60-year tradition ending as Sydney theatre company forced out by Catholic Church

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After 60 years of community theatre, the Genesian Theatre Company is forced out of its heritage listed home in Sydney's

60year-tradition-ending-as-sydney-theatre-company-forced-out-by-catholic-church photo 1 Photo: An alternative site for the theatre company has not yet been found. (ABC News: David Spicer)

The Catholic Church has ordered the Genesian Theatre Company to leave their Kent Street venue, ending a tradition of amateur theatre in the centre of Sydney that goes back to the 1950's.

60year-tradition-ending-as-sydney-theatre-company-forced-out-by-catholic-church photo 2 Photo: Highly-acclaimed Australian director Baz Luhrmann (L) was once an actor in the Genesian Theatre Company. (Supplied: Genesian Theatre Company)

First built in 1868 as the St John's Church but later used as a poor house and a Matthew Talbot hostel, the building is now likely to become the foyer of a new hotel or residential development.

The president of the Genesian Theatre Company, Roger Gimblett, confirmed to the ABC that the church has told the club it will have to vacate the building in November next year.

"If you look around there are very few theatres in the centre of Sydney that are left, we are the only community theatre and after 63 years on this site it will be sad to go," he said.

The company has an illustrious alumni that includes John Bell, Bryan Brown and Baz Luhrmann.

"An endless parade of established actors [started here]: the Prime Minister's mother (Coral Lansbury), and I am told the Governor-General trod the boards here at least once."

The Genesian Theatre Company offered to buy the building off the church but was told a property developer, who has secured two adjoining buildings, made a premium offer in excess of $6 million for the former church.

As it is a heritage site it cannot be legally demolished.

Speculation as to why church decided to sell

The company has a loyal audience and stages Agatha Christie murder mysteries, costume drama and occasionally Australian plays almost 50 weeks a year, often to near-capacity houses.

News of the looming sale upset Jill Bruce, who has been attending the theatre for 40 years.

"I think it will devastate a lot of people that love reasonably priced great live theatre in Sydney," she said.

Other members of the audience suggested the sale might be linked to compensation payouts arising from sexual misconduct by priests.

60year-tradition-ending-as-sydney-theatre-company-forced-out-by-catholic-church photo 3 Photo: The company's production of Under Milk Wood this year. (Supplied: Genesian Theatre Company)

Mr Gimblett was much more diplomatic.

"The fact is we have had an extraordinary deal from the Catholic Church.

"We have had this premises for a peppercorn rent for many many years."

A spokeswoman for the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney said the church is trying "extremely hard" to find an alternative venue for the theatre and was giving the Genesians plenty of notice.

So far no alternative space has been secured.

But if you are one to believe in the supernatural, the new property developer might be taking on more than it has bargained for.

"There are two ghosts, one upstairs in the circle and one who appears at stage right just before an actor goes on stage," Mr Gimblett said.

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Article 60-year tradition ending as Sydney theatre company forced out by Catholic Church compiled by www.abc.net.au