A brand new foyer and a talking rabbit – Arts NSW supports rebuilding of historic Griffin theatre

Lee Lewis (Griffin Theatre Artistic Director) Photo: Brett Boardman

Lee Lewis (Griffin Theatre Artistic Director) Photo: Brett Boardman

Ms Lee Lewis, CEO and Artistic Director of Griffin Theatre Company is on a mission to make Griffin Theatre the new home for Australian playmaking.

In 2010, the theatre made an appeal to the NSW government and private donors to get involved in restoring the historic building which will complete 50 years of playmaking in 2020. “It’s a great space having given so much over the years to the creative community; but some of the interior areas need fixing otherwise spaces like these are shut down because they are unsafe,” says Ms Lewis.

Thanks to a grant by Arts NSW, private donations and fundraising efforts by the company, she’s on track to achieving a much bigger goal of restoring the entire building. As part of the theatre’s recent Capital Works Campaign supported by Arts NSW, a brand new foyer was unveiled to patrons and donors on Friday 16 October.

 “Our Capital Works campaign started five years ago in 2010,” says Ms Lewis. An architectural firm designed a new foyer area making it safer and welcoming for patrons. The final stage of the project involved installing a large window allowing people on the street to see into the theatre’s foyer.

Griffin Theatre Company also raised $300k through multiple fundraising activities. They held a street fair, an exhibition of the theatre’s works over the last thirty years, plus fundraising dinners. “We invited people to come in and talk about the theatre, what has been done and what we’d like to do,” explains Ms Lewis.

Ms Lewis says she can already see the theatre’s value increasing among the wider community and playwrights with just the completion of this first phase. The new foyer was unveiled to the wider community on the opening night for A Rabbit for Kim Jong IL written by Mr Kit Brookman and directed by Ms Lewis, a work of fiction inspired by true events in North Korea.

A Rabbit for Kim Jong IL discusses the eternal question: Can we forgive great crime? A German breeds the world’s biggest rabbit and sells it to the North Korean government to help with their famine crisis in 2006. Later the farmer finds out that rabbit was eaten by Kim Jong IL on his 70th birthday. The play tackles multiple themes; betrayal, love, anger, revenge with some comedy in the form of a talking rabbit!

There’s much excitement in the theatre for opening night as donors and community come together to celebrate what’s been achieved over the life of the Capital Works campaign.

“The support from government and donors has now created a beautiful new home for Australian playmaking and most importantly set us up for success for the next 10 years,” Ms Lewis says.

“There’ll be multiple ribbons and different people cutting these ribbons on the night”, says Ms Lewis, “it has totally been a community effort to save this wonderful building.”

So what’s next for Griffin Theatre? “The building is definitely still a work in progress,” says Ms Lewis. Next on the agenda is to fix and restore the leaking roof. But the bigger dream is to add three to four stories to the building, install elevators to make the theatre more accessible and eventually have the whole building operate more sustainably.

Arts NSW provided $80,000 to Griffin Theatre Company in 2010 towards their capital works campaign and $259,207 in multi-year program funding through the Arts and Cultural Development Program (ACDP). For further information about the ACDP please download the guidelines here.     

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