Sydney’s rapidly growing west gains an arts centre to match its ambition

Richard Watts

Set to open in 2019, Western Sydney Performing Arts Centre will feature a flexible proscenium arch theatre capable of hosting between 900-2000 people, and state of the art technical facilities.
Sydney’s rapidly growing west gains an arts centre to match its ambition

Image supplied

Home to approximately 1 in every 11 Australians and encompassing 14 local government areas, Greater Western Sydney is one of the fastest-growing regions in Australia, with an economy to match. But while its population booms, Western Sydney’s arts infrastructure has lagged behind.

While the region is home to a range of innovative small-to-medium companies working across a range of art forms, including the National Theatre of Parramatta, PYT Fairfield and WestWords, arts-hungry audiences have been given few opportunities to see works of scale and ambition in their region.

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‘It’s clear from the research that Western Sydney’s residents are avid consumers of the arts – from musicals to symphony, concerts and cultural festivals, and drama and family shows. Unfortunately, the under-investment to date in any venues of scale has been a barrier to commercial viability of “main stage” works,’ explained Craig McMaster, Executive Director of the under-construction Western Sydney Performing Arts Centre.

Set to open in late 2019 and designed to host large-scale musicals, ballet, opera companies and symphonic music, Western Sydney Performing Arts Centre will be an invaluable addition to the region. Centrally located at West HQ, at the apex of the M7 and the M4, the venue is just 16 minutes from Blacktown, 21 minutes from the new Western Sydney Airport, and 23 minutes from Penrith. It is also easily accessible to patrons from the Blue Mountains, Central West and Southern Highlands.

With more than $100 million backing its construction and technical features, Western Sydney Performing Arts Centre has been designed to sit proudly amongst the best lyric theatres and concert halls in the world, and will feature a full fly system, retractable seating and outstanding sight-lines.

Learn more about Western Sydney Performing Arts Centre

Some of the country’s leading arts organisations and producers have already expressed interest in programming their work into the venue, which when completed will boast a flexible, 2000-seat proscenium arch theatre and an orchestra pit suitable for up to 30 musicians.

‘In the past month or so we’ve been actively meeting with and talking to industry, and it’s been great to hear how positive everyone is about what we are delivering,’ McMaster said.

‘We’re holding major announcements for 2019, but what I can say is that our goal is very much to provide Greater Western Sydney with content not previously accessible in the region. I am pleased to say that we have early commitments from some of Sydney’s most highly regarded arts organisations, who are looking forward to our venue becoming their beach-head and base as they grow their Western Sydney audience.

‘This is also the case with commercial producers and promoters. We have a number of these already submitting EOI’s for dates and discussing options, and have been in contact with all the leading promoters,’ he added.

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Designed by Cox Architecture and constructed by lead contractor, Hansen Yuncken, Western Sydney Performing Arts Centre’s main auditorium will be warm, inviting and flexible.

Technical Operations Manager Bicci Henderson explained: ‘The design enables us to offer a variety of modes and capacities and therefore control of what the audience and performers see when they come to our theatre. This allows for intimate “stalls only” seating of 800-900, through to various “lyric mode” capacities or standing options up to 2,300.’

Additionally, the retractable stalls seating system will allow the auditorium to quickly and easily transform from a traditional theatre into a venue suitable for concerts, banquets and conferences.

Such attention to detail also extends to the venue’s lighting and sound elements, Henderson said, which are both future-proof and state of the art.

‘With the sound system for the theatre, we have looked at what is happening around the world with sound delivery technologies that have moved away from the traditional Left and Right speaker stacks in venues. We have experienced these new sound delivery systems in both demo mode and actual performance and after consulting with industry colleagues and hearing their enthusiasm, will be installing a fully immersive 360 degree audio system that is truly the latest in sound capability. We’re confident that the combination of this technology with the theatre’s acoustic design will deliver an amazing audio experience for both the audience and the performers,’ she said.

‘With lighting, we took very much the same approach. We want to be at the forefront of technology and will be an LED-only venue for lighting luminaries, and use smart power for power distribution. To the best of my knowledge we will be the first theatre in Australia with no traditional lighting dimmers and incandescent light globes! We will however, still have the lighting luminaries that are loved by the industry, but they will be LED powered like those used by the London production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

‘I can’t wait to light up our house and hear how she sounds – we think it’s going to be pretty impressive,’ Henderson added. 

Backstage design is equally impressive, with comfortable and spacious production amenities on offer, including 11 dressing rooms and the latest in back of house technical capabilities. Touring companies will be able to stay at the 4 ½ star Novotel Hotel nearby, which features 164 rooms.

Harmoniously designed to appeal to both the Australian arts industry and local audiences, who are crying out for opportunities to access great content close to home, Western Sydney Performing Arts Centre will be an invaluable addition to the touring landscape at both a state and national level.

‘That’s what our theatre is ultimately about,’ said McMaster. ‘We want to deliver the best possible content in a beautifully designed, premium theatrical venue that we are sure both Western Sydney, and NSW as a whole will embrace.’

Learn more about Western Sydney Performing Arts Centre by visiting www.wspac.com.au.

About the author

Richard Watts is ArtsHub's Performing Arts Editor and Team Leader, Editorial; he also presents the weekly program SmartArts on community radio station Three Triple R.

The founder of the Emerging Writers' Festival, Richard currently serves as the Chair of La Mama Theatre's Committee of Management and on the Green Room Awards Independent Theatre panel.

He is a life member of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, and in 2017 was awarded the status of Melbourne Fringe Festival Living Legend.

Follow Richard on Twitter: @richardthewatts