Griffin is planning to raise another $5 million from philanthropy. Planning and development applications are with the City of Sydney council and, if approved, the theater will shut in late 2023, reopening in 2025.
“We see this space as so important because these intimate spaces are what create vibrant, exciting cities,” Paris Neilson says. “A company like Griffin is able to be more experimental. They can push the envelope a bit more. They can be more agile and nimble than some of the bigger companies which is why it’s so important to support them. And there’s nothing like the experience you have of sitting in that theater when you almost feel as if you are part of the performance, that intimacy with the actors, with the story, is something you can’t reproduce anywhere else.”
Known as the theater of first chances, Griffin’s mission is to present new Australian works by emerging playwrights.
First-time plays that have gone onto success on mainstream stages include Meyne Wyatt’s City of Gold and Prima faciethe one-woman play by Suzie Miller, which has won over audiences in London’s West End.
Artistic director Declan Greene says the renovations will make all the difference to audiences and actors: “We’ve had shows in the theater with seven or eight actors rehearsing in the corridor. To enter or exit the stage you have to walk through a toilet.”
Meagher says: “We don’t want to lose that sense of intimacy, we’re not all of a sudden going to be staging massive musicals. We do risky work. Everything we do is new, and not everything works financially. We know we won’t fill the house every night for every show. It would be great if more people are seeing our shows, but it’s never going to be an arena entertainment space.”
Griffin’s association with the Neilson Foundation began during the COVID-19 lockdowns that shut the theater in 2020.
Meagher received a call from Paris Neilson asking how the family foundation might help. “We almost fell off our chairs,” he recounts. The Neilson Foundation made two donations of $50,000 each.
The SBW Foundation, set up by Dr Rodney Seaborn, purchased the site in 1986 for $200,000 after Seaborn stepped in to save the theater for Griffin when it was likely to be sold and redeveloped. Lowry says the SBW Foundation continues to own a nearby terrace house they are to lease to Griffin as offices.
“The sale will strengthen the foundation’s ability to continue assisting Griffin and supporting the performing arts more widely for decades to come,” Lowry says. “After years of nurturing Griffin, helping it financially care for its nest at the SBW Stables and watching the company develop and grow from strength to strength the foundation is delighted to see it stretch its creative wings and take flight.”
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