Greater Port Macquarie Focus is proud to present our readers with exclusive pictures from our behind the scenes tour inside the all new Glasshouse Arts, Conference and Entertainment Centre.
Chances are you have managed to catch a glimpse of the new Glasshouse during construction, as it rose out of the ground. More recently with the scaffolding down and lights glowing, we can clearly see the potential for this building to become the heart of Greater Port Macquarie.
So what does it look like on the inside? Did we get value for money? Was it all worth it? Let’s take a tour!
When you first enter the Glasshouse through one of the two stone covered entries, you are bombarded with the sheer scale of the opposing glass and timber walls, which climb the height of the building.
The Glasshouse has been built in the historical heart of the early township, and as you move through the front foyer you notice the different types of patterns in the blue stone flooring – which are designed to reflect the history of the site on which the Glasshouse has been built. As you move around, the shape of the blue stone floor inlays change to indicate where the convict era barrel drain was, the original footings of previous buildings, original roadways and where pathways once ran. The blue stone floor also features inset quotes from our local heritage. One such quotes reads:
“The School of Arts building which formerly occupied this site played a significant role in the social and cultural life of Port Macquarie. The building was destroyed by fire in 1917. In 1920 a new School of Arts building was erected. In 1973 it was demolished.“
Moments in time, etched in stone, which capture our heritage for thousands to read. This, for me, was an unexpected surprise and was one of the most impressive features of the new Glasshouse.
The foyer is also home to the café/bar, which will no doubt come alive with the smell of fresh coffee, music and conversation. However, despite the delays, there is no official word on who will run the café. But I have it on good authority that negotiations are underway with a major national chain, which will see an exciting, never before seen retail outlet opening its doors in Port Macquarie.
The opposite end of the ground floor foyer is home to the Visitor Information Centre (VIC), the Glasshouse Box Office, and the Regional Gallery’s retail store. Located in the heart of town, in one of the most impressive buildings in regional Australia, we have a fantastic opportunity to impress visitors to our town as they access information via the VIC … a complete contrast to their experience at the current demountable shed.
As we move into the theatre, the pièce de résistance of the Glasshouse, the first thing you’ll notice is the distinctive wood panelling, which has been inset with acoustic bevels for dramatic effect. The inset patterns are lined with fabric to retain the acoustic integrity and to ensure that the sound does not bounce around the auditorium. The theatre has, in total, 606 wool covered, timber backed seats, with 415 in the stalls (lower level) and 191 seats in the dress circle and private boxes (upper level).
The walls and floors of the theatre not adorned with timber are painted in matt black, again for acoustic reasons. Several lighting bridges are hung from the ceiling and feature two follow spotlights, which will always keep the performers in prime view.
The overall size of the theatre, one of much debate, looks impressive, but it’s also intimate enough when needed. If you’re sitting in the first row, you could literally reach out and help the violinist fine tune his notes on Symphony No. 29 in A Major. Yes, you will be that close!
The stage itself is about 14 metres wide and 10 metres deep, featuring a variable proscenium opening with sliding panels on either side able to make the stage appear smaller for performances of a reduced scale. At the front of the stage is a moveable orchestra pit, which can be lowered well below the stage level to keep the musicians out of the sight lines of the audience, or raised to extend the stage area, taking it to about 13 ½ metres deep. The Glasshouse is one of only five sites in Australia to have this type of orchestra pit.
Behind the stage, rows of mirrors and lights fill two separate dressing rooms, where costumes will be fitted, make-up done and where nerves will build before show time against the heat from the hundreds of lights.
The adjoining performance studio, now named the Ross Family Studio thanks to their generous sponsorship, features full dance mirrors and a ballet barre, which can be covered in black drapes during performances. The versatile room features a sprung wooden dance floor, with the same acoustic panelling that we have seen in the theatre lining the back wall. The studio itself features grey walls and open air conditioning ducts, to maintain the “industrial” theme used consistently throughout the Glasshouse. A unique feature of the studio is its retractable seating system, which can be folded out to seat up to 123 people for intimate performances, or stored away to create more room, making the studio a truly functional space.
Next, we move onto the Glasshouse Regional Gallery, which for me is as integral to the Glasshouse experience as the theatre itself and ensures that the community will have access to a comprehensive and varied program of Visual Arts, as well as Performing Arts.
The Regional Gallery is a massive space, set over three levels and can host several different exhibitions at once. It is important to note that while the theatre has seemly been the focus of the building, the Regional Gallery is almost equal in size and is just as impressive.
Entry is through large, glass pivot doors that currently open into empty space, but from 1 July the area will come alive as artworks adorn its walls. A number of exhibitions can be staggered over the three levels at any time, meaning that every few weeks the Regional Gallery will have something new to see. The timber floors, stairs and timber boardwalk on the mezzanine level are reflective of the coastal nature of our town. Several rooms located behind the gallery will be used as preparation and storage areas and along with the gallery itself, are fully climate and humidity controlled 24-hours a day. The gallery also manages the Art Lab, a unique room that provides an area for children, youth and adults to participate in hands on arts experiences.
A quick trip up the stairs or in the elevator reveals the upper level. Glass walls continue to stretch the length and height of the building and offer glimpses of the Hastings River and ocean, with the back walls featuring the same timber panelling as the foyer. The sizeable area will play host to functions, cocktail parties and conferences. In a consistent Glasshouse theme, air conditioning vents have been cleverly inset into the flooring. Interestingly, these vents are controlled by a monitor positioned on the building’s roof, so they are automatically closed as soon as it begins to rain.
The two meeting rooms, also located on the second level, have moveable walls so they can open out to one large room. The feature wall colours of this space can only be described as just that: colourful!
The roof of the Glasshouse was not finished or available during our tour, but we can only imagine will offer even better views of the Hastings River, and the word is that it will be accessible shortly after the doors open. This space is also available for private functions and events.
Several advertised features that make up the Glasshouse will be a no show on opening day. The large screen that was to face the forecourt was scrapped during cost cuts, and the forecourt redevelopment will still be taking place post 1 July.
As we wrap up our tour of the Glasshouse, the builders are still working on the final touches. Fitting vents, painting the stage, moving ladders, all while music echoes through the building from a radio.
Made from glass, steel and stone components, the Glasshouse has a very industrial theme. But that’s only because it’s yet to welcome the organic elements: the performers, musicians, artists and comedians, visitors chatting in the café, the smell of fresh coffee, dressing rooms swarming with people, students visiting art exhibitions, local wine being served for a function and staff busy helping visitors book local attractions, tours and shows.
After a long wait, opening is only weeks away. The curtains will be pulled for the first time to reveal a stage full of performers playing to a packed house. It will be then that all the debate and conjecture will subside and turn into community pride.
“Bring it on!”
> Story by Jay Beaumont.