6 July 2016
The following is an article wrote by Aimee Hughes and published by The West Australian on 29 June, 2016.
As Shakespeare so aptly put it, one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.
A similar life cycle could apply to performing-arts centres, as defined by the “four ages” philosophy of American venue management guru Steven Wolff.
Perth Concert Hall manager Brendon Ellmer cites Wolff in asserting that the 43-year-old city landmark is being pushed into its fourth age as a creative hub, “a place where all creative things happen”.
In his second year of running the hall for the WA Symphony Orchestra’s venue management company (WAVE) on behalf of owner City of Perth and the State Government, Ellmer hopes to change perceptions about it being a centre just for “elite” classical music.
The mission for Ellmer and WASO’s WA Venues and Events company is to enliven the hall’s underused spaces outside the main auditorium with more diverse events and attractions.
As Wolff put it, there was a postwar global wave of building such venues as homes for orchestras or ballet companies, followed by their adoption by rock promoters and other commercial hirers, and then for graduations and other events by community organisations.
“We are in a fourth age now, which is what is termed the ‘creative hub’, where they become places where all creative things happen, not just the key focus, because the people coming are quite creative-minded and seek creative experiences,” Ellmer says.
Eyeing a potential redevelopment in WASO’s long-running aim to shift its offices to Perth Concert Hall, Ellmer’s venue-activation plan has started bearing fruit after a difficult transition last year from the 15-year management tenure of contractor AEG Ogden.
WAVE posted a $244,375 profit in 2015, thanks partially to nearly $413,000 in transition funding from the Department of Culture and the Arts to help with start-up costs.
Bookings in the main hall are up, food and beverage options have increased and there is evidence of more activity in the foyers and external areas.
Innovations have included an outdoor cinema, exhibitions in the foyers and the conversion of a disused tunnel to St Georges Terrace into a nightspot.
More changes depend on a longer-term management agreement once an interim contract involving the City of Perth and Perth Theatre Trust expires at the end of this year. Negotiations are under way in that respect.
Ellmer’s plans for the venue include solar power and a rooftop bar, the use of the riverside plaza for Federation Square-style programming such as rock festivals, community events and screenings of the AFL grand final, music tuition and rehearsal facilities and even a music-focused creche.
There are plans also for virtual-reality concerts over the internet so that an audience member from anywhere in the world can “sit” in the concert hall and enjoy a WASO performance without physically being there.
“This could be amazing for residential care homes, retirement villages, remote and regional areas and long-term hospital patients,” Ellmer says.
Enabled by a WA virtual-reality company, audience members will be able to go on Google Daydream (released later this year), choose their seat, and watch a live or recorded concert in a 3-D virtual context.
Whether people’s physical condition stops them from attending or they are just time poor, Ellmer says this won’t detract from people attending performances but will encourage more activity.
It is another element in the strategy to make the concert hall home for music of all kinds, whether it be electronic dance music in the tunnel’s Winter ArtsBar, summer jazz on the veranda, a rock gig in the plaza or a pop act or symphonic concert in the main hall.
At Ellmer’s side is WASO chief executive Craig Whitehead, who says audiences have embraced the vision to have as much activity on the site as possible.
“The best way to activate a venue is to put people in it and for you to see people in it,” Whitehead says.
“Now you can see the extraordinary art on the walls from the Wesfarmers Collection, you see people everywhere outside in the forecourt area up there sitting at tables drinking, eating, laughing. It just looks like a place you want to go to now.
“It’s a much more interesting, attractive venue that the City of Perth is much more proud of than it has been in the past and there is now some movement to capitalise on this, and take the venue to the next step, and the key to that is a redevelopment of the built environment.”