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The largest audience group of the Sydney Opera House is the daytime visitor – the three to four million people who go to the House each year to enjoy Jørn Utzon's tarnished architecture. 


TheatreWorks was to be the Trust's daytime venue, an entertainment space to present the story of the House and stimulate interest in its business.   

With the enthusiastic backing of the Minister for the Arts, Peter Collins, the proposal was developed by the Trust's Librarian, Paul Bentley and architect Leif Kristensen - in part stimulated by The Building of the Century Exhibition, curated by Bentley in 1988, and by Kristensen's 1989 scheme for an exhibition space devoted to the Sydney Opera House story under the forecourt. 

Part museum and part theatre, TheatreWorks was intended to take visitors inside the Opera House and engage them in the multifaceted worlds of theatre and music using the latest technology, stage mechanics, special effects and interactive devices.

In 1994, the NSW Government committed $7.3 million towards the museum, an associated architectural ideas initiated by Kristensen – the Western Broadwalk Foyer, linking the Playhouse and Drama Theatre foyers, and improved backstage facilities in the Concert Hall.

Research for the project included visits to over 100 museums in Europe, the United States and Asia.

Based on aspects of Sydney Opera House history and operations, the TheatreWorks proposal had four major components:

  • A theatre. An opening audio visual experience was to unveil a three dimensional space in which the craft of theatre was to be demonstrated through a variety of traditional and hi-tech theatrical illusions employing cinematic projections on screens and gauzes, sets, revolving stages, flies and lifts, light, sound effects and live performance. 

  • Interactive modules.  A series of modules was to provide interactive experiences exploring the rich variety of the performing arts, including creativity, writing and language, sound, speech and music, lighting, movement, design and performance.

  • The big bang. The concluding experience was to be of a rousing nature, taking place in the Black Box, a 5.8 square metre space equipped with mobile catwalks and projection screens for experimental performance

  • The Dennis Wolanski Library. The TheatreWorks idea led to substantial changes in the scope of the Dennis Wolanski Library. The transfer of performing arts archival material to the State Library of New South Wales had commenced. As an integral part of TheatreWorks, the library was to complement its role of assisting visitors to obtain information on the arts represented in the building by offering them the opportunity to see and hear performances from around the world on laser disk.

Feasibility and value management studies, economic appraisals, architectural design and documentation and an exhibition design brief had been completed, exhibition design teams short-listed and negotiations opened with major sponsors by March 1995, when the New South Wales State election was held. The new government closed the project in favour of re-using the space as a performance venue. Leif Kristensen completed designs for this space, now called The Studio.

See also TheatreWorks Research


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