Burning Brighter: The La Mama Theatre Returns

After a devastating electrical fire in 2018, the theatre community banded together to rebuild La Mama.


On Friday 9 December, rising from the ashes, The La Mama Theatre reopened with the War-Rak/Banksia Festival.

After a devastating electrical fire in 2018, the theatre community banded together to rebuild the independent theatre. $3 million and they have finally achieved this, opening with one of the most intoxicating events in all of Carlton.

Faraday Street was closed to the public, and as I took in a view of the new building, I was entranced by the decorations of bunting and flower crowns signalling the reopening. Nestling into the deck chairs, we were welcomed by Uncle Bill Nicholson, and listened to stories of the development of La Mama over the past three years through the eyes of Artistic Directors Liz Jones and Caitlin Dullard, as well as Creative Minister Danny Pearson and Lord Mayor Sally Capp, among others.

“It is a place to be excited, a place to be challenged,” Capp said, as La Mama staff handed out bronze Federation Bells to attendees.

Patrons enjoy La Mama opening. Photography by Sarah Peter.

It was hard to keep a dry eye as Mama Alto, our host for the evening, introduced new acts and guided us into the reimagined building, urging us to leave our mark on the stairs and walls.

The new building, now adorned with timber and brickwork, glows like an ember in its renewal. Left behind are parts of the old building, like the toilet, that remind you of its rich history. Lights are strung up from one corner to the next, and two new lifts offer increased accessibility to the venue. It simply is breath-taking.

As an avenue for experimentation and diversity, La Mama is no stranger to the creative and the mesmerising. As the opening night proceeded, we were met with a series of acts, the Brunswick Entertainment Festival Love Heart Dancers reminding us to take in this joy, and the ladies of ‘Lost in Ringwood’ wandering to provide giggles and chaos.

Performers at La Mama. Photography by Sarah Peter.

Nothing, however, tops the excitement near sunset as an aerial performer acted out the fire and rebirth of the theatre. Dressed as a phoenix, this performer danced above the building with perfect pointe and power.

Burning on into the night, the La Mama festivities continued in true euphoria, and will last until 12 December.

The growth of the La Mama theatre and its community over the past three years is truly a signal for emerging artists to put their hand up and see what they can build from dust or disaster. Anyone who was lucky enough to attend the opening night, or any part of the festival, knows how lucky Melbourne is to host such a vibrant space. I cannot wait to see what they bring us next.

The La Mama Theatre is located on the lands of the people of the Kulin Nations. They are supported by The City of Melbourne, Australia Council for the Arts, Creative Victoria and the Australian Government Rise Fund.

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