Written off as a white elephant even before it opened, Goulburn Performing Arts Centre is exceeding expectations. In the first six months of operating, sold-out shows, surging new memberships for season tickets, and a busier hospitality sector have sprung from the 400-seat theatre, redeveloped from the old town hall.
From opening in April until the end of August, more than 13,500 people have come through GPAC, averaging 2500 patrons a month.
More than 600 members have signed up, and many more theatre-goers wanting to join have been told to wait until after December, when a new season of shows will be launched.
Thrilled with all these numbers, GPAC manager Raina Savage underlined the 600 members.
“That, in my mind, is absolutely fantastic,” Raina said. “I don’t know of any regional theatre anywhere that has those kind of membership numbers and certainly not within such a short time. That has brought in over $25,500 just in people signing up to be members.”
Having left Griffith Regional Arts Theatre to begin work in Goulburn in February 2021 and prepare for those crucial first months in 2022, Raina can now look at the main street with much satisfaction to see people dining out on all this first-up success.
“The restaurants are saying it’s been great for them; people come and have dinner before the show,” she said. “For the pubs, people go and have a few drinks afterwards. People from Bowral say they’re staying for the night and have booked into accommodation – it’s all having a flow-on effect.
“The Paragon (cafe opposite GPAC) are getting booked right out. When we had Keltic Illusion here, that was a Wednesday night, they put on a 4 pm show and then a 7:30 pm show,” Raina said. “They (Paragon) had people booked in for dinner before the 7:30 pm show and people coming in for dinner after the 4 o’clock show that came out at 7 pm. They got a double whammy.”
Touring companies large and small have embraced Goulburn. All the shows for the 2023 season are locked in and the GPAC manager is looking at 2024.
“Big touring companies and major performing arts organisations obviously, with logistics and costs, are booking regional tours two and frequently three years in advance,” Raina said. (Barely on the national performing arts radar, Goulburn nevertheless managed to lure Sydney Symphony Orchestra).
Now, thanks to targeted promotions, the word has spread across Australia’s performing arts sector.
“Every week I am getting contacted by new producers and companies saying, ‘Yes, we have heard about the venue, heard really good things about it, tell me more about it, can we come and book shows?’,” Raina said.
The number of ticket sales and memberships show her time spent going out and talking to service clubs, schools and arts groups in Goulburn and surrounding places is paying dividends too.
“I spoke to the Crookwell Combined Probus Club, and a week later someone turned up at the box office. They had booked a bus and he was buying 20 tickets to bring a group to one of our upcoming events,” Raina said.
“We have people coming in buying tickets to five and six shows at a time, so we really think we are getting out there, we are promoting right across the region, we get a lot of people coming from the Southern Highlands, from Crookwell, Braidwood, even Canberra and Queanbeyan at times as well.”
The new theatre is offering a much more diverse program than symphony orchestras, the opera and ballet.
“We’ve had lots of comedy, which has gone fantastically well, we have had at least three comedy events which have all sold out,” Raina said.
”We have had a number of circus events which have also gone really well.”
Local performers have not been overlooked. Rocky Hill Musical Theatre Company and Highlands Theatre Group have staged productions at the GPAC, taking up an opportunity to be more ambitious with a bigger venue. Dance schools from Goulburn and Southern Highlands have booked for their end-of-year concerts at the popular, central venue.
In 2023 the GPAC will be benchmarked against its early success. The bar has been set high as the local community’s appetite for performing arts in all shapes and sizes grows.