In the heart of South Melbourne, Temperance Hall is a unique artist-led interdisciplinary complex, comprising a main hall, studios and residential apartment. Our late 19th century building, built by the Emerald Hill Total Abstinence Society, has a rich social and political history. The spaces retain this charm in newly renovated multi-purpose spaces where Phillip Adams, along with a plethora of independent artists and other small companies, push their practices and make bold new work. Temperance Hall is a place to develop new and experimental work in a supportive context.
Temperance Hall is 3km from Melbourne CDB and easily accessed by public transport. Our spaces can be booked for accommodation, rehearsals, creative developments and special events.
"High ceilings, wide floorboards and lofty windows give this paean to sobriety a giddy sense of grandeur." - Open House Melbourne.
Top left image courtesy: Jeff Busby. Top right image courtesy: Morgan Hickinbottom.
The Emerald Hill total abstinence society built their first hall on Napier Street in 1863, and the current building was completed in 1888. From the beginning it was a key site for the performing arts, hosting meetings, lectures, dances, concerts and theatrical performances.
That first hall was in great demand, and in 1874 a brick replacement was built to accommodate all the activity. By 1880, the hall was able to accommodate up to 400 people; and in 1888, the double-storey lodge and lecture hall was finished.
Alcohol-free entertainment was a vital part of promoting the movement, as was healthy physical activity. The South Melbourne Football Club (now Sydney Swans) believes that it was formed at a meeting held in the Temperance Hall in 1874.
While abstinence sounds quaint today, in 1854 the Emerald Hill Total Abstinence Society was part of worldwide movement that aimed to stamp out domestic violence. It was a proto-feminist agenda that saw (mostly male) alcohol consumption as the cause of social harm, with women and children as the victims.
The movement provided a vital political outlet for women, and by the late 19th century, temperance organisations were promoting causes such as women's higher education, physical education for girls, free kindergartens, equal pay for equal work, protective laws for women and children in the workplace, reform of laws on marriage and divorce, and shelters for abused mothers.
In 1978, a professional French actor and director, Jean-Pierre Mignon, arrived in Melbourne but could not find work in mainstream theatre. He took the opportunity to direct several works at La Mama theatre, the first of which included Bruce Keller, and led to Keller and Mignon taking a lease on the Temperance Hall, and converting it into Anthill Theatre in 1981 (their company was called Australian Nouveau Theatre, or ANT).
ANT and its small theatre-space took off fast, producing a mix of European classics and new Australian works, all in a determinedly non-naturalistic style. Many of its productions toured, in Australia and internationally, and many transferred to larger venues, and its reputation grew quickly.
Despite its success, however, the tiny, 100-seat capacity of the theatre meant that the company was heavily reliant on government subsidy. In 1992, to help solve that problem, the company transferred to the Gasworks Theatre in Albert Park, and following some use as a rehearsal venue, Temperance Hall gradually became a vacant, derelict space.
Image above courtesy: Jeff Busby, Anthill’s 1991 production of ‘Endgame’.
In 2016, Temperance Hall fell under the management of Working Heritage, a state government organisation responsible for conservation and management of historic buildings. Its role is to revitalise these places to ensure they have a purpose now and in the future. In close cooperation with Phillip Adams BalletLab, Working Heritage carried out repair and improvement works throughout 2016 to enable the company to move in and begin utilising the building.