St Martins is a Melbourne icon.
There has been a theatre on our site in South Yarra for 83 years—117 years if you count the weekday drama classes held here from 1900.
In 1900, members of the Christ Church, South Yarra built St Chad's Chapel of Ease in Martin Street between a wood yard and a small cottage.
Between 1900 and 1929 it was a place of worship on Sundays and an education centre for drama, art and elocution during the week.
In 1934 Brett Randall and Hal Percy from the Melbourne Little Theatre bought the disused chapel and turned it into a 126-seat theatre.
Their first performance was Georg Kaiser’s From Morn to Midnight starring Irene Mitchell. Irene soon became the driving force of the company. She was the first woman in Australia to become Artistic Director of a theatre company in 1956. Her vision demanded the inclusion of young people in all of St Martins’ activities.
Irene oversaw the opening of the newly built theatre complex on August 24, 1956. It was the first new live theatre built in Melbourne since the Comedy Theatre 25 years earlier.
With Irene Mitchell at the helm, St Martin’s flourished. Irene was made a Member of the British Empire in 1975 for her services to theatre.
In its time, The Melbourne Little Theatre and St Martins Theatre produced many artists such as John Truscott, Peter Randall, George Fairfax, Frank Thring, Pamela Stephenson, Brian James, Kevin Miles, Terry Norris, Julia Blake, Beverley Dunn, Moira Carleton, Norman Kaye, Anne Charleston and Zoe Caldwell.
In the mid-70s the buildings were sold to the Victorian State Government.
Actor/Director Helmut Bakaitis was invited back to Australia from Europe to become Artistic Director of a new `high quality arts experience for young people.’
In a move designed to emphasise youth involvement in the arts in Victoria, the renovated buildings reopened as St Martins Youth Arts Centre in 1977.
In 1978, Helmut Bakaitis directed St Martins’ first production The Sensational South Yarra Show.
St Martins Youth Arts Centre was incorporated as a Company Limited by Guarantee in 1980 making St Martins the first arts centre devoted to young people in Australia.
The theatre complex as we know it today opened in 1982 with the company taking up administration offices at 28 St Martins Lane – they were originally a ladies’ singlet factory.
During the 80’s and 90s St Martins nurtured artists including Catherine McClements, Noah Taylor, Ben Mendelson, Julia Zemero, Matt Day, Barrie Kosky, and Mark Trevorrow (Bob Downe).
Many comedy partnerships met here including Colin Lane and Frank Woodley (Lano and Woodley), Jane Turner and Gina Riley (Kath & Kim), and Scott Edgar, Simon Hall and Steven Gates (Tripod). Angie Hart from Frente tells us St Martins is the place she discovered her love of singing.
In 1990 St Martins re-named its theatres The Randall Theatre and The Irene Mitchell Studio to acknowledge Brett and Irene’s important legacy in the creation of theatre on this site.
Following her death in 1995, Irene Mitchell’s ashes were buried at the base of the heritage listed peppercorn tree at her beloved St Martins.
Today St Martins is one of Australia’s leading companies working with children. We make bold and disruptive theatre fuelled by the voices of children and teenagers for adult audiences.
As a company, we’ve dedicated ourselves to broader social transformation through the act of children making art for adults.
Learn more about our vision.
St Martins Youth Theatre Artistic Directors:
Helmut Bakaitis (1978–1984)
Malcolm Robertson (1984)
John Preston (1984–1985)
Peter Charlton, (1986–1987)
Chris Thompson (1989–1996)
Anna Messariti (1996–2000)
Brett Adams (2000–2004)
Anthony Crowley (2004–2008)
Sarah Austin (2008–2013)
Clare Watson (2014–2016)
Nadja Kostich is the current Artistic Director of St Martins.