By Melissa Keogh
In 1973 Flinders University student Douglas Gautier was an extra in the opera, Fidelio, at the Adelaide Festival Centre’s official opening.
Fast forward more than 40 years and the proud Adelaidean is at the head of the city’s entertainment attraction.
The Adelaide Festival Centre was Australia’s first multipurpose arts venue when it opened – three months before the Sydney Opera House did – and now hosts one million visitors a year.
“That opening night was a very exciting time,” says Douglas Gautier AM, the centre’s CEO and artistic director.
“Then Prime Minister Gough Whitlam was there and he said, to words of this effect, that the Adelaide Festival Centre was something to make people in Adelaide proud.
“But he said it would also lead the country.”
And lead the country it has.
The Festival Centre is home to events within the Adelaide Festival, Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and State Theatre Company, of which draw people from across the globe.
It’s involved in the production of the world’s biggest cabaret festival, Australia’s largest guitar festival and one of the country’s most prominent international festivals, OzAsia.
“We had 50,000 people attend (the OzAsia Moon Lantern Festival) in one year,” Douglas says.
“It says a lot about our city, it’s a lot different than 10 years ago, it’s much more multicultural.
“We try to open it (the Festival Centre) up to all areas of the community and OzAsia is a good indication of that.”
A recent report by Ernst and Young shows the Adelaide Festival Centre’s total economic contribution and social value hit $160m and created 1076 jobs in 2015/16.
More recently the centre has undergone huge transformations and redevelopments, including its new northern foyers which now face onto Elder Park and the Torrens.
The new riverbank precinct has also welcomed new features including The Star Kitchen and Bar and the Walk of Fame.
Unveiled in January, the Walk of Fame features 132 plaques naming top performers, including Tim Minchin and Olivia Newton-John, who have showcased their talents at the Festival Centre over the years.
Douglas says the new features create a “very compelling package for both locals and visitors alike”.
“We do position ourselves as the main festival city in the country and it’s important that it’s constantly pumping,” he says.
The Adelaide Festival Centre Trust (AFCT) also manages Her Majesty’s Theatre (HMT) on Grote Street and is giving the “grand old dame” a facelift, growing its capacity from 970 to 1500.
HMT will close in March before reopening in late 2019/20.
This year is also a bumper year for big musicals, including The Rocky Horror Show, American Idiot, The Wizard of Oz, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, and Mamma Mia.
The sixth musical for the year, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, will open in December 2018, ending a record-run of big song and dance shows.
If 2017’s Matilda the Musical audiences are anything to go by, the 2018 musical lineup won’t be a hard sell.
“People are buying a lot more tickets … with Matilda we sold well over 100,000 tickets and audiences all reacted very well,” Douglas says.
“We have invested very strongly to ensure these big shows are coming here.”
This year marks Douglas’ 12th year being back in Adelaide after living in Hong Kong for 25 years.
During his time in Asia he headed one of the world’s great art festivals in Hong Kong and was deputy executive director of the Hong Kong Tourism Board.
Douglas says Adelaide might be the country’s smallest capital city but it “punches well above its weight” in arts and tourism.
“We believe in this city, particularly in its creative industries,” he says.
“It’s got a certain power and that’s people power.”
The Adelaide Festival Centre is holding a free public Open Day on February 11. See more information here.
Visit the I Choose SA for Industry website to read more stories about key industry leaders, why they’ve chosen SA as a base and how the state is enabling them to succeed.