College takes to the stage on Beaumont

CHANGING HANDS: WEA Hunter’s John Radvan and former DAPA Theatre owner Lesly Stevenson outside the venue. The college moves in on Friday. Picture: Meg PurserHAMILTON’S DAPA Theatre, which has doubled as a performance venue and training academy since 2001, will retain those roles after being sold to the not-for-profit WEA Hunter community college.

The theatre, at 145 Beaumont Street and next-door to the Exchange Hotel, was originally scheduled to be sold at auction in late November, and at least two major Hamilton businesses showed interest in buying the property, with one looking at demolishing the building and using the site as a parking area.

WEA Hunter, which offers courses in creative arts, including a diploma of musical theatre, approached the theatre’s owner, Lesly Stevenson, and negotiated its purchase.

Ms Stevenson, who put the building on the market because she is retiring from full-time work, will be a member of an advisory committee being set up by WEA Hunter to assist in management of the theatre’s operations.

The WEA (Workers’ Educational Association) was established in Britain in 1903 as a charitable group to assist working-class people to develop job skills that would help them to get and maintain employment.

The organisation has operated in Australia since 1913, with WEA Hunter having branches in Cooks Hill, Raymond Terrace, Cessnock and Nelson Bay.

WEA Hunter has increasingly introduced courses in performing arts in recent years.

The courses have mainly been at the organisation’s main premises, the former Cooks Hill Intermediate High School, where facilities, including a school hall, that are used for performance training, are shared with Alesco students, high school seniors who are helped to overcome problems that have interfered with their education.

The WEA will move into the DAPA building on Friday, December 1, with the name being changed to the WEA Hunter Creative Arts Space.

Its first public function there will be Broadway Bites 2017, the final assessment performance by WEA’s graduating diploma of musical theatre and community dance, theatre and events certificate students.

The performance is on Tuesday, December 5, at 7.30pm.

WEA Hunter’s head of compliance and data administration, John Radvan, said the venue would be the hub of the WEA arts development program.

Lesly Stevenson, who established DAPA (the Dance and Performing Arts Academy) in 1988 as the Hunter’s first training company covering most performing arts, bought the venue, then known as the Roxy Theatre, from Newcastle Dramatic Art Club (NDAC) in 2001.

The theatre has several rooms of different sizes behind the stage that can be used for training courses.

WEA Hunter plans to offer hire of the theatre to performing arts groups at several times of the year for reasonable rates.

And on some occasions emerging artists will be able to put on shows free of charge.

The theatre was originally a church housing the Assemblies of God.

After the church closed, NDAC bought the building in 1981 and converted it to a theatre, with the first show opening on October 30 that year.

The company had previously owned another Hamilton theatre known as the Roxy.

A remnant of the church, a baptismal font that was used for full body immersion, lies beneath the stage.

It was not removed because much of the building would have had to be pulled down and rebuilt at considerable cost to take away the sizeable structure.