From Mechanics Institute to Theatre

Kemp's Curtain Call. Picture: ON FILE

The Lilydale Athenaeum Theatre venue has a history going back to 1888 when it was erected as the Mechanics Institute and Meeting Hall.

It was certainly used by the Lilydale community, as the local picture theatre from 1922 to 1974, it provided a venue for concerts, bazaars, public meetings, roller skating, badminton, volleyball, dances, church services, wrestling, baby sow, chest x-rays and one has heard of a rifle range.

It was also a venue for Dame Nellie Melba who put on performances for the troops funding for WWI.

But in 1975 the picture theatre aspect closed, and it lost its attention for other functions resulting in the Hall being in a sad state of repair.

Along came Russell Johnson and Geoff Page who approached the Lilydale council with a proposal to turn the Mechanics Institute into the Lilydale Athenaeum theatre. They promised to restore the theatre to its former glory and make a place that Lilydale could be proud of.

By 1975 Russell and Geoff sponsored two amateur theatre productions in the Athenaeum Hall and in August 1975 they arranged a meeting of people interested in forming a Lilydale Theatre Club. This was the foundation of the Lilydale Athenaeum Theatre company.

A long process of repairs and refurbishment ensued with the complete rewiring of the building, installation of heating (it can get cold in Lilydale)and the construction of a partition to create a foyer and an intimate theatre atmosphere.

It was not easy and the Company had to overcome obstacles such as the Health Department regulations, severe financial crises and political adjustments and disagreements over the use of the Hall and the right of other groups to use it.

In 1977 the name if the building was formerly changed from the Athenaeum Hall to the Athenaeum theatre, with the next few years refurbishment resulting in the enlargement of the backstage area, construction of dressing rooms and a wardrobe department, widening if the proscenium, installation of new seating, new velvet curtains and a fire safety curtain, and fire escapes. And the official opening on July 7, 1985 by the Minister for Arts, the Honourable Race Mathews.

Now Lilydale has a theatre of which it must be proud and in addition the sub foyer has a great collection of Dame Nellie Melba’s possessions.

The Lilydale ATC is a non-profit organisation, administered by a board headed by Alan Burrows and supported by a large group of volunteers.

The Company produces shows annually – each running for three weeks.

The next production from Lilydale ATC is Emma wood’s Piece of Mind. A funny quirky tale

Bookings 9735 1777.