The Hedberg – a new hub for the performing arts in Hobart

I recently had the opportunity to go on a tour of The Hedberg, which brings together new front- and back-of-house facilities for Hobart’s historic Theatre Royal, a brand new studio theatre to replace the much-loved Backspace Theatre and a new home for the University of Tasmania’s Conservatorium of Music.

Theatre Entry at The Hedberg
The main public entrance at The Hedberg incorporates bricks and other hints at the area’s industrial past
Theatre Royal general manager Tim Munro welcomes the group at the new entrance to the Theatre Royal. The old entrance is still there, but this one offers more space, access to new box office and bar facilities and lifts for those who need them.

The group I was with was shown around this addition to Hobart’s cultural venues by some wonderful guides, including Theatre Royal CEO Tim Munro, Conservatorium concert officer Don Bate and Peta Heffernan, representing the architectural design team, which was led by Tasmanian firm Liminal Architecture and designed in collaboration with WOHA.

The orignial foyer is still there, having been spruced up.
The three seating levels of the Theatre Royal are topped off by the dome, with George Davis’ portaits of notable performing artists, writers & composers

Having worked at the Theatre Royal many years ago and having been in the audience regularly for even longer, I was very aware of the shortcomings of the cramped foyers and box office and the difficulty of facilitating access for those with limited mobility. So it is wonderful to see that the new front of house spaces, which serve all three levels of the theatre as well as the new studio theatre and the Conservatorium’s new Recital Hall and other venues, all offer level access and lifts, as well as plenty room and lots of very modern toilet facilities.

With bars on all levels, getting a drink at interval should no longer be a problem for patrons at any of The Hedberg’s venues
A cloak room was something patrons of the Theatre could only dream of due to lack of space

The foyer areas have a very distinctive carpet full of sparks and flames against a black background; Peta explained that they worked with a Tasmanian aboriginal design consultant to incorporate the fireside storytelling traditions of indigenous Tasmanians beside the more theatrical storytelling that happens inside the theatres.

The original wall of the Theatre Royal is a feature of the new foyer area
The bespoke carpet, suggesting the fireside storytelling in Tasmania going back thousands of years
Fiery carpet at The Hedberg
The stage of Hobart’s Theatre Royal from the back of the stalls
Prompt corner and a view into the house from the Theatre Royal stage
On the Theatre Royal stage
Inside one of the new dressing rooms at Hobart’s Theatre Royal

Tim took us through the Theatre Royal up onto the stage, where we admired the view, then on through the new backstage areas and up to the new studio theatre. This is a replacement for the Backspace Theatre, a much-loved performance space going back many decades, where local theatre makers and visiting cabaret-style performers created many memorable shows. The new studio seats up to 300, but has a very flexible layout, which Tim hopes will become the basis of at least as many memorable shows and highlight local creativity.

From the stage of the new Studio Theatre
Artefacts found during construction on display at The Hedberg
Another view of the Theatre Royal’s original sandstone wall from the new foyer areas of The Hedberg
Artefacts found during construction on display at The Hedberg

There is a large outdoor terrace near the top of the Conservatorium section offering fresh perspectives on this increasingly built-up area of the city. The new wing of the Royal Hobart Hospital with its rooftop helipad is a near neighbour, and while the new foyer and Conservatorium areas have been soundproofed, patrons at the venerable Theatre Royal may find their performances disturbed by emergency landings. Hopefully further works to address this will be on the agenda for the state government in future.

The new wing of the Royal Hobart Hospital looms over the Hedberg
Twilight over the outdoor terrace at The Hedberg
Stunning city views from a terrace at The Hedberg
The view up Collins Street, Hobart from the outdoor terrace at The Hedberg

Don then showed us around the Conservatorium’s side of the development. We were allowed to peek into some rehearsal rooms where Con students were practicing their instruments and, in one room, working on high-tech recordings. Then we were privileged with a visit to the Ian Potter Recital Hall where the Southern Gospel Choir were rehearsing – the sound was wonderful.

Conservatorium students at work on recordings
An industrial aesthetic is evident in much of the Conservatorium’s facilities at The Hedberg
Foyer areas of the Recital Hall and Conservatorium
View through several levels of the Conservatorium of Music at The Hedberg
The stage of the Ian Potter Recital Hall at Hobart’s new Conservatorium of Music
Inside the Ian Potter Recital Hall at The Hedberg

Back outside, Don and Peta told us a little of the technical magic being installed in this hall, which uses sophisticated electronics to mimic the acoustics of much bigger halls. Once fully functional, performers and audiences will be able to experience the sound of anything from a small studio up to a huge cathedral within this single space.

The Southern Gospel Choir rehearsing in the Ian Potter Recital Hall, Hobart, April 2021

Finally it seemed only right that we should put the new bar facilities to the test and so were treated to a glass of wine in the Dress Circle foyer, where both Tim and Don discussed their excitement about the Hedberg, looking forward to many performances and post-show chats in all these spaces, and to it becoming a central, well-used and much-loved part of Hobart’s cultural life.

Patterned timber ceilings over foyer areas at The Hedberg

Further reading

Leave a Reply Cancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.