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A new passageway improves access to the Joan Sutherland Theatre

Venue opens up to all patrons with new improvements as part of Renewal

Sydney Opera House

You can experience the beauty of a ballet in many ways: in the stalls with the season regulars, seeing the dancers turning metres away from your seat; in the upper circle, feeling the full weight of the orchestra via the Joan Sutherland Theatre’s upgraded acoustics. When patrons come up either side of the venue, they’re met with the grand stairs of Utzon’s building—but, beautiful as they are, they don’t make it easy for everyone to enter the room.

Some ballet lovers with accessibility needs don’t get to see every nook of the hall as an able-bodied person would. Previously, our theatres required patrons to take a rear entrance back-of-house to reach the theatres. We opened a new passageway through a back-of-house space in the Joan Sutherland Theatre to create an entry that all patrons could use to enjoy the venue’s magnificent harbourside views.

It takes patrons straight to the bold red carpet of the Northern Foyer, where then they may take a lift to access all areas of the Foyer.

“I’ve been a wheelchair user for more than 19 years and have been coming to the Opera House for the seven years I’ve been living in Sydney,” said Inclusion Champion Max Burt.

“This is the first time I could reach the Joan Sutherland Theatre’s Northern Foyer and see for myself the fantastic harbour view. This is a remarkable building and now people with limited mobility can experience it the way everyone else does.”

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Watch our fly through of the Joan Sutherland Theatre and experience the important upgrades to the accessibility of the venue

CEO Louise Herron and Max Burt. Image: Daniel Boud

Hannah Gadsby performs Nanette, her Netflix special, at the Sydney Opera House, 2018.

A new lift connects all levels of the Joan Sutherland Theatre’s Northern Foyers. Image: Daniel Boud

One of many upgrades

The passageway is one of many upgrades taking place during the Opera House’s decade of Renewal—to ensure that this living public building is enjoyed and celebrated by all.

“The Opera House belongs to everyone. As an organisation, our goal is to provide barrier-free access, so that everyone can enjoy the building and the art inside it,” said Opera House CEO Louise Herron AM.

“We have sensitively integrated the new accessible path of travel and lift, both feats of engineering and works of art in themselves.”

These include paving in signature Opera House granite; replacing bitumen to make the area lighter; reducing glare; a new lift in the Box Office foyer providing for the first time an independent path of travel for those with access needs to the Joan Sutherland Theatre Southern Foyer; and converting the whole area from our front gates to our front door into a pedestrian-friendly zone, with easier and safer access.

Jørn Utzon described the journey across the expanse of the Forecourt and up the Monumental Steps as moving ‘from the ordinary to the extraordinary’. Now, the tunnel, completed in 2015, redirects over 1000 trucks every week taking gargantuan opera sets and heavy gear below the building. We’re left with a beautiful, vast Forecourt for people to enjoy, just as Jørn Utzon originally meant it to be.


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