Photograph of Albany Entertainment Centre, seen from the waterfront. Photograph of Albany Entertainment Centre from the west.

Albany
Entertainment
Centre

Albany is a small city in Western Australia. It is the regional centre for the Great Southern area (population c. 55,000).

The Albany Entertainment Centre (AEC) opened in December 2010. Project cost has been reported at $A60-70 million (£50 million). Most of the cost was met by the Western Australian State government but operation was to be the responsibility of Albany City Council (population c. 30,000). Even before opening, the municipality—in a tight budgetary position—doubted whether it had the financial and managerial capacity to manage the AEC. Following negotiations the State agreed a two-year, $A4 million initial subsidy and management under the aegis of its Perth Theatre Trust.

Thumbnail map showing location of Albany.

Three weeks before the official opening there was an open day and I was able to tour the brand-new venue. I took photographs and wrote a report for colleagues. 

The AEC's waterfront site is cut off from the town centre and other tourist facilities by a wide four-lane road and single-track railway that carry heavy freight traffic to and from the port. A long, exposed footbridge attempts to mitigate this isolation by connecting to the nearest street of the town centre and to the tourist information centre.
Panoramic view of Albany showing relationship between Entertainment Centre, town centre, and other facilities.
Photograph of auditorium of Albany Entertainment Centre.

The AEC has a versatile 620-seat auditorium with a deep proscenium stage, fly tower, good backstage spaces and access, but as yet no revolves or even traps. Audience members report a very good sound system (from rock concerts to live relays of classical concerts) and acoustics (drama, chamber music). There is a cinema-quality digital projection system.

The second space is 14m square, seating up to 200 on movable chairs on the flat floor. A sliding acoustic partition can divide it into two 7m x 14m spaces. There is also a small meeting/function room and of course café, kitchen, foyers and box office.

When I visited the AEC I thought the interior was very well worked out for its intended uses. You may or may not like the exterior, but at least it's not a cut-price box.

Some features should have raised safety concerns. The picture at right shows one of two roof corners which come within 700mm from the ground in public-access areas. Some of the external stairways meet in sharp V-angles with no handrails or visual markings.

Photograph showing sharp metal corner of roof about 650mm above ground level in public area.

But I was more concerned about the sustainability of the venue. I couldn't obtain the business plan or meet the management, but three weeks before the grand opening there were only five events listed in the foyer, none of them more than four weeks away. An internet search found another five musical events transferred from the Perth International Arts Festival. As I wrote in my report, "there was absolutely no sign of a mainstream bread-and-butter programme. Woe, woe!"

Since then things have improved somewhat. The website programme shows an average of 10 events per month in July-September 2011, ranging from Verdi and Shakespeare to country music and stand-up comedy. Audiences appreciate the place, which can book popular acts that would not have come to the old Town Hall.

But the question remains: is it affordable?