fortyfivedownstairs appoints new Artistic Director of the theatre

by | Sep 28, 2023

fortyfivedownstairs is excited to announce Cameron Lukey as the new Artistic Director of the theatre, following Mary Lou Jelbart AM’s decision to step down after 21 years in the role. Jelbart co-founded the organisation with Julian Burnside AO KC in 2002 and has worked tirelessly to establish fortyfivedownstairs’ reputation as one of Melbourne’s most loved and respected independent venues. Some of the many acclaimed and award-winning productions nurtured by Mary Lou Jelbart include the premieres of Do not go gentle… and Savages by Patricia Cornelius, Café Scheherazade by Thérèse Radic (based on the novel by Arnold Zable), and Taxithi by Helen Yotis Patterson.

“fortyfivedownstairs began after a series of conversations about what a loss the beautiful gallery space would be to Melbourne artists,” says Jelbart. “Talks expanded into an (admittedly impractical) scheme to create an inner-city space that could be used by independent theatre companies, performers, and musicians. I don’t think any of us anticipated how long fortyfivedownstairs might last, but with the support of our landlords, we’ve kept the doors open and artists, performers and audiences have continued to turn up! After 21 very happy years, I am truly delighted to be handing the theatre Artistic Director role to Cameron, who first worked with us as a producer. I’m happy to say he shares the vision we had of a very special, exciting, and inclusive place for the arts.”

Lukey produced his first show at fortyfivedownstairs in 2014, an acclaimed production of Terrence McNally’s play Master Class, featuring Maria Mercedes as opera legend Maria Callas.

“It was a thrilling experience working at fortyfivedownstairs for the first time and I don’t think the show would have been as successful if it had opened anywhere else,” says Lukey. “We had the invaluable support of Mary Lou and the team, and access to an audience developed through years of strong and varied programming. It felt like a big turning point in my life, a feeling I know many of the artists and companies who have worked at fortyfivedownstairs share.”

Lukey joined the fortyfivedownstairs team in 2016, producing shows such as Resident Alien with Paul Capsis and Angels in America, and collaborating with Jelbart to realise her vision for the theatre program. In 2022, he took over programming for the 2023 season.

“It’s been very rewarding seeing audiences embrace this year’s program following three years of interruption and uncertainty, and my hope is that we can continue to build on that momentum in 2024. I’m incredibly grateful to the board for this opportunity, and to Mary Lou for her trust. Moving forward, the priority will be to maintain the balance and variety Mary Lou achieved in her programming, making sure to celebrate new Australian writing and international works that might not otherwise be seen on Melbourne’s mainstages.”

As previously announced, Jelbart will maintain a position on fortyfivedownstairs’ board, led by Chair Paul Casey. “I’d like to acknowledge the remarkable contribution that Mary Lou has made to the cultural fabric of Melbourne through the establishment and leadership of fortyfivedownstairs,” says Casey. “Through her vision, fortyfivedownstairs has become a platform for outstanding independent visual and performing artists, supporting countless artistic careers. As the organisation continues to evolve, I am thrilled that Cameron has taken on the role of Artistic Director for our theatre. He has worked closely with and been mentored by Mary Lou for a number of years. Cameron’s first season of programming has been a great success and I am confident that under his direction, fortyfivedownstairs will continue to thrive.”

Image: Cameron Grant

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