By Kerrie Pacholli @ pationpics.com
Alex’s story, the connection to St Kilda.
In the early sixties Aleksandar Vass lived in St Kilda on Robe Street near the corner of Grey Street in the terrace houses on the left. It was 1966 and Australia had just adopted the decimal system, he recalls that his dad and mum gave me a couple of pennies to change into cents at the Milk Bar across the road and amazingly that Milk Bar is still there today. Not long after, the family moved to the Esplanade where he has distinct memories of the pony rides across the road in Catani Gardens. After 50 years they are still there too. That’s St Kilda for you.
In years to come he was fortunate enough to study at the National Theatre Drama School, perform on its stage and produce shows there.
In the early eighties he opened his first acting agency in Fitzroy Street before moving to Acland Street. The agency stretched from Sydney to Perth with over 400 actors on the books. He was invited to join the Agents Association and was soon to be made Vice President then President. He sold his agency in 1986.
It’s only years later in 2014 that Aleks, Susan, his wife of 16 years and their two daughters Madeline 7 and Georgia 6, made their way back to St Kilda. He purchased the old George Cinemas in Fitzroy Street and transformed them into the Alex Theatres.
,,,’Our vision is to create an off Broadway Theatre Complex where producers, performers, actors and creatives can work in theatre and film; and to create innovative, inspirational and affordable theatre. To teach young producers, creatives and performers the art and more importantly the business of show business, when you understand this, you have a chance to survive’…
As a performer, he was fortunate enough to work extensively as an actor in every major television series including Cop Shop, Division 4, Sullivan’s, Prisoner, Neighbours, Holliday Island, Skyways to name a few, but his passion was for the theatre. Performingboth non-professionally and professionally in over 60 shows.
In time he became a producer with a number of credits including Fiddler on the Roof with Topol, It’s a Dad Thing, Amadeus, Hair, The Last of the Red Hot Lovers to name a few and more recently, Bad Jews, You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown , Around the World in Eighty Days, Sexercise the Musical and currently in production we have Hand to God, Bent, Agnes of God, A Bronx Tale Starring Chaz Palminteri, Significant Other, Shirley Valentine, plus in theatre and film, the feature The Wolf Of Roztov.
The Vass Theatre group was formed to produce affordable theatre with high production values in boutique venues. It was originally formed in the early 2000’s in London and on returning to Australia head office was moved to Melbourne. On this journey, in looking for venues to stage shows, he found he couldn’t find a venue that was economical with all the facilities. Hence the Alex Theatre was born.
….’Our goal was to produce our own shows and create an Off Broadway Arts Hub in St Kilda. Susan and I had also decided to support talent in the arts on all levels hence we give grants away and over 30% of our theatre time away to up and coming producers, actors, and creatives. We hope the Alex operates like Off Broadway theatres where shows are born then moved on to the bigger theatres’…
The Vass Theatre Group incorporates a number of divisions, including the Alex Theatres, the Alex Speigel Zelt (The oldest Spiegel tent in the world) and the Alex Food Emporiums.
The Food Emporiums are a new division, which include the recently purchased Phamish and Tree House restaurants in St Kilda and Balaclava. Both restaurants are currently in operation but will be refurbished over the next three months. Their next new foray into food is the Alex Food Emporium Organic and Health Food Supermarkets. They have recently purchased one of the stores below the Alex Complex and in mid April the first organic health food store will open.,,, ‘We will be franchising these supermarkets with a twist’,,,
…”As for the Alex Theatre and its impact on Fitzroy Street, I can honestly say we have gentrified what we call the Paris end of Fitzroy Street. We thought we would be lucky to have around 10,000 patrons in the first year we hit just over 30,000. Last year we had over 50,000 patrons at the Alex. This year already looks like it will blitz the previous year.
…As for our aspirations, my partner Susan and I love St Kilda. We feel it will again be the place where people flock, be they tourists or locals. We have made a long-term financial and heartfelt commitment to St Kilda and will continue to invest and grow in the area. We envisage a boutique hotel on the horizon.
