The Theatre was originally built in 1920 as the 3000 seat Victory Theatre for the presentation of films. Following the opening of the Palais Theatre in the mid 1920's the theatre was closed for extensive renovations and the seating capacity reduced to 2550. It was re-opened in 1928 and the current foyers, grand staircase, barrel vaulting and auditorium date from that renovation.
In 1971 Hoyts offered the Victory Theatre in St Kilda for conversion, following a disastrous fire that destroyed the recently purchased Empress Theatre in Prahran in June 1971. The Empress itself was a replacement building for the Village Theatre (Toorak) destroyed by fire in April 1962. The current theatre consists of the original Victory dress circle extended with the addition of a sizable stage and a fly tower, with the overall reduction in seating capacity to its current 783 seats. The original stalls were converted to Drama, Opera and Ballet Studios (now 6 studios). The original proscenium arch can be seen partially in the kitchen of the Theatrette, while the stalls rake is clearly visible in the main studio hallway. Above Studio 5 there is a void where much of the original ceiling fittings are still visible while the art deco decorations from 1921 are still in place behind the upstairs bar. The school and Administration moved in during September 1972.
The National Theatre as it now stands was opened in August 1974 with performances of The Marriage of Figaro by the Opera School , and five new ballets from the Ballet School . The official opening was September 7 1974.
The National Theatre conversion set a benchmark in the world for conversion from cinema to live a theatre venue and was written up in several major international journals. John Cargher AM, then General Manager of the National, was principally responsible for the redesign, and only recently has the Regent Theatre (built 1928) followed this form of redevelopment. The design of the theatre provides excellent sightlines for all 783 seats and suits all styles of production from full-scale musicals, dance and opera to intimate one person performances. Major dance events, concerts, dramatic productions and festivals are held in the venue, which still maintains its dual function as a cinema.
The Main stage offers both a spacious orchestra pit and functional fly tower dating from the 1972-3 renovation, while the seating is of the older (and larger) style popular in cinemas of the period. The seating is on a single rake (no upstairs balcony) while the ambience of the foyer and auditorium have maintained their 1928 charm.
The majority of the dance schools in metropolitan Melbourne also use the National as their base for public performance; not the least of which is our National Theatre Ballet School .
Other regular hirers include Children's Performing Company of Australia (Young Australian Broadway Chorus), Glamour Puss Tap Studios, Keilor Jazz Centre, Brighton Dance Academy, Gay Wightman School of Ballet, Royal Academy of Dance, Industry School of Dance, Chugg Entertainment, Richard James Promotions, Adrian Bohm Presents, The Harbour Agency, Beth Rivkah Ladies College, St Michaels Grammar, Wesley College, Salesian College, King David School, Middle Park Primary School, Victorian and Curriculum Assessment Authority, Oz ShowBiz Cares, Victorian Opera, Melbourne City Opera through to body building competitions among many others.
The National Theatre has received an Award for Excellence in Multicultural Affairs (Services to the Arts) from the Victorian Government and a community commendation for Promoting and Supporting Residents Access to the Arts and Cultural Experiences from the City of Port Phillip .
The National Theatre offers a hiring package which incorporates a staffing, staging and lighting component. The National Theatre will assist you in every way to ensure that your season is a great success.
Please contact Linda Aitken (Theatre Manager) for all hiring enquiries or Mick Crozier (Production Manager/Technician) for all technical enquiries.