The OLD TOTE THEATRE COMPANY was, for sixteen years, one of the foremost companies in Australia. It was a professional organisation founded in 1962 by the National Institute of Dramatic Art with the aim of producing a combination of classic works and innovative Australian plays.
Its first theatre was a converted army recreation hall on the campus of the University of New South Wales. The idea of the Old Tote Theatre attracted support from the artistic community of Sydney, and the University of New South Wales contributed six thousand pounds to cover the costs of converting the wood and corrugated iron building to a theatre. It was painted khaki and white and the auditorium was equipped with second hand cinema seating. The building was entered through a small porch into a foyer along the length of the building. A short ramp then led up to the door to the auditorium. NIDA students provided both front of house and backstage workers. The Old Tote Theatre opened in February 1963 with a very successful production of Chekhov's `The Cherry Orchard', and the company was associated with the venue until 1969.
It became known as the OLD TOTE THEATRE because the hut was part of the complex of buildings that had once housed the totalisator machine when the site had been Kensington Racecourse. It is still in use, but now under the name of the FIGTREE THEATRE.
A 1967 plan to replace the old building with a new complex housing NIDA, the School of Drama and a larger theatre was not implemented. Instead in May 1969 the company moved to a temporary and still unfinished venue known as the PARADE THEATRE on the western campus of the University, on Anzac Parade almost opposite the main gates. This theatre was about twice the size of the Old Tote theatre, with a reasonably sized stage. As in the previous building there was a foyer alongside the auditorium and in 1971, when the liquor laws were modified, this incorporated the novelty of newly installed bar.
In 1968 a decision had also been made to separate the Old Tote Company and NIDA. The Old Tote, endowed with a subsidy from the newly created Australian Council for the Arts, then embarked on a policy of expansion. The company indirectly assumed, at the request of the state bureaucracy, the responsibilities of a state theatre company, and this led to commitment to production at the Sydney Opera House and the Seymour Centre as well as at the Parade. The organisation overreached itself, and in 1978 it went into liquidation. Its heir was the Sydney Theatre Company.
The Parade Theatre was later demolished for the expansion of the National Institute of Dramatic Art. This development included a new theatre accessible directly from Anzac Parade at Kensington. The new NIDA THEATRE, opened in July 2002, is an impressive glass fronted structure with an open plan foyer, exhibition space, a tiered auditorium with a large and well equipped stage, and with small performance studios for rehearsal and for hire. The complex also houses NIDA's library and archives.
P. Parsons (ed.) with V. Chance, Companion to Theatre in Australia (Sydney,
Currency Press in association with Cambridge University Press, 1995)
J. South and H. Scott (comp.) Ten on the Tote: an illustrated history of the Old Tote Theatre Company to celebrate its Tenth Anniversary 1963-1973 (n.p. Sydney? n.d. c. 1974)
John West, Theatre in Australia (Stanmore, Cassell, 1978)