This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Learn more

Fri 31 May

Behind the Curtains: breathing new life into Northcote Theatre

General Manager Andrew Mansfield details how Northcote Theatre has transformed into a vibrant cultural hub since its 2022 reopening.

By Always Live

Over the past decade, Northcote has cemented its status as a vibrant cultural hub, marked by several key venues. Northcote Theatre, in particular, stands out as a prominent symbol of the suburb’s cultural evolution. Since reopening in July 2022, this 112-year-old venue has transformed from a faded relic into a welcome home for Melbourne’s music scene.

The Long Road to Revival

The dream of transforming the Northcote Theatre into a live music venue began almost two decades ago. "I was part of another owners group back in 2004. We had just started the Northcote Social Club. It was probably the first High Vibes High St street party in 2005 that I had my first look inside what was then The Regal Ballroom," recalls Andrew Mansfield, General Manager of Northcote Theatre.

Partnering with Steve Ficai and other investors, the journey of acquiring and repurposing the theatre was filled with anticipation and meticulous planning.

When the opportunity finally arose in 2020, Mansfield and his partners jumped at the chance. "The project development started in 2020, and we signed the lease on the space one jump ahead of the first COVID lockdown," Mansfield explains. 

Navigating the pandemic's challenges, from lockdowns to supply chain disruptions, required ingenuity and determination. The team collaborated with Heritage Victoria and Darebin Council, tackled extensive renovations, and managed community relations via Zoom meetings.

"Full rewiring, updated switchboards, reinstating the mezzanine, building bars, extending the stage, and installing a PA and lighting—all during lockdowns," Mansfield shares. 

The painstaking effort paid off when the Northcote Theatre reopened in July 2022, ready to reclaim its place in Melbourne's arts scene.

A Community Hub

Since reopening, the Northcote Theatre has had a noticeable impact on the local area. "Having worked on the street since 2004, it has been interesting to watch the area evolve," Mansfield notes. 

Although demographics have shifted due to rising property prices, he highlights that the essence of Northcote—its independent spirit and rich musical history—remains intact.

"Our growth as a venue has enjoyed robust local support, and because the Northcote area has such a strong live music lineage, it’s an area people from all over Melbourne are happy to come to and see gigs."

The Northcote Theatre complements other iconic spots in the area like Bar 303, Shotkickers, Northcote Social Club, The Croxton, and Thornbury Theatre. Newer establishments like the music bar and community hub High Note, just downstairs, further contribute to the vibrant atmosphere that defines High Street today—recently named the world's coolest street.

Booking with a Purpose

At the heart of Northcote Theatre's success is its inclusive and strategic bookings. "Booking different styles and genres of music keeps us open," says Mansfield. The venue focuses on showcasing diverse genres, ensuring a fresh and dynamic lineup that appeals to a wide range of audiences. "We don’t hold opinions on what genres of music are more popular or relevant. The only real caveat we have is that we work pretty much exclusively in live original music."

Navigating Industry Challenges

The path hasn’t been without its hurdles. The music industry today faces significant challenges, from fluctuating attendance to rising operational costs. Mansfield acknowledges these pressures but remains optimistic. "The costs of operating as a destination venue or a space where live music is prioritised has been rising year on year. It’s a confluence of factors which, when added together, are economically debilitating." 

Despite these hurdles, Northcote Theatre thrives by offering a varied and compelling program that continues to draw enthusiastic crowds.

"Great art though, across all genres, still draws a crowd. We’re lucky that the reality of Melbourne is that it’s an incredibly supportive city for music," Mansfield affirms. This support, coupled with the theatre's diverse offerings, allows it to attract a wide range of show-goers, ensuring its place as a cornerstone of Victoria's music scene.

Looking Ahead

Reflecting on this ambitious journey, Mansfield expresses deep gratitude and pride. "We count ourselves as being incredibly lucky to have custodianship of this amazing space," he says. 

The Northcote Theatre's revival is not just a triumph of restoration but a celebration of community and culture, breathing new life into a historic venue.

As Victoria's cultural spaces continue to evolve, Northcote Theatre is a testament to what can be achieved with passion, perseverance, and a deep love for music.

See what's coming up at Northcote Theatre

Explore the program


    Filter by