No room to move, but the show must go
THE music stops and the crowd applauds. Twenty tiny figures run off a crowded stage and down a set of cold concrete stairs for a quick change, while another troupe squeezes down a backstage passage barely wider than their tiny tutus.
Welcome to the Maclean Civic Hall.
The venue, which seats 170 people, plays host to myriad community groups who showcase the best in artistic talent in the local area with performances ranging from opera, sing-along shows and dance eisteddfod concerts.
According to Clarence River Dance Academy teacher and founding member of the Lower Clarence Dance Eisteddfod, Adele Lewis, putting on shows is almost impossible.
"It's always hot, the stage is small, and we have to put our own flooring down," she said.
"It's a very uncomfortable place to work."
And despite a good relationship with council staff, she says the size of the hall makes it hard to make events viable.
"The staff have always bent over backwards to help us out - they've done what they can in areas like the kitchen which is fantastic," she said.
"But at the end of the day, we can only have 170 people in there at one time, and it's not a lot to make it worthwhile."
For Lower Clarence music stalwart Connie de Dassel, it is a similar story. Mrs de Dassel put her first stage show on as the "Connie de Dassel Music Group" in 1988 and said right away there were limitations with the space.
"The stage was different to what it was now; it had a door placed on the right hand side and didn't come out as far," she said.
"In 1993 our music group performed renovations on the hall, extending the stage right out, and putting in new curtains to cover the extended stage.
"We also installed the sound and lighting box at the back of the hall - all of which our group paid for."
Soon after, council cleared out the section underneath to use as dressing rooms, and bought a baby grand piano for the hall but Mrs de Dassel said, there were still limitations in the facility.
"When council built the new council chambers, there was no staffroom, so they used the rooms at the back of the Civic Hall," she said.
"When there's a performance on, that's the only place for the people in the show to be as there's so little room backstage, and we used have to pay extra to hire that room on top of the hall costs to put everyone in."
And Mrs de Dassel says anecdotal evidence shows the lack of space for large events is coming at a cost.
"My daughter dances with a large dance school in Coffs Harbour, and they won't return to the dance eisteddfod because of the poor facilities and lack of space," she said.
"The kids end up waiting in the car park under the chambers for hours on end, and they just won't come any more."
A review of Clarence Valley Community Centres in 2006 found the hall had "severe limitations" including limited backstage room and poor parking spaces. It recommended a feasibility study be conducted into selling the Civic Centre precinct and relocating the hall to a purpose built facility at the Maclean Showground.
Mayor Richie Williamson said that kind of renewal was a challenge for Clarence Valley Council.
"In a perfect world, a purpose built facility would be tremendous, but at this point it is out of council's reach," he said.
"We are aware though that the hall is in need of funds to be spent to be bring it up to community expectations."
He stated that the council's focus is on investing in assets, and having a clear understanding of the state of the assets the council has.
"We know we are underfunding our assets to the tune of around $40m a year, and council is going through a process to fix that," he said.
"Certainly we'll be look at partnerships we can forge with both state and federal governments for that funding, which will include community halls and roads and bridges - but it's something we're very focused on."
Despite all the troubles, Mrs de Dassel says her group, now amalgamated into the Clarence Coast Theatrical Society, will continue to put shows on at the hall.
"It is the best facility available, but the facilities are inadequate," she said.
"We keep going there because of our love of culture, and our love of showcasing the talented people we have. Whether it's music or dance we've got an amazing talent here and when you go to other places, you can't help be envious for the facilities they have.
"We have worked under great difficulty here."