HOT: Arts Centre Melbourne Guided Tour, Melbourne

Did you know that the Arts Centre Melbourne is built on the site of the original Wirth’s Circus?

Wirths Circus mosaic Arts Centre Melbourne Tour 2

I must have walked past this mosaic a hundred times on the way to and from seeing a show at Arts Centre Melbourne and NEVER queried its meaning or history. Wirth’s Circus was Australia’s largest and most prestigious circus company until 1963. Fun Fact – a visitor once tried to book tickets to see Wirth’s Circus at the Arts Centre Melbourne, not realising the mosaic was not an advertisement!

This is why I love guided tours! It’s an opportunity to learn so much more about familiar (and unfamiliar) places.

Arts Centre Melbourne runs 1 hour guided tours Monday – Saturday where you can explore the stories and secret spaces inside this iconic Melbourne building. Each tour itinerary is slightly different depending on what productions are on and what spaces are accessible at the time.

Fortunately, during our visit, we are able to see all the theatres and Hamer Hall.

We start our tour in the Smorgon Plaza foyer where we learn about the interior design by Melbourne-born, award-winning stage designer, John Truscott. I’ve never noticed that the carpets in each part of the building are different colours and they are very specific colours too – mushroom, aubergine and mustard (NOT brown, purple and orange!). Also, John Truscott was claustrophobic – and given the whole Theatres building is underground he installed mirrors in many unexpected locations to provide a sense of space and light.

At the Playhouse we look at the traditional pulley system behind the wings….

Playhouse Arts Centre Melbourne Tour 8

….at the Fairfax Studio we learn about how the acoustic foam in the chairs is the same density as the human body. This means that actors rehearsing in the small space are able to gauge how to project their voices whether the theatre is full or empty…

Find Hotels and Airbnbs near Arts Centre Melbourne

Sidney Nolan Arts Centre Melbourne Tour 7

…we stroll past the magnificent Sidney Nolan painting that spans several floors of the State Theatre, as well as admiring the John Olsen and Arthur Boyd paintings (that were such a late commission that they were hung wet). You can find out more about the Arts Centre Melbourne’s art collection here.

John Olsen Arts Centre Melbourne Tour 4

Did you know that the State Theatre is the third-largest stage theatre in the world?

Also, the pillars in the State Theatre foyer are not marble! By this time the interior design budget had blown out so much that John Truscott had to compromise and engage set designers to paint concrete pillars to resemble marble. Unfortunately, the cost of maintaining the paint over the years has meant that it would have been cheaper just to use marble in the first place!

Sidney Nolan Arts Centre Melbourne Tour 6

Inside the State Theatre, we want to visit the stalls because Lady AB and Baby 2.0 have seats dedicated to them (W13 and W14 next time you visit!). Instead, we visit one of the boxes as The Australian Ballet is conducting a ballet class on stage in preparation for their performance.

Going into the box means we can look closely at the golden orbs which are suspended from a huge wire ceiling curtain. The wire is required for acoustics but John Truscott though it looked like chicken wire, so he had 75,000 (!) brass cups installed. The problem was….during final safety inspections they realised that if the fire sprinkler system was activated all of the balls would fill with water, weigh down the wire and collapse the roof! This oversight set back the opening of the building while every one of the 75,000 cups had thirteen holes drilled into it.

We visit the private Truscott Lounge function space, with a marble bathroom especially refurbished for Princess Diana’s visit. However, she never used it, because she figured out that if you went to the toilet inside the people in the lounge could hear everything (apparently she was right)!

Truscott Room Arts Centre Melbourne Tour 1

Our final stop is Hamer Hall, where we test out the acoustic architectural elements from one side of the circle to the other.

Hamer Hall Arts Centre Melbourne Tour 3

If you need a snack before or after the tour your ticket includes tea or coffee and a muffin.

Note that the Arts Centre Melbourne also holds Backstage Tours every Sunday but they are not suitable for children under 12 years.

Arts Centre Melbourne Guided Tours are a great way to be a tourist in my home town and an opportunity to learn more about the buildings which I’ve visited so many times before.

Click here for more of the best things to do in Melbourne with kids

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text el_class=”thon-hot-tips-panel”]HOT Tips:

  • Arts Centre Melbourne Guided Tours depart daily from Level 6 of the Theatres Building (the building with the Spire);
  • Check in at the Welcome Desk just near the main staircase inside the main doors;
  • Tours last for 1 hour;
  • Locations are all pram and wheelchair accessible;
  • I recommend tours for 8+ years who are able to maintain attention for 1 hour;
  • Some venues may not be available due to operational requirements.
  • Guided Tour ticket includes tea or coffee and chef’s selection of a gourmet muffin.
  • Tickets are $25, no children’s tickets available.


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About Joyce Watts

Joyce Watts is a former intellectual property, IT and media lawyer turned serial entrepreneur.

As well as being the founder of TOT: HOT OR NOT she helps businesses with their SEO, email marketing & social media as BrightSmart.com.au; she owns an online bike store CycleStyle.com.au and develops and produces creative experiences for families via WheelieGoodFun.com. She used to publish another popular lifestyle and food blog called MEL: HOT OR NOT The decisive guide to Melbourne.

She lives in inner-city Melbourne with her husband, two children and seven bikes.

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