In sad news for the Western Australian theatre scene, Fremantle independent theatre company Deckchair is closing down.

This week the company brought down the curtain on 30 years of independent theatre, much of it new Australian work. Deckchair’s chairperson Dorothy Wardle said in a statement that “the organisation’s future has become unsustainable”. She cited difficult economic conditions and “rapidly changing audience behaviour” as the cause:

“… the cultural and economic landscape has changed greatly since Deckchair’s establishment 30 years ago, particularly post the GFC, making it difficult to maintain a sufficient level of income through box office and sponsorship. This, when combined with continuing restraints on funding levels across the three tiers of government, as well as rapidly changing audience behaviour unfortunately means the organisation’s future has become unsustainable.”

In an interview with The Australian, Deckchair’s artistic director Chris Bendall was reported to be “devastated”:

“Of course we are all hugely disappointed by the situation, but I know that we have done everything within our limited resources to further consolidate Deckchair’s proud history in producing outstanding contemporary Australian theatre.”

The decision to wind up the company will no doubt re-ignite the debate about the level of funding available to smaller cultural organisations. Deckchair’s 2010 annual report, the most recent publicly available, showed a company operating on a shoestring, with a razor-thin $11,889 surplus on revenue of only $880,651. Grant income made up more than 65% of Deckchair’s income, with box office and philanthropy accounting for less than $300,000.

In recent years, Deckchair had fallen out of favour at the Australia Council. The company was defunded in 2007 and again failed to win so-called “key organisation” funding from the theatre board this year. The West Australian reported yesterday: “Deckchair’s demise will surprise few in the Perth arts scene.

“While the company enjoyed a golden age in the early 1990s, winning plaudits and audiences for such populist community-based shows as Emma, for much of the past decade it has struggled financially and artistically,” journalist Mark Naglazas commented.