Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, 2018
Tucked away at the back of the Kelburn Campus amongst the lush New Zealand bush sits Studio 77, Victoria’s very own performance venue for the University’s Theatre Department.
From 1994 this space has been loved by many and has enjoyed numerous brilliant creative performances. The studio’s showcase ranges from traditional Shakespeare to scenes of nightclubbing and basketball courts.
Although proudly used today, slightly hidden and highly sought after, Studio 77 has had an interesting journey including campaigning, arson, and renovations that have combined to create this unique space.
In 1970, Drama Studies was born at Victoria University and the school primarily made use of 93 Kelburn Parade (or Drama House)—a house converted into classroom/theatre and workshop space. Set up in the form of a black box theatre, the top floor was a neutral and experimental performance and teaching space with black walls, floors and ceilings. The theatre was snug, and could usually squeeze in around 40 people, and, miraculously, even 80 at times.
Disaster struck when the house was burnt by the infamous ‘Kelburn Arsonist’, who attacked the building on Christmas Eve in 1984. As a result, the school relocated temporarily and rebuilt the inside space.
A new interior called for new additions and the Drama School used the arson attack to its advantage. Renovations allowed for the roof to be pulled up higher, to allow for lighting grids, and the lighting/sound box was able to be pulled off the ground. Number 93 Kelburn Parade is still used by the school today.
Limited room at 93 Kelburn Parade and the growing population of drama students called for a new home and in 1993, after years of campaigning, the Theatre Department moved into the School of Architecture’s building at 77 Fairlie Terrace.
Because the new quarters had formerly housed the School of Architecture, the space on the ground floor had been used as a building workshop for architecture students. With high ceilings, an industrial interior and a fitted roller door, the area was perfect, and work was under way to turn it into a new, versatile theatre, which would be soon known as Studio 77.
Kitted out with lighting and sound grids, a large industrial roller door, functioning trap doors, balconies, and seating blocks which can be moved into virtually any position, Studio 77 knows few limits for new creative experiences. Its unique structure and versatility encourages different experiences for both performers and audiences.
Studio 77’s primary function is the use by theatre students to support production work in 200 and 300 level courses and by students completing their Master’s. Students are able to learn skills in production, script writing, lighting/sound, set design and directing.
The vision for Studio 77 was to create not just a theatre where students could perform, but also a space where their creativity can be set free and their experimentation encouraged. The versatility of the space allows students to do just that, and, no doubt, numerous unique and wonderful performances have taken place inside the studio.
For former theatre student, Ophelia Wass, Studio 77 is a “Giant Black Box of Experimentation” and is a space where she can experiment fully as herself.
“In Studio 77 I have sung an Italian aria, under a spotlight, while wearing sunglasses. In Studio 77 I have hung from the rafters dressed as a ghost. In Studio 77 I have lain on the floor and pretended to be the colour purple. Where else in the university would you find such a rich range of experiences?”
There is no doubt that Studio 77 is warmly remembered by those who have used it. Its atmosphere and ability to provide staff, students and spectators with unique experiences are what makes the space so special.
The only drawback might be its somewhat hidden location. However, Associate Professor in Theatre, David O’Donnell, says, “The location can be hard to find, but I don’t necessarily think that’s a disadvantage. It can be seen as quite desirable to be slightly secret because if you know where it is, then you’re in the know”.