The 1960s - Premises
The search for a new home continued into the 1960s with the limited availability of the WWF hall plus the discomfort of the occasional flea plague and the birth of a local alley cat’s litter under the stage.
In 1963 the New moved to the rear of a car salesroom at 151 William Street Darlinghurst where it remained until 1973. The entrance to the theatre, converted from a motor garage housing two Rolls Royces, was on St Peters Lane, an area frequented by prostitutes who had dealings with the police and with whom some female theatre members became friendly. The NT watering hole was the Lord Roberts Hotel in Stanley Street.
Gambling premises on the first floor were converted into an auditorium while the second level became clubrooms. After a plea went out for help, trade unionists joined working bees at night and on weekends and NT supporters donated items such as a refrigerator and vacuum cleaner.
Second-hand carpet was bought from the Prince Edward “Theatre Beautiful” (demolished in 1966) plus 114 cinema seats, Bruce Milliss going guarantor for the seats and a new ticket box.
There were a few problems with the venue (pests like fleas and cockroaches; regular thefts from the theatre ~ including the Tasmanian bush fire appeal box in 1967 ~ and nearby parked cars; the wide shallow stage was not high enough to accommodate flies; allocated seating meant ushers were needed, putting a further strain on Front of House volunteers; and the sound equipment sometimes picked up local police and taxi messages) but during the decade at St Peters Lane NT broadened its audience and its program. Acting classes, Workshops and children’s theatre were revived and more shows, with shorter seasons, staged.
Director John Tasker was particularly successful in developing a new style for NT and bringing in new audiences, his usual question whether the theatre wanted to play safe or try something new.
His first production, John Whiting’s A Penny for a Song, challenged the theatre’s resources, the staging requiring a two-storey mansion, the gondola of a balloon, an underground well, a gazebo, a fire engine and cannon balls rolling across the stage. Tasker also imposed a directorial discipline, his methods quickly undone with his departure after America Hurrah! (Tasker returned for The Changing Room in 1976.)
ASIO moles continued to report to HQ, the theatre’s phone was tapped and the rego numberplates recorded of cars parked nearby.
Checking on a film review in the Spotlight! newsletter, an agent noted that Ingmar Bergman had no previous Security record.
By the mid 1960s New Theatres in Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide had shut their doors, leaving only Sydney, Newcastle (closed 1979) and Melbourne (closed 2000). Common reasons for termination were loss of long-term committed members through death or health or family reasons; younger people moving on to co-ops after gaining experience; competition for audiences and writers from professional groups who were successful in getting funding and performing rights to “leftist” works; and lack of ongoing grants.