After a precarious year, Circus Oz gets new place to hang out

Circus Oz is to build a new amphitheatre for outdoor performances at its Collingwood Yards home, thanks to a $500,000 gift in this week's state budget.

The company hopes to be ready to stage music and circus shows there by late summer, free from the pandemic restrictions imposed on indoors venues.

Circus Oz has faced a precarious year.

It will transfer some of the action planned for its Spiegeltent into the new space, allowing greater audience numbers in a more COVID-safe environment.

But the stage will be a permanent addition to the site beyond the pandemic. The company hopes it will draw visitors to the area with a regular program of circus, theatre and music.

"We've been in hibernation and we haven't seen an audience since March," said executive director Penny Miles. "It just feels like the right time to get outdoors and this is a lovely injection to kickstart that."

Collingwood Yards in Johnston Street has become an arts hub. Credit:Peter Clarke

Collingwood Yards, a new arts precinct on Johnston St in the old Collingwood Technical School, has a growing community of creative organisations including Adam Briggs’s record label Bad Apples Music, community radio-station PBS, art space Bus Projects and youth music organisation The Push.

Miles said the amphitheatre would help make a visit to the Yards a social event "more than just attending a performance".

"We want to focus on hyper-local destinations, get the businesses on Smith Street active and stimulate the local economy," she said.

"You can wander through the Yards, take a seat, almost picnic style. It's a moment to be outdoors and celebrate that we're outdoors, that's part of the Melbourne spirit and we'll never take it for granted again."

They now have to "put our hard hats on and get building", she said.

The amphitheatre-to-be outside Circus Oz’s Collingwood HQ

By early next year they hope to turn the current shell into a space they can stand a mic and seat an audience.

Further work will add a proper floor and aerial rig for more daring circus feats, a sophisticated sound system to present music, plus sails and shades to counter the vagaries of Melbourne weather.

The government also revealed new details on Wedesday of the planned redevelopment of Melbourne's Southbank arts precinct.

Premier Daniel Andrews said stage 1 of the project – the new NGV Contemporary museum, some work on the Arts Centre and an 18,000 square metre public garden would be completed in 2028 at a cost of $1.46 billion.

Stage 2, which is yet to be scheduled or its funding announced, will include a new Centre for Creativity with spaces and facilities for small and medium arts organisations, a new performing arts gallery and a bigger Australian Music Vault.

NGV head Tony Ellwood said the NGV Contemporary would be the biggest of its size in Australia and the region, with 30,000 square metres overall and 10,000 square metres of exhibition space.

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