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Platform-870: A Performance Theatre in an Alternative Setting, Cockatoo Island

Part 2 Project 2013
Manus Leung
University of New South Wales Sydney Australia
‘From a very early stage, there evolved the notion that there could only be one form of immortality: the immortality conferred by history. In other words, life-after-life was not to be found in a super-nature, nor could it reply upon artefacts: man only survives in man - which means, in practical terms, in the memory of posterity, through the medium of words.’
Pierre Ryckmans

On Cockatoo Island, theatre becomes this medium. Through theatre, the history of the island is kept alive. Its history, its drama and its memory converge in the gathering of spectators, actors and story-tellers amidst the backdrop of this World Heritage Site. And inserted into this backdrop is a new structure: the stage.

Where workers once gathered in dockyards by the thousands to make their huge contribution to Australia’s shipbuilding industry, there is now only vacant space. The docks are the key essence of Cockatoo Island. There is a sense of mystery hidden in the space beneath the water that was once industrious and alive. The design attempts to highlight and emphasize this space, which is now neglected and forgotten, by submerging the theatre stage in Sutherland dock.

The theatre addresses a new system of spatial design that actively engages its audience by breaking not only the ‘fourth wall’ (the imaginary window of conventional proscenium) but the other three bounding walls as well. Emphasis is given to water as a key medium in which performers and props emerge and disappear unexpectedly via a stage mechanism embedded in the Sutherland Dock. On another level, neglected existing buildings such as the Powerhouse and warehouses are transformed into the theatre front and back of house respectively. The theatre is highly reversible and removable in terms of preservation acts, yet it has the ability to highlight and emphasise the characteristics of the island to create a strong identity of place. In other words, preservation is not just a question of the past remembered, but something more complex: the past allows the present to pursue the future.

Manus Leung


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