Tucked between the bustling pubs of Surry Hills and the hidden-away bars of Darlinghurst sits the new Eternity Playhouse: Sydney's first new major theatre in six years.
This incredible space was originally a Baptist church, where the men of God and their followers were served late-night rations of soup and peace for over 100 years. We find the space now, almost 10 years after it was bought by City of Sydney, as a beautifully restored, fully functional theatre.
The restoration and repair works have been extensive and arduous. Glenn Terry, the director of the Darlinghurst Theatre Company, which operates out of the new space, confirms that “the build started in late 2008 and it was really tricky. The building had lots of problems, lots of leaks. Water was pouring in from different spots.” The heritage listing of the property also presented various issues to work around. According to Terry, “The City could've taken a lot of shortcuts, but they didn't. They preserved and utilised what they had in a very admirable way.”
As you walk into the foyer of the theatre, you’ll see that the timber from the original floorboards have been used to create the curved ceiling, while amber stained-glass windows change the colour of the light as you pass up the stairs into the gorgeous new theatre, filled with comfy seats.
Upon the purchase of the space, City of Sydney approached Terry and his team from the Darlinghurst Theatre Company to see if they'd like to use the space as an artist’s theatre. Jumping at the opportunity, Terry says, “Our thing is independent artists and supporting their vision. And that’s what we need to continue doing: provide that platform.”
Traditionally, artists cut their teeth working out of warehouse spaces and small independent theatres, but this space sets a benchmark for independent artists: actors, directors and creatives alike, giving them a polished, professional space to operate out of. “This is a fantastic addition to the cultural fabric, but what needs to be protected is the smaller theatres,” says Terry. “They're the crucibles and the hubs, so that’s important. When I started there were no opportunities to perform work as an independent artist; you had to hire a hall.”
The theatre has been dedicated to Arthur Stace, the reformed alcoholic remembered for his ‘Eternity’ chalk etchings which appeared all over Sydney over a period of 35 years throughout the 1930s –’50s. His celebrated story and message of hope continues to be imitated by phantom graffiti artists around the city, the word famously lighting up the Sydney Harbour Bridge on the eve of the millennium. This is the church where Stace came to find redemption. Terry speaks of Stace and his legacy with enthusiasm, pointing out the brass 'Eternity' welded into the floor upon entrance.
It's encouraging that the City is financing a new theatre space for our artists, not only investing in the space, but future-proofing solutions for the company. Forty eight solar panels have been installed on the theatre’s roof, the entire building is fitted out with LED lighting and two huge water tanks for the amenities sit under the floor of the foyer. The council have seriously thought through the space and its viability, “Which is great for a small company like us,” says Terry, “because we can't afford new power bills.”
Eternity Playhouse’s first show, Arthur Miller's All my Sons, directed by Iain Sinclair has just wrapped up, but make sure you grab yourself a seat to Falsettos, kicking off the new year on February 7.
39 Burton Street, Darlinghurst
(02) 8356 9987