The National Theatre is a 783 seat Australian theatre and theatrical arts school located in the Melbourne bayside suburb of St Kilda, on the corner of Barkly and Carlisle Streets. The building was constructed in 1921 as The Victory Theatre (3000 seat cinema), rebuilt as 2550 seat cinema in 1928, finally converted to a live venue 1972/4 with 783 seats.
The original National Theatre Movement (current owners) was established in 1935 by soprano Gertrude Johnson. After returning from an overseas career that included performing at Convent Garden, Miss Johnson was dismayed at the lack of training and performing opportunities for Australian artists in their own country. To that end the National Theatre included an opera school(1935), drama school(1936) and ballet school (1939). Production Companies (three Arts Festivals) ran through the 1940s and 1950s.
The National Theatre Movement had previously occupied the Village Theatre in Toorak (destroyed by fire in April 1962) and then purchased (but not occupied)the Empress Theatre in Prahran, destroyed by fire in June 1971.
The building now occupied by the National Theatre was built in the Beaux Arts style as a 3000 seat cinema and opened in 1920 as the Victory Theatre. In 1971 Hoyts (a company that operates movie theaters) offered the company the Victory Theatre for conversion to a live theatre and rehearsal spaces. The current theatre consists of the original Victory dress circle extended with the addition of a sizeable stage and a fly tower. The original stalls were converted into five studios for drama, opera and ballet. One of the studios is itself a theatrette. The theatre opened in its current guise in August 1974, while the schools and administration moved there in September 1972.
The National Theatre drama school dates from 1936, while the ballet school dates from 1939 and is the oldest in Australia. The ballet school currently conducts Royal Academy of Dance examinations and has ballet performances in the middle of the year and in December. The opera school merged with the Victorian College of the Arts in 1980. It was closed by the VCA in 2006 but the National Theatre now supports the new Opera School (Melbourne) established independently in 2008.
The current artistic director (ballet) of the National Theatre is Beverly Jane Fry and of drama is Ken Boucher. Other dance artistic directors have included Kathleen Gorham and Gailene Stock.
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