Adelaide Festival Centre – A Cultural Hub in the Heart of the City

Located in the heart of Adelaide on the Torrens Riverbank, Adelaide Festival Centre is a cultural hub for theatre, dance and music performances. It runs major festivals such as Adelaide Cabaret Festival, OzAsia and DreamBIG Children’s Festival.

The complex is home to four theatrical venues including the Festival Theatre and Dunstan Playhouse and a gallery and function space called Space Theatre. Designed by Hassell architect John Morphett, it was Australia’s first capital city multipurpose arts centre.

The Festival Theatre

A full house for the festival centre’s birthday party – a concert celebrating home-grown talent – proved that Adelaide has a strong love of live performance. The centre, opened on 2 June 1973, was the first of its kind in Australia and arguably put SA on the cultural map.

The Festival Theatre is a lyric theatre and a music hall that seats 2000. It is used for dramas, opera, musicals and a myriad of other performances and has one of the largest backstage areas in the southern hemisphere.

It is also the venue for many of Adelaide Festival’s centrepiece events and plays host to the annual Adelaide Cabaret, Adelaide Guitar, OzAsia, DreamBIG Children’s, and OUR MOB festivals. It is also home to the State Theatre Company of South Australia, South Australian Symphony Orchestra and The Australian Ballet.

The second theatre at the centre is Dunstan Playhouse, a more intimate space for smaller productions. It has a theatre, rehearsal rooms and extensive production workshop and is also used for workshops and performances by students from South Australia’s universities.

The centre is a popular destination all year round. The amphitheatre is open for free live music during summer and contemporary indigenous art is on show in the Artspace Gallery. The complex has several bars and restaurants, and all the theatres and event spaces are assistance animal friendly.

The Dunstan Playhouse

A short stroll across the Torrens footbridge takes you to the heart of Adelaide’s Riverbank precinct, which includes the stunning Adelaide Festival Centre. This cultural hub is home to major musicals and international ballets as well as children’s productions, poignant plays and intimate concerts. It houses several theatres, including Her Majesty’s Theatre, and is the base for the State Theatre Company of South Australia, State Opera SA, Australian Dance Theatre and Adelaide Symphony Orchestra.

The redevelopment of the Festival Centre began in the 1970s when Liberal state Premier Don Dunstan pushed for an arts centre to help establish Adelaide as a significant city. The Festival Centre complex is located on Kaurna Yarta, and it features the Festival Theatre, Dunstan Playhouse, Space Theatre and several gallery and function spaces.

A versatile studio theatre, the Dunstan Playhouse shares the Drama Centre building with the Space Theatre. It can be configured into a theatre in the round, a corner stage setting or a cabaret venue and seats between 200 and 350 people. The theatre also acts as the rehearsal studio for the State Theatre Company. This week it plays host to Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia, which is the story of a jaded school teacher and her family.

The Space Theatre

Whether you want to enjoy a theatre production, concert, dance or DJ set show, the Space is a venue that can accommodate any event. It is a multi-purpose theatre space with a variety of configurations, ranging from a theatre in the round to a cabaret setting that can seat anywhere from 200 to 350 people. The Space can also be configured as a space for exhibitions and displays.

All internal pathways to seating, including those for people with limited mobility and who use wheelchairs, are well lit. Wheelchair seats are available on the balcony, accessed directly from the foyer. There is room for a carer or companion to sit directly next to a patron using a wheelchair.

The Adelaide Festival Centre is the focal point for many of Australia’s major cultural events. It hosts opera, theatre and classical & contemporary music concerts throughout the year. It is also home to the Adelaide Guitar Festival, OzAsia Festival and Cabaret Festival. The Adelaide Festival of Arts takes place in March every year and attracts more than 400,000 visitors. During this time, the city hosts a myriad of temporary venues including the Wonderland Garden of Unearthly Delights, Gluttony and other amazing gardens as well as the four-day world music festival WOMADelaide. It is also a hub of food, markets and public art.

The Amphitheatre

The Adelaide Festival Centre is home to a variety of theatres and galleries as well as function spaces. It is the focal point for the biennial Adelaide Festival of Arts, hosting opera, classical and contemporary music concerts, theatre performances, dance and a host of other cultural offerings. It also hosts major festivals throughout the year including Adelaide Cabaret Festival, DreamBIG Children’s Festival which turned the venue into a giant colourful playground last weekend, and OzAsia and Adelaide Guitar Festivals along with free in-person literary and storytelling events OUR WORDS and OUR STORIES.

When the Centre opened in 1973, it was Australia’s first capital city arts complex. Liberal state Premier Steele Hall had campaigned for the project after a visit to London’s Royal Festival Hall. Despite having only a small budget, the appeal was successful and the site of the old Adelaide Baths was chosen for its location in the heart of the city.

Hassell designer John Morphett worked on the complex which included the 2,000-seat Festival Theatre, a 635-seat Drama Theatre and flexible experimental Space Theatre as well as function areas and outdoor plazas. It was a huge opportunity for the young graduate architect.

Today the Adelaide Festival Centre is a thriving business, something Douglas credits to getting great programs committed to fill their theatres and effectively managing their sales operation BASS (Broadway and Australian Sales Service). He also explains how they’ve adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic, quickly configuring their consumer engagement platform to understand audience sentiment.