Stork Theatre’s spirit started long before Helen Madden began staging drama in the antechamber of her Stork Hotel in 1999.
Helen’s theatre crusade began in 1983 with an idea to bring open-air classical theatre to Melbourne in a uniquely Australian way, as part of a bilingual summer theatre festival.
Helen searched extensively across Melbourne for a location.
The landscape of the Yarra River at Fairfield Park soon became the obvious location for an open-air theatre, as it already provided a natural amphitheatre. Importantly, it was also a hub of the Greek community in Melbourne.
A POP-UP THEATRE BY THE RIVER
Helen experimented with the open-air bilingual theatre concept over two years, by building a pop-up scaffolding theatre each season.
This drama extravaganza staged a comedy and a tragedy each night, one in English and one in Modern Greek. This mirrored the Ancient Greek practice of staging open-air theatre as popular entertainment.
In the first season in 1983 Euripides’ MEDEA was staged in Modern Greek, directed by Nick Skiadopoulos, and LYSISTRATA by Aristophanes, was directed by Garry Down in English. The following year this bilingual program was reversed.
In 1984, Meredith Rodgers directed IPHIGENIA IN AULIS, the Euripidean tragedy, staged in English. The comedy ECCLESIASOUZI by Aristophanes was directed by Thannassis Papastergiou in Modern Greek.
Melbourne’s audiences and reviewers were delighted with this new theatre scene, while The Age quipped “Muddy Yarra not quite the Blue Med”…
The success of this pop-up theatre led the Northcote Council to lobby for funding to build a permanent theatre at the site.
FAIRFIELD AMPHITHEATRE IS BORN
In 1985, Helen worked with Edmond & Corrigan Architects, who designed the 500-seat bush amphitheatre.
Modelled on Epidavros Theatre, a 12,000 seat amphitheatre in southern Greece, the aim was to meet the most demanding theatrical needs while preserving the natural environment.
Bluestone originally from Northcote gutters and laneways, was rescued from an old storage depot and used to build the theatre.
The first Board of the Fairfield Amphitheatre included members from the arts, community and corporate sectors. The Hon. Brian Howe, former Deputy Prime Minister and Member for Batman, was the inaugural Chairman.
CLASSICAL OPEN-AIR THEATRE IN MELBOURNE BEGINS
In 1986, Playbox Theatre opened the first season of the permanent Fairfield Amphitheatre with THIS ANTIGONE by Sophocles, directed by the renowned James McCaughey.
Helen brought the Attis Theatre co production of THE BACCHAE by Euripides, from Greece in 1987. The show outraged audiences for its brevity, violence and eroticism.
Today, the FAIRFIELD AMPHITHEATRE, at Heidelberg Rd, Fairfield Park, is used regularly for theatre and festivals.