What future-proofing looks like in the performing arts

More than a revamped venue, Sutherland’s Pavilion Performing Arts Centre signals a commitment towards creative pathways that go from community engagement through to professional development.

In 2020, the Sutherland Shire Council committed nearly $42 million towards an upgrade of the 44-year-old Sutherland Entertainment Centre. The venue will soon welcome back the public as the new Pavilion Performing Arts Centre Sutherland.

Some architectural components of the original 1976 building have been retained as a nod towards history and legacy. What has changed is the purpose of the building, which is now fully oriented towards live performance, necessitating major refurbishment of the theatre and stage, including a huge investment towards a full fly tower, improved seating, better technical and back of house facilities and a multifunctional rehearsal space.

The upgrade also reimagines the venue’s entrance foyer and positions the Pavilion as one that resonates with the green surroundings of Peace Park.

Arts leader Rachel Healy is guiding the opening program of the Pavilion and its vision, with a new permanent Director due to join the centre later in 2023.

Healy tells ArtsHub: ‘We’re hoping that the Pavilion really becomes a first-class example of what performing arts centres can look and feel like today and into the future, for both the artists and companies that are working here, but also for the audiences and what they’ve come to expect from performing arts centres around the country.’  

Community engagement is another key focus, building upon the plethora of arts organisations that already call Sutherland their home of creativity.

Healy continues: ‘There’s the Engadine Musical Society, Sutherland Theatre Company, and Sutherland Symphony Orchestra, just to name a few, as well as Hazelhurst Arts Centre for the visual arts.

‘These organisations are so engaged with [the] community and encourage and foster participation in the performing arts, but they haven’t had a centre that is absolutely first-rate. Now they will have a space where they not only present work for their audiences but also have professional development opportunities.’

While the centre is yet to open to the public, Healy has already been facilitating development programs with surrounding organisations, including training up some of the members of the Miranda Musical Society on the new fly system.

Healy says: ‘We know that many of these community companies, particularly those that provide opportunities to young people, provide a pipeline to VCA, WAAPA and NIDA. Having a centre that can also give them some professional experience in real time with state-of-the-art resources means that we can go that step further. It doesn’t just service those organisations by providing a quality performance space, it also supports many of their members who have aspirations to make a professional career in the arts, especially those interested in back of house roles in sound, lighting and staging which the wider industry so desperately needs right now.’

Building a future means programming for all

In Healy’s view, fostering a lifelong commitment to the arts – whether as a performer or an audience member – is something the sector can learn from the sports industry.

‘Particularly the AFL, which is really good at drawing that line from community participation through to professional practice and building lifelong fans of the game along the way. It has five-year-olds playing AFL right through to their adult years and that’s really what you want,’ says Healy.  

‘Another sector that does this really well is ballet. There is an understanding that some of the kids doing ballet will become elite dancers and join the Australian Ballet or Sydney Dance Company, but for a vast number of them, it will ignite a lifelong love of dance and they will become audience members of the future.’

‘Waru – journey of the small turtle’ by Bangarra Dance Theatre to be presented at the Pavilion PAC. Photo: Daniel Boud.

The Pavilion will officially launch with a gala event on 4 March 2023, but a soft opening earlier in the year will see Bangarra Dance Theatre’s family show Waru – journey of the small turtle bring the new stage to life on 28 and 29 January 2023 as part of Sydney Festival. 

The new year line-up is already packed, including shows such as the best-selling memoir adapted for the stage Ahn Do: The Happiest Refugee Live!, satirical comedy The Wharf Revue: Looking for Albanese and circus adventure Air Play from the United States.

Healy adds: ‘For the Pavilion, I can see a venue that has a genuine partnership with the community through both local organisations and audiences – a venue that takes full advantage of the opportunities to develop deep connections and augment existing relationships with better facilities and partnership models.’

The Pavilion’s first commission is with playwright Alana Valentine for a new work entitled People of the Winter Beach. Having spent large parts of her childhood in the shadow of the concrete towers of the Kurnell Oil Refinery, Alana will apply her characteristic research and community engagement processes to excavate the defining stories and people of Sydney’s south, reflecting their lives from its newest stage.

Find out more on the Pavilion Performing Arts Centre’s website.

Celina Lei is an arts writer and editor at ArtsHub. She acquired her M.A in Art, Law and Business in New York with a B.A. in Art History and Philosophy from the University of Melbourne. She has previously worked across global art hubs in Beijing, Hong Kong and New York in both the commercial art sector and art criticism. Most recently she took part in drafting NAVA’s revised Code of Practice - Art Fairs. Celina is based in Naarm/Melbourne. Instagram: @lleizy_