Jane street season 1966-1982
The Jane Street Season was conceived by Robert Quentin in 1965. Quentin had been the inaugural director of NIDA, but had left NIDA in 1963 to concentrate on his role as Foundation Lecturer (later Professor) in the University of New South Wales (UNSW School of Drama). However, he was still very involved in both NIDA and the Old Tote Theatre Company, which was managed by the NIDA Board of Directors. In response to a discussion on the Old Tote’s lack of support for Australian playwriting generated by the writer Frank Hardy, Quentin suggested that UNSW might secure ‘a small hall near Barker Street which could be used as a little theatre… [for] a company which would present seasons of Australian plays and serve as a workshop theatre for Australian writers.’
A number of ideas coalesced: in early 1966, the UNSW Drama Foundation was formed as a charitable trust from which the funding for NIDA, the Old Tote Theatre, and the Jane Street Season, amongst other ventures, could be funded. This replaced the existing funding stream through the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust. As Quentin had requested, UNSW leased a former Mission Hall and church located on the corner of Jane and Middle Streets, Randwick, which NIDA students painted and helped convert into a 100-seat theatre. A grant of $12,000 was secured from the Portugal-based Calouste-Gulbenkian Trust for an inaugural season of Australian playwriting at the Jane Street Theatre, which opened on 1 October 1966. On offer were one newly commissioned play, four premieres, and one revised early colonial text: an all-Australian season at a time when the Australian vernacular was rarely heard on stage.
Funding was not assured for a follow up Jane Street Season, and only one play was performed in 1968. The Old Tote Theatre Company staged its all-Australian Season in that year but unlike the Jane Street Season, it received a mixed reception and was a financial disaster. From 1969 NIDA assumed the administration of the Jane Street Season, funded first by the NSW Government and from 1970, by the Australia Council. The Drama Foundation continued to commission plays for production at Jane Street. The availability of NIDA staff and acting, production and technical production students helped to keep costs down.
As the 1970s saw more theatre companies performing new Australian works and greater support for Australian playwrights through other means, the Jane Street Season changed focus. From 1978 the Season produced reinterpretations of well-known classic plays, particularly 19th century Australian and modern European plays, making them accessible for young audiences. The Season was now primarily a vehicle for the NIDA Advanced Course students rather than a means of providing new opportunities for playwrights.
Funding concerns and the sale of the Jane Street Theatre in 1980 meant the 1982 Jane Street Season at the Parade Theatre and proved to be the last. In all, some 36 productions had been staged over 15 Seasons, including 12 successfully commissioned plays, nine premieres of Australian works, and three major commercial successes.