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THEATRE NAMES: The High and the (Not So) Mighty

                 The name of a theatre becomes an integral part of its identity, yet the influences at work in
                                choosing the name are often ignored or taken for granted.
                            Cameron Hall considers possible motivations in selecting a name,
                                   and  the origin of some of the more imaginative ones.

            Originality was generally not a
          feature of the Australian theatre-naming
          experience, and many are
          unremarkable. Popular names given to
          Australia’s theatres were usually
          already in use in Britain and/or the
          United States, if not elsewhere. Often
          the intention underlying the choice was
          simply to identify the venue with its
          precinct: Northcote Theatre, Fairfield
          Theatre. Unadorned truth, it was
          hoped, would engender a sense of
          identification and pride within the local
          community. Sometimes the corporate
          brand preceded the locality, as in
          Metro Malvern, Hoyts Bentleigh.
            However, as in life, aspirations vary.
          Any society has its cultural elite and
          the theatre world has certainly done its
          best to accommodate them. Names
          such as Regent, Capitol and State
          convey imperial images that promise
          new heights of distinction. Proprietors
          could generally rest comfortably in the
          knowledge that such venues delivered
          upon their promises.
            Also on the lofty peak of aspiration
          are names that pay homage to the
          monarchy: Alexandra, Empress,
          Prince Edward, Her Majesty’s,
          Prince George, Princess, Theatre
          Royal, or Queens. These serve the dual
          purpose of paying homage and using
          royalty as a lure of distinction. Homage
          can also acknowledge individual
          service or merit: the Hamer Theatre,
          the Erwin Rado Theatre.
            Then there is a somewhat
          pretentious cluster of names, which are
          always foreign. Alhambra, La Scala,
          Paris and Trocadero conjure romance
          or mystery, in which the sense of the
          exotic is foremost and invariably
            At the opposite end of the spectrum  Top: Entrance to the Lion Court at the Alhambra, one marvel from the occupation of
          are names that appeal to egalitarian  Spain by the Moors. Above: Melbourne’s Alhambra.The statues were a gesture to an
          instincts. This genre is more evident in  illustrious namesake, even if from the wrong culture.
          the United Kingdom, not to mention
          the former soviet nations and        Melbourne examples included Our  city’s rich history of theatre
          communist republics with their    Theatre in Camberwell and the Civic,  construction meant that choice here was
          ‘Peoples theatres’. A wonderful   in nearby Ashburton.               as wide ranging as anywhere in
          example of the English variety is the  For practical reasons, the following  Australia. An active imagination is
          Everyman Theatre in Hampstead     examples of (usually) classic names,  often helpful when considering the
          where Noel Coward’s controversial  and their match to a specific theatre, are  nexus between the venue and its source
          play The Vortex premiered in 1924.  all from Melbourne. Nonetheless, the  of inspiration.

          8   2005 CINEMARECORD
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