La Mama is a small theatre in Carlton, Melbourne Victoria that acts as a resource for productions of new Australian work. In 1967 Betty Burstall returned from New York determined to establish a performance space like the coffee house theatres she had seen in Greenwich Village. She had been impressed by the potential of these informal theatres to allow for the development of new work and the exploration of relationships between performers and audience. Using La Mama in New York as a model Burstall rented an old shirt factory in Faraday Street and opened La Mama with a production of Jack Hibberd's Three Old Friends.

La Mama quickly became the base for the new generation of Australian theatre artists exploring and developing new directions in theatre work, groups that had evolved from street theatre, experimental theatre and student theatre. Any artist could approach Burstall with a proposal and it would be considered for programming. The main occupants in the early years were a group of artists who styled themselves the La Mama Company and later became the Australian Performing group, Tribe, an experimental and improvisational group and other groups that specialised in 'happenings' a style of installation come improvisational theatre that was very popular in the late 1960s. La Mama following Burstall's intentions has never had a resident company. The venue is available to everyone and any one can submit a proposal. In the first two years more than 25 plays by Australian writers were presented there as well as events or 'happenings and directorial experiments with plays from overseas. David Williamson is among the playwrights who La Mama provided opportunity for in this period. The Coming of Stork and The Removalists were first presented at la Mama. Burstall was succeeded as artistic director by Liz Jones. Jones has continued to ensure that the space is open to new artists both writers and experimental artists. La Mama has nurtured generations of Australian writers and artists by providing a sympathetic environment where they can present their work publicly.

The space itself is small. The building is two stories with the performance space downstairs and the office and dressing rooms upstairs. Every inch of the building and the surrounding area has been used for performances. In the heights of the 1970s, when the theatre was a focus for the radical movements in Melbourne, there was a mezzanine that provided more seating space for the theatre. In this period there were attendances of up to 200 people. The theatre is normally set up to accommodate an audience of 40. This can be varied according to how any production chooses to utilize the space. La Mama operates on grants, this funding is used to provide a minimal production budget and run the space and provide publicity and administrative support. At times there is additional funding to pay the writer and director a small fee and all other costs come from the box office. The actors are paid on a co-operative basis. La Mama continues to be the main resource for new writers and currently runs about 60 shows a year using the La Mama space, the old Carlton Courthouse (which has been converted) and other spaces.


Jones, Liz with Betty Burstall & Helen Garner.  La Mama: The Story of a Theatre. (Melbourne: McPhee Gribble/Penguin, 1988)