The accessibility at the Athenæum won’t win any awards but the shows in their program might. This historic Melbourne theatre holds events by the Wheeler Centre and The School of Life along with musical and theatre productions. Also, around April each year, it’s one of the places you can check out the Melbourne Comedy Festival.
A statute of the Greek god Athene stands on the building façade, proudly looking across Collins Street at the Regent Theatre. Athenæum translates to ‘reading room or club room’ and appropriately there’s a member’s library above the theatre.
The main theatre is decorated relatively modestly but it’s not without character. There’s delicate plasterwork, wooden panelling, oyster ceiling lights and patterned burgundy carpet. Plus, there are red velvet fold down seats from an unknown era.
Getting there & getting inside
This end of Collins Street is notoriously steep (see the photo below). The best way to get to the theatre unaided is by rolling down from Russell Street or simply be dropped off near the front. There is also an accessible tram stop nearby (Stop 7 Collins Street, Trams 11, 12, 48, 109).
There are four double doors opening out to Collins Street and access is through the right-most set. A low marble step has been adapted to make for flat access. We’ve noticed at busy events a queue of attendees can run out this door. Patrons in this line are usually waiting for access to the upper levels via the staircase. It’s worth excusing your way through the crowd as the wheelchair allocated seating is in the lower stalls.
To the left past the stairs you’ll find the ground floor bar for snacks and drinks. Be mindful with your choice of refreshment - the carpet and incline can be heavy going. At some events, there are merchandise stalls lining the left wall. Countless books must have been signed around there. A lonely grand piano sat in the foyer too when we visited.
Wheelchair users will generally be seated in the stalls on the left of the ground floor seating. There is an incline up through a double door entry. A light incline on the other side of the entry will bring you quickly to the wheelchair allocated spaces. They’re at the back with companion seating nearby. Avoid leaving the seating area during a production of you can, the doors are heavy and it can be difficult without staff/companion assistance. The accessible toilets are just outside the double-doors.
We’ve seen two very memorable talks at the Athenæum; The Wheeler Centre gala and a session on happiness by The School Of Life. Both events captivated us with riveting speaker and original ideas that stayed long after we left the stalls.
(Theatre 2 is upstairs and evidently there is a lift - described as ‘historic’ - giving access to the 175-year-old reading room and members Library)
Step-free entry / Accessible Toilets (GR) / Slope into allocated seating (back row)
Good: Atmospheric and historic
Not so: Incline into theatre & back row seating
188 Collins St
(03) 9650 1500