6 June 2023

Illawarra Performing Arts Centre unveils its multi-million dollar renovations

| Keeli Royle
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Wollongong City Council Acting Lord Mayor Tania Brown, Merrigong Theatre Company Acting Artistic Director Leland Kean and Merrigong Theatre Company General Manager Rachel Francis inspect the renovations at the IPAC.

Wollongong City Council Acting Lord Mayor Tania Brown, Merrigong Theatre Company acting artistic director Leland Kean and general manager Rachel Francis inspect the renovations at the IPAC. Photo: Keeli Royle.

After a massive multi-million dollar refurbishment, the Illawarra Performing Arts Centre has reopened.

The upgrades will make the IPAC more comfortable and accessible for patrons, with the new facilities including spacious platforms for theatre-goers with wheelchairs, lower countertops at the cafe, remodelled bathrooms and a new hearing loop.

Merrigong Theatre Company general manager Rachel Francis believes that making the arts available for everybody in the community is at the heart of their operations.

“We want everybody to be able to join in the fun, and we don’t want anyone to have a bad experience here, so the more inclusive we can make our program and venue, the happier we are,” Ms Francis said.

Wollongong City Council invested more than $8 million in the project to invigorate the 35-year-old building and ensure it remains a valuable asset for the city.

“Culture is at the heart of every city, and having everyone in our city being able to access it is so important,” says Acting Lord Mayor Tania Brown.

“It improves the livability of our city and makes sure we’re an inclusive city for everyone.”

READ ALSO ‘We’re in for something special’ – Wollongong’s new festival Culture Mix announced

Councillor Brown says the community has been “crying out” for these upgrades, which include a new roof for the venue and air conditioning, which she says are “long overdue”.

But the major redevelopment did come at a cost to the local theatre scene, forcing the venue to close for many months and Merrigong to adapt.

“We ran all of our program from the town hall,” Rachel explained.

“We remodelled the way that we used the Town Hall space so we created an intimate theatre mode so it wasn’t just that big barn of a hall, it was actually a proper theatre space.”

Merrigong’s acting artistic director Leland Kean says experimenting with the size and scale of performances in the Town Hall was a fantastic experience and will influence the company’s use of the alternate venue.

Air Time, which was a fantastic event where we put skate ramps and BMX into the venue, was something that we couldn’t actually do in IPAC,” he says.

“That idea that we’ve moved and experimented with how we can expand the Town Hall program then opens up how we’ll run the two programs next to each other.”

The construction scaffolding has been removed just in time to launch the iconic Spiegeltent, which is being installed before shows kick off this week.

Spiegeltent under construction outside IPAC

Spiegeltent under construction outside IPAC. Photo: Keeli Royle.

Rachel says ticket sales started slow but are expected to boom in the coming days.

“Until it goes up, and until it starts, it’s always a little bit slow, and then it’s the last-minute flyers, so we’re spiking at the moment.”

And Leland’s confident in the company’s future.

“Hopefully, we’re full steam ahead now. It has been stop-start for the last couple of years, but it is fantastic that we’re at this point.”

Find out more about upcoming events by visiting IPAC.

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