By Madison Behringer
After operating as a vibrant and thriving venue in the heart of Sydney for six years, Giant Dwarf Theatre is being forced to relocate due to a massive rent increase. Co-founders Nikita Agzarian and Julian Morrow set up shop at 199 Cleveland Street in Redfern in 2014 after signing a lease with the building’s landlord following the property being vacant and run down for an extended period. The pair spent upwards of $200,000 refurbishing the venue funded by The Chaser team’s TV production company Giant Dwarf to transform the building into the impressive theatre space now known as the Giant Dwarf Theatre.
Co-owner Julian Morrow spoke with City Hub about the theatre’s forced relocation, saying: “In October last year I tried to start up the rent negotiations… initially the landlord proposed a 55% increase which was ridiculous. When I proposed an alternative increase they basically said they weren’t going to negotiate anymore.”
The stark news came as a disappointment to the Giant Dwarf team, as grants had recently been approved for the theatre space.
“We then had to look at what our other options are,” said Julian. “What was disappointing is that we’ve recently gotten a couple of grants which would have resulted in about $60,000 worth of improvements at the location.”
Over the six years Giant Dwarf Theatre has been operating, it has always aimed to be a hub of support and growth for local emerging artists in Sydney. With this in mind, Julian feels the landlord of 199 Cleveland Street has not allowed Giant Dwarf to make this dream a reality, saying, “The bottom line is that it wasn’t a place where you could operate a viable theatre business, at least like the one that we were trying to do. Because the truth is the way the owners were trying to run it, it wasn’t viable to run something like Giant Dwarf at that property.”
Julian went on to say, “It’s a real shame because we really like the room and we’ve built it up. We’ve turned it into something that’s really quite nice, it’s got a nice feel to it.”
When searching for a venue for their new project back in 2014, Julian and Nikita were originally on the hunt for a smaller venue, but stumbled across a ‘For Lease’ sign out the front of 199 Cleveland Street by chance.
“We kind of fell in love with the location and we stretched more than we were anticipating in terms of both the rent we’d have to pay and also the work that had to be done to get that building into a fit state to operate,” said Julian.
Co-founder Nikita Agzarian is also disappointed to be moving on from the venue, saying, “It’s a shame because we love the venue… It’s got a really special feel and we’re very proud of transforming it from a vacant, rat-infested hall into a beautifully refurbished theatre with a vibrant program and fewer rats.”
Giant Dwarf Theatre has become home to many of Sydney’s emerging artists and has housed larger events such as album launches for artists including Angus & Julia Stone and others. Julian is passionate about the importance of venues such as Giant Dwarf Theatre for creatives in the local area.
“The importance of theatres like Giant Dwarf is that artists are able to build on their work through trial and error,” he said, going on to state, “it’s important to have spaces like this where the entry bars aren’t too high and you can experiment with audiences and build and grow with an audience over time.”
Moving forward, Giant Dwarf Theatre aim to continue supporting new artists and creating a safe space to showcase their work.
“There are very few places in Sydney where you can experiment as an emerging artist. We understand how hard it is as an emerging artist to break into that industry and we will always be looking to support that,” Julian said.
A final show will be held at the venue to celebrate Giant Dwarf Theatre and its history at 199 Cleveland Street. The lineup for the March Final Show includes Becky Lucas, Ben Law, Cam James, Ben Jenkins, Alex Lee, Nakkiah Lui, Carlo Ritchie, Montaigne, Freudian Nip and Kate Mulvany, with more to be announced soon.
Despite being forced out of their much-loved space, the team at Giant Dwarf Theatre are intent on continuing to support local theatre and creating a safe space for creativity and experimentation. As to where the team will set up shop next? All will be revealed at the March Final Show.
“We’re making an announcement probably at the final show as to where we’re moving to. But the final show is really designed to be a celebration of the venue and the performers who’ve been through it and we really just want it to be a celebration,” shared Julian.
Mar 7. Giant Dwarf Theatre, 199 Cleveland St, Redfern. $30+b.f. Tickets & Info: www.giantdwarf.com.au
The landlord of 199 Cleveland St was contacted for comment, but has not responded as of publication.