Like many senior FM practitioners, Michael McCabe came to the profession by accident. Since 1985, he’s worked at one of South Australia’s most iconic buildings, the Adelaide Festival Centre, moving through the ranks to his current role as director of Venue Operations.
“Honestly, facility management was something I fell into, but I’m certainly not unhappy about that because I really enjoy it,” he laughs. “Is it a career? I think it is; while I don’t have any formal training in FM, I know a lot of people I work and associate with in the industry that do.
“I progressed through the ranks here, starting as a sound technician and then production coordination, looking after shows, then into production management. As personnel changed, my roles changed; I was certainly interested in pursuing a career with the Festival Centre.”
McCabe’s role is wide ranging – looking after everything from building security and cleaning, to technical matters and front of house. “The facilities team here consists of 13 people, plus contractors of course. The technical team is about 20 permanent staff at the moment and then a casual team of around 120. Then there are three in the front of house team with another 50 to 60 casuals.
“The director role is a big challenge. While I rely on the expertise around me, ultimately I have to be the decision-maker in many of the things we’re doing. It’s certainly provided me with the biggest learning curve to date.
McCabe says the Festival Centre team has a slightly unusual relationship with the building. “It’s a little tricky – we’re a tenant in a government-owned building that is managed through Arts South Australia. Everything we do is under the auspices of a state government agency.
“At the moment we’re undergoing a major redevelopment and I’m really enjoying the challenges of my role – the building is not as technically sound as it needs to be. We’re been given $11 million to bring the theatre
into the 21st century from a technical point of view – new wiring, power and infrastructure to run the systems our stagers need. The process of having all that finalised for tender is happening now.”
The Adelaide Festival Centre is acknowledged as one of Australia’s first multipurpose arts facilities. Built in 1973, it regularly features in South Australian tourism campaigns. The theatre upgrade is just part of a $90 million building redevelopment.
“It’s a landmark and state Heritage-listed,” McCabe says. “But it’s a building that came with issues – I think it’s leaked since the day it was built and perhaps hasn’t had the love and care it deserves over its lifespan.”
McCabe says the redevelopment will need to address concrete degradation, the building fabric and water leaks (particularly in the now- closed car park).
“It really is a source of pride to work in a venue like this, but the real joy is the people working here and the people who have come through here. The arts is a fantastic industry to work in. I’ve seen and worked with some amazing people and they’ve been supported by amazing crews – the tech people, front of house, support staff, the catering teams – they all care.
“That’s the thing that’s kept me here – that old-fashioned attitude that when the curtain goes up, it’s important that we make sure it’s going to be right on the night, to put on the show.
“Things are going to be very interesting here over the next three to five years. We’ve got three major projects on the go at the moment, including a $35 million upgrade to Her Majesty’s Theatre, which is also part of our remit. Planning for that has just started. We did some work recently there to seating, disability access, air-con, electrical and fire safety issues. It may not sound sexy, but we were able to achieve a lot in a very short period of time, getting back online when we said we would, and that was a great feeling.
“There are no boring days here. I didn’t really appreciate when I got into facility management what was going to happen and what the role would give me.”
This article also appears in the April/May issue of Facility Management magazine.