The following is a message from MKA Artistic Director Tobias Manderson-Galvin.
On the 3rd of November 2010 MKA
had the company’s first play reading at the company’s new theatre in Tanner Street, Richmond. Following a series of playwriting workshops already held in the space and the success of our first production at La Mama Theatre, The Arts+Culture Branch of the Yarra Council were pleased that MKA would be securely in Richmond, the wider theatrical community was abuzz, even the police who’d popped by for the Official Launch Party the week before had offered their congratulations and wished the company all the best, no doubt thankful it wasn’t another illegal brothel to have to accept council bribes for. The permission for place of assembly permit was underway, MKA was told it was to be completed by February and a number of key obstacles had been waived by the relevant council officers. The need for the mandatory number of carpark spaces for example, as well as the $15,000 independent sound test (one the council are obliged to perform themselves anyway) had been waived. Why? Because MKA was simply presenting a well contained 40 seat theatre in the side of an old factory; next door to a large hairdresser, ten doors down from the Moira Gallery; twenty doors from a pub, a brothel, a bike shop, two cafes, about 40 metres from one of Melbourne’s largest railway stations, a hundred metres from the Corner Hotel (capacity 900 patrons) and 600 metres from the MCG. But it was not to be so simple.
That first night, the small theatre was packed with excited theatre goers and makers. Actors waited off-stage in the kitchen for their cue, the audience comfortable in the recently fitted space and a well-known Melbourne Satirist went against the general hipster fashion trend of tight black jeans by sporting a pair of over sized frilly underwear, by all accounts a success but scarcely had the readings on that first night drawn to a close when a knock at the door signalled the entry of a council officer. Due to complaints received prior to the first reading, complaints MKA were all too well aware of as they’d appeared in the letterboxes of everyone on Tanner street, sent anonymously in hysterical red ink, complaints made by local residents averse to the idea of a theatre on their street, the council came to shut the venue down.
Under Act No. 45 of 1987 Section 126 (3) of the Planning an Environment Act 1987; namely using land for the purpose of a Place of Assembly contrary to clause clause 32.04-1 of the Yarra Planning Scheme.
The reading, which the council representative described on the night as ‘quieter than most dinner parties’. An on the spot fine of $600-$2400 was issued. More were to follow the next day when three threatening officers from building and planning arrived to confront MKA’s Roberts and Manderson-Galvin outside the premise: demanding, without warrant, that they enter the property.
The boys refused and closed the venue at once, but that night a paranoid local in pyjamas, who refused to discuss the issues with either Manderson-Galvin or Roberts, was still taking photographs of the front of the venue on a smartphone – hoping to capture an incriminating, if grainy, snap of ‘theatre’. Three days later MKA reopened the ‘Open Season’ playreading series at QV Shopping Centre in the Melbourne CBD. A smug phone call from the representative of the complainants let the boys know in no uncertain terms that they were not to come back. MKA was ‘doing a wonderful thing!’ just ‘not around here.’
The debacle was the focus of some media attention and a flood of support emails from international theatrical, literary, artistic communities. This was to no avail however, the council were not interested in supporting the group or finding them a new space.
Since then MKA has presented work at the pop-up theatre in QV Shopping Centre, full scale works at a custom built theatre in the Prahran Mission on Chapel Street. developments of four new texts at The Melbourne Theatre Company Theatre’s VIP Rooms. toured to The Street Theatre in Canberra and presented workshops and panels at Crack Theatre Festival (Newcastle) and the Emerging Writers Festival (Melbourne). And most recently MKA have spent the last 3 months at School House Studios, Abbotsford. We closed a week ago. The cost is something we’re happy to share, pertinent to say however is that we’ve been generously supported by the establishments at each location and the public and theatrical community who have attended the shows, written about them and assisted in their promotion.
And the cost for that one night in Richmond back in early November 2010?
MKA was unwilling to pay the initial fine of approx $600 due to what MKA considered to be a complete misrepresentation of facts in the affidavit of the Yarra Officer (an affidavit made under oath and which MKA makes freely available should anyone wish to read a script that does not meet our literary department’s standards of excellence) as well as Yarra’s unwillingness to review the matter without the involvement of the Magistrates’ Court.
Due to this the maximum fine to be leveled at MKA was
For one night of playreading.
Fortunately for MKA, yesterday at around midday, an anonymous donor paid the outsanding fines owed to the City of Yarra, fortunately far less than the figure proposed above. MKA is free once again of debts but sadly the City of Yarra is still with out its theatre.
Where will we go next?
Wherever it is it is with great thanks to the anonymous donor and to all of you for your continued support of our company.
Thank you for being with us in 2011.
To many years more.
MKA Artistic Director,