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Theatre tourism identified as having growth potential in Canberra

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Recognising the untapped potential of theatre tourism could see Canberra pinch patrons from Sydney and fill gaps in national tour itineraries, according to one of Australia's leading producers.

Louise Withers, who is bringing Mamma Mia to Canberra in November for its national premiere, addressed the Destination Canberra conference on Thursday.

She said major productions required significant investment — more than $10 million to establish, $500,000 a week to stage and employed 150 people.

"If you have 30,000 people come and see a show in Canberra and you can average $85-90 a ticket, you'll get in the region of $2.5 million in revenue," she said.

"That doesn't equate with the numbers I'm talking about and shows why it's really difficult and risky to bring big shows into Canberra.

"It doesn't mean that Canberra can't be viable [for major productions]. Canberra is well poised right now to become part of the national touring circuit."


Withers said Canberra needed to deliver audiences to inspire confidence among producers.

She said Canberra could fill gaps in national tour itineraries if there were scheduling problems to keep shows on the road.

"If we can ensure that Canberra delivers good numbers of tickets, it allows us to remain on tour and hold our head above the waterline," she said.

"If a tour continues it means it exists. That is the benefit to Canberra.

"There is so much competition for venues around the country right now, it means that people are looking where else can they play to fill the gap in a tour while they're waiting for other venues.

"It's a really good time to put your hand up, but it requires support and committed effort."

Withers said Canberra would be an attractive alternative for regional theatre-goers who don't want the hassle of travelling to Sydney.

"I've been told about the growing number of Canberrans and regional audiences who don't want to travel to Sydney to see these shows any more," she said.

"People have talked about cost, the pain in the neck of trying to get through traffic and the rest of that. For ease of location they want to stay here and see these shows."

Withers also backed calls to invigorate the CBD.

​"At the moment, all the cool spots are largely out there in different pockets, but the centre of the city in all honesty is no man's land," she said.

"You come out of the theatre and struggle to find somewhere to eat.

"Get eateries in there, light it up at night, make sure it's safe, so that when people come out of the theatre there's somewhere to go; they don't just get into the car and disappear."

In opening the Destination Canberra event, chief minister Andrew Barr reiterated his commitment to urban renewal.

Mr Barr said the government would establish a CBD renewal authority "to finally give Canberra the CBD it deserves".

"I've lived through years of jokes about this city being a hundred suburbs in search of a CBD," he said.

"In this parliamentary term we'll put in place a delivery mechanism to achieve a CBD we can be proud of, a transport system that functions and bring billions of dollars of investment into our economy."