A Goodbye to Union House—and a glance into the future for Union House Theatre

For those of you who have been keeping up with the University’s updates, you may be aware of the upcoming Student Precinct that is currently reaching its final stages of construction.


For those of you who have been keeping up with the University’s updates, you may be aware of the upcoming Student Precinct that is currently reaching its final stages of construction. Set to replace our ol’ Union House as a central hub of student activity, many spaces will be moving over to the Student Precinct.

One of these spaces is the Union House Theatre (UHT), the central hub of co-curricular student theatre at the University. Staffed by passionate industry professionals who are keen to support students in everything performance and production, UHT is involved in the programming of performances, masterclasses, and events that aim to nurture and upskill emerging student theatre-makers. UHT also supports over 20 autonomous Student Theatre Groups (STGs) who program and present their own productions in the Guild and Union Theatres.

Providing students with a taste of professional theatre-making since 1969, UHT has been a mainstay in the University’s history, and is still instrumental in the university experience of students.

While UHT prepares to make its move later this year, I have caught up with several students and alumni who have been involved in the UHT community. Through them, I hope to shine a light on the stories of some of the students that have been nurtured and supported by UHT.

For Eden McLean, a second-year Design student, UHT was the perfect opportunity to “springboard into the university theatre scene” after starting university in 2021.

After seeing a callout for UMMTA’s 2021 Sitzprobe—a collection of new musicals—Eden made her presence known in the student theatre scene, getting cast in both Alex Langdon’s it never was a phase, kid and Ethan Francis- D’Amour’s The Scarlet Sun, as well as being chosen as the costume designer for both MUSC and UMMTA’s Semester 2 Main Stage productions of The Addams Family and Titus Andronicus respectively.

Despite several of these productions having to be cancelled, postponed, and/or moved online due to COVID-19 restrictions at the time, Eden wrote warmly of her experiences working in student theatre.

“While I had done a lot of costume construction throughout my schooling years, this was my first time ever being specifically in-charge of a production’s costuming department,” said Eden.

“As an aspiring costume designer who hopes to pursue this field in the future, my involvement with UHT has given me so many opportunities to not only showcase my skills in costume-making, but I’ve also been able to learn so many new skills and develop so many new methods.”

The alumni of UHT also have fond memories and lessons from their time that they have carried with them to today.

Corey Koeleman worked on several shows at UHT in 2012, including Zombie! An Apocalyptic Rock Opera. It was during this time where the UHT team mentored and supported him.

“I was given the space to make mistakes and find solutions ... The team really nurtured my love for theatre and gave me the time and space to play and learn,” said Corey.

“It was through Union House Theatre that I gained many valuable contacts that I still have today ... I learnt so many skills and realised that no matter what happened the show must always go on.”

Corey keeps a current voltage checker from UHT staff members former Production Manager Gus and Head Technician Clynton as a memento of his time working on student productions at UHT and the lessons he learnt along the way.

UHT is fondly remembered and known for the support provided by its team to make sure its programs and productions are accessible and inclusive. Oliver Ross, a recent UHT alumni, praises the department for its accessibility and the blending and branching of roles in student theatre.

“I love how customisable the opportunities through UHT are—you can specialise, or explore, have a fun break from class or get converted to changing careers,” said Oliver.

“With the mixture of creative freedom and support, the barrier for entry is low and the potential is high.

“It’s common for writers, directors and actors to have had experience as a technician, designer or manager, and the focus on access and equity carries over long after students graduate.”

For Oliver, it was his involvement with UHT that has been instrumental in his development as a creative.

“I’ve found that one way or another, the bulk of my work has either branched out from, or come from interest in my work on [UHT] shows,” said Oliver.

While saying goodbye to the current UHT spaces in Union House may be saddening for many members of the UHT community both old and new, these snippets of students passionate about theatre-making no doubt provide hope for its future.

While we’re saying goodbye to Union House, we’re not saying goodbye to UHT. UHT will have a significant presence in the student precinct, with its performance venues Union Theatre and Guild Theatre making the move to the new Arts and Cultural building.

We will still have the memories of everything UHT and its community of passionate people have accomplished, and in the future UHT will continue to nurture and support emerging theatre-makers, regardless of the building they occupy.

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