By Andrew Fuhrmann
Mary Lou Jelbart on 10 Years Downstairs – see the article in its original context here.
Former ABC arts reporter and current fortyfivedownstairs artistic director Mary Lou Jelbart is overseeing the tenth birthday celebrations of the creative hub in February 2012.
“The original impetus was more toward chamber music and exhibitions,” says Mary Lou Jelbart, who together with Julian Burnside, famous collector of dictionaries, founded the venue in 2002. “But it quickly changed.”
After hosting a series of critically applauded works by Ariette Taylor and Daniel Keene, Jelbart saw the light. “I suddenly recognised how important it was to have a theatre for new work.”
Ten years later and the company has developed a strong reputation for producing and co-producing new text-based Australian plays. “We’ve had literally thousands come to the seasons that we produce ourselves,” Jelbart says. Do Not Go Gentle …, Patricia Cornelius’s award-winning play from 2010 got over 3000 punters through the doors, while Cafe Scheherazade, based on the classic, Arnold Zable book, got over 5000. “Now for a tiny independent theatre, that means full houses every night.”
Their interest in supporting new text-based theatre is exemplified by a close relationship with the R.E. Ross Trust’s playwriting grant. Each year fortyfivedownstairs hosts readings for the three winners, and in fact have produced or co-produced five shows that have come out of the trust.
“They’re a trust that deals mostly with social issues; this is like a sideline for them. They love it. But it’s all very well winning these grants – you’ve still got to have somewhere to show your work. And there is actually very little choice.”
Fortyfivedownstairs are setting aside the week beginning Monday 20 February for a series of parties to celebrate the last ten years and to offer a vision of the next ten to come – check the Fortyfivedownstairs website for details.