Iconic Footbridge Theatre coming back to life

Footbridge-Theatre-with-Lyndon-Dadswell's-University-Life-Sculpture-on-facadeThe Sydney Conservatorium of Music has started renovating the Footbridge Theatre to restore the building as a teaching and performance theatre for Music Theatre students. It is expected to open in 2024 for students.

The iconic Footbridge Theatre on Parramatta Road is undergoing refurbishment to restore the building to a fully functioning teaching and performance theatre after almost 20 years as a lecture hall for university students.

The project will see the space, which has hosted productions by John Bell and performances by Marcia Hines and Bruce Beresford, as a theatre for performance, teaching and learning.

It will be operated by Sydney Conservatorium of Music to give students enrolled in the Music Theatre degree a permanent teaching and production home that can replicate professional standards and practice.

Professor Anna Reid, Dean of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music said investing in the restoration of the Footbridge Theatre is an investment in the future of the arts.

“The revival of the Footbridge Theatre not only benefits our students, but it also holds immense value for the city of Sydney,” said Professor Reid. “By nurturing and cultivating our talented individuals, we are contributing to the rich cultural fabric of our community.

“As these graduates step into the professional realm, Sydney can anticipate an influx of exceptional and well-trained performers who will bring joy, entertainment, and a touch of magic to the stages of our city.”

The Renovations
The scope of the project includes a bio-box and air lock in the main theatre, reinstating the fly tower and catwalk and refurbishment of the dressing rooms, storage area and rehearsal studio.

The major work begins in September and the theatre is expected to be ready for Music Theatre students to use as a learning space in early 2024.

Music Theatre Program
Associate Professor of Music Theatre Narelle Yeo said the students require specialised teaching and learning spaces: with a proscenium facing a dark hall, lighting, sound, an orchestra pit, rehearsal spaces and essential technical infrastructure adapted to bring to life the magic of theatre performance.

“Our students are benefitting from a purpose-built theatre, with everything a music theatre student needs for success in the industry, alongside world-class faculty and staff,” said Associate Professor Yeo.

“To be able to access a professional performance venue on the University of Sydney main campus opens up our work to the university as a whole and enables collaborations across the university.”

“Our students receive first-class training in all their disciplines in one place. As artists, we need a home for our expression to germinate. The musical and dramatic history of the Footbridge is special and it will be a privilege for our students to build new stories in this purpose built space,” said Associate Professor Yeo.

The restored Footbridge Theatre will provide:

  • A dedicated learning space for students of the Music Theatre program where teachers can simulate professional standards and practice.
  • Performance space for students to stage productions in each year of their course including a cabaret-style performance, a ‘black box’ production, ‘main stage show’ and an Australian contemporary production to nurture new music theatre works.
  • An orchestra pit to allow students to create and collaborate on multi-disciplinary projects, inviting jazz, vocal, digital, composition and orchestral program cohorts to work together.
  • Space for performance activities of the University of Sydney Students Union and wider student activities on campus, when the theatre is not in use by the Con.

Designed by renowned theatre architect John Roberts, the theatre opened on 16 September 1961, known then as the Union Theatre, with 655 seats and a proscenium arch stage design. It became the Footbridge Theatre in 1981.

It hosted student theatre productions and film screenings, and was later leased by Gordon Frost Organisation and rented out to professional companies such as Bell Shakespeare, Sydney Theatre Company, Ensemble Theatre Company and Sydney Festival.

In 2006, the theatre was converted into a lecture hall for medicine and psychology students. In July 2023 early work commenced on a major renovation to restore the space to a performance theatre run by the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.

The theatre will primarily by used by students in the music theatre major in the Bachelor of Music (Performance) degree at Sydney Conservatorium of Music. The theatre is expected to open in early 2024.

Image: Footbridge Theatre with Lyndon Dadswell’s University Life Sculpture (1962) on facade – courtesy of University of Sydney