students ... " (Betty Burstall)

At a time when the production of Australian plays was almost non-existent (and financially risky), La Mama's non-profit organisation provided the venue for the performance of new experimental Australian theatre works.

The first play performed at La Mama was a work by a new Australian writer Jack Hibberd, entitled Three Old Friends (1967), whose most successful play Dimboola opened there in 1969. The production of Australian works at La Mama soon became a staple, and within the first two years of its life twenty-five new Australian plays had premiered there.

La Mama also nurtured new works by composers, poets, and filmmakers. The opening of the alternative theatre provided a home base for many important figures in theatre and film including Hibberd and Alex Buzo. It was also regularly used by underground performance troupe Tribe (who later collaborated with Spectrum). The theatre's house troupe, the La Mama Group, established by actor-director Graeme Blundell evolved into the Australian Performing Group.

La Mama's foundation marked the beginning of the emergence of a distinctly Australian style of theatre. La Mama also fostered a pool of talent that would flow on into many areas of the Australian arts -- playwrights, actors, directors, technicians, musicians, filmmakers, poets and comedians. The theatre regularly screened new works by film-makers such as Bryan Davies, Nigel Buesst, John Carnody, Bert Dehling and John Duigan, and other notable names associated with the theatre include David Williamson, Barry Dickins, Daniel Keene, John Romeril, Tess Lyssiotis, Helen Collins, Lloyd Jones, Judith Lucy and Richard Frankland.

It is located in a building which was built in 1883 for Anthony Reuben Ford, a local printer. The building has also served as a boot factory, electrical engineering workshop, and a silk underwear factory.

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