…And as for our other business interests, they encompass one of the largest independent glass manufacturing companies in Australia and a new Waste To Energy plant business.
…Our brand Glasskote is represented in over 60 countries and until 2011, I was the CEO of operations based in London’…
St Kilda seems to have it all, spectacular sunsets and beach side boardwalks. A rich history of vice and crime, art and culture. Trams that connect to the four corners of Melbourne and beyond. Palm trees, parks, lots of heritage buildings, three outstanding theatres as well as eateries, pubs and bars that play live music to a reasonable hour.
Why has the centre of Fitzroy Street turned into a tumbleweed zone? No one seems to be able to pinpoint the answer to that.
Legend has it that when the artists colony that was Chronicles Bookshop was unceremoniously closed down due to relentless external pressure for dubious and nebulous reasons Fitzroy’s street’s soul had been ripped out.
Or when the toilet block was demolished in what was nationally known by the indigenous community as Koori Park a spookily vacuous and resonating effect was left on the street. Who knows for sure?
What we do know is that the culmination of many quickly imposed plans devised to reinvigorate Fitzroy St. have predominantly failed.
Sadly, despite heavy investiture the area still has issues. Many people including local and state governments are looking to local Arts & Culture as a potential remedy..
I asked local St Kilda resident, mentor, writer and visual artist, Emily Humphries to comment on how the area and local Art and Artists might be able to lend a hand, and if she has any insight into a problem that many wealthy residents and investors have failed to solve. This is what she said.
…“ When Dolores San Miguel opened the doors of the Crystal Ballroom in 1978 it dragged St Kilda groaning and kicking from its post war malaise as Melbourne youth awoke with a yelp. What had once been the terrain of wealthy seaside residents, the area that spans from the juncture of Barkley St and Alma Rd. was held high with grand mansions, which scattered like in any European seaside town, over the hill and down to the sea.
The Ballroom was a cultural incarnation of what had been a once vibrant area, yet with quite another face and sadly Melbourne failed to truly celebrate the relevance or recognize quite the qualities of the
power house of talent destined to largely desert not just St Kilda, but our shores. Thus there is no real mystery to its decline.
A failure to support or invest in the arts and artists is deadly. There is the organic folding process of any place or thing as it reshapes into another, as a fairly natural phenomenon. St Kilda has never really reformed since the late 80’s and since the large flight of junkies and drug culture to the North of the river there has been a slow process to rocked St Kilda’s heart.
St Kilda is loaded with potential however sometimes the grander enterprises spit people back onto the street with their exclusivity and frosted windows. The general public walk by with nothing much to grasp onto. Where is the soul in this?
The recent rise of the St Kilda Art Crawl in the city of Port Phillip was a really exciting thing. Despite our craft run along the Esplanade there is a chance here to bring back some of the vitality St Kilda now lacks. Why, because it brings a focus back to the expressive, the ‘street tongue’. If you want the street to resound you need to give it a voice and how better to do it than to support and invest in those who make the area their dialogue not just their economy. I really believe it is in the interest of the local businesses to invest in those who make a kind of “noise” about and around them.
There is a reflective quality to the neglect we have given our artists being played out in our deadly streetscape. We have Rowland Howard Lane but where is Rowland Howard? Despite being one of our precious jewels of cultural input Rowland died way too young and although some point the finger at a kind of lifestyle, artists very often have little choice in how they live as they medicate to navigate a culture which undervalues and fails to support them financially or even expressively.
Often our greatest talents end up in housing commissions on disability pensions or are forced to be educators. Without the support or security to simply weave their magic alight and contribute en force, artists in this country are robbed of their esteem by a culture which puts too much emphasis on convention and economic prowess.
I believe, with all my heart, that local business would benefit by investing in local Art & Culture artists that live in every St Kilda block, our heritage alive yet buried,
If we bring in some respect, some heart back into the heart beat of our culture of our area the vigor will return and our street and geography will not be left desolate and reflecting a kind of grief that no end of designer shops or fancy restaurants can stuff”…