Brisbane Theatre History - Queensland theatre History focussed on Brisbane live entertainment venues

BRISBANE THEATRE HISTORY SUMMARY

Table of Contents

Since colonial times, Queensland cultural facilities, venues and events have benefited from state and local government support. The first buildings for performance were erected in Brisbane well before the First World War.

Until the 1860s, concerts, theatrical performances, ballet and opera in Brisbane were staged principally in the School of Arts building in 1849/1851.  The first purpose-built venue was the Victoria Theatre on Elizabeth Street, which opened in 1865. The theatre was successful and was entirely rebuilt in 1881 to increase the seating capacity to 1,350 and renamed the Theatre Royal. In the same year the old School of Arts was remodelled as the Gaiety Hall.

The most significant advancement came with the construction in 1888 of Her Imperial Majesty’s Opera House (later known as Her Majesty’s Theatre). The theatre was lit with electricity and seated 2,700 people.  Her Majesty’s Theatre became the principal venue for major performances in Brisbane for opera, musicals and ballet for almost a century.

Other buildings erected or adapted for performance spaces in the late 19th century and early 20th century included Albert Hall (1881 and 1901), Centennial Hall (1888), Princess Theatre (1888), Cremorne Theatre (1911), Empire Theatre (1911), Bohemia Theatre (1912) and Tivoli Theatre (1914).

The 1920’s were a boom period for the cinema industry, with many cinemas being constructed.  Brisbanites visiting simple, less glamorous, cinema buildings in the suburbs was a commonplace event, yet the grander picture palaces in the downtown became a special event.  Yet all cinemas generally continued the practice of inclusion of variety, vaudeville or live music accompanying the film programming.

Between the wars, other cultural initiatives included the formation of the Brisbane Repertory Theatre Company (in 1925, becoming La Boîte in 1967), the Twelfth Night Theatre Company in 1936, and the Ballet Theatre of Queensland in 1937.

During World War Two, several significant government supported initiatives included the Queensland State String Quartet from 1944, and the Brisbane City Council public concert programs from 1941, both of which had a strong presence in the Brisbane City Hall which opened in 1930.

Queen Street in the 1950sNew post-war cultural organisations included the Queensland Symphony Orchestra in 1947, Brisbane Opera Company in 1948 (which did not have a long life, and was not connected to the later formation of the Queensland Opera Company as an offshoot of the Queensland Arts Council in 1970), and the Queensland Conservatorium of Music in 1957.

Queensland’s first fully professional ballet company, The Queensland Ballet, was formed in 1960 as a private initiative of Charles Lisner, eventually becoming state funded in 1968.

In 1961 the annual Warana Festival began.

In 1967 Brisbane’s La Boîte Theatre in Hale Street Milton was one of the few early venues (in a converted cottage) which opted for a permanent in-the-round setting, in fact, the first in Australia.

The SGIO Theatre was built in 1969. The formation of the Queensland Theatre Company occurred at the same time, and for nearly 30 years, used the SGIO Theatre.

The Twelfth Night Theatre was built in 1971.  A new purpose built La Boîte Theatre replaced the old cottage theatre in 1972.

By the early 1970s, the standard of major facilities for the performing arts in Brisbane was lagging behind contemporary venues elsewhere. The need for a new major performing arts centre in Queensland became more urgent in 1973 with the sale of Her Majesty’s Theatre. The new owners, the AMP Society, intended to demolish the building and redevelop the site.

The imminent demise of Her Majesty’s Theatre became a key consideration in the decision by the Queensland Government in November 1974 to announce the development of a Cultural Complex incorporating a Centre for the Performing Arts at South Brisbane. The Cabinet submission noted that, with ‘Her Majesty’s Theatre closing, Brisbane will be really deficient in this area’.

The Joh Bjelke-Petersen government was responsible for allowing the demolition of Her Majesty’s Theatre (1983), and the Theatre Royal (1987).

A number of new cultural organisations were born in the ’80s… The Lyric Opera of Queensland as a replacement for the Queensland Opera Company (1981 – the first season was in 1982), Dance North (1985), and Rock’n’Roll Circus (1986, renamed Circa in 2004).

The Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC) broke ground in 1976 and opened on 20 April 1985. The road to its development was long.

On August 31, 1997 the Queensland Theatre Company production of The Marriage of Figaro opened the new 850 seat South Bank Playhouse (then called “Optus Playhouse“) built within the Queensland Performing Arts Centre complex incorporating a proscenium & orchestra pit.

Established by the Brisbane City Council in 2000, The Brisbane Powerhouse emerged from a repurposed industrial space with a variety of flexible spaces focussed on independent groups and companies creating theatre, dance, music, film and visual art.  Its primary Powerhouse Theatre seats about 500.

The Judith Wright Arts Centre (aka The Judy) was renovated and re-opened as an arts centre in October 2001.  The venue includes performance spaces with 3 rehearsal studios for dance, theatre and music. The main 300 seat performance space is a flexible “black box” theatre.

In October 2018, Queensland Theatre moved into its own purpose built premises at 78 Montague Road including the Bille Brown Theatre (351-seat) and the Diane Cilento Studio (228 seat)  after a $5.5 million renovation converting from the former 228-seat Bille Brown Studio.

An upgrade to the Queensland Performing Arts Centre with a new grand theatre was announced in May 2018, targeted for completion in 2022, will become QPAC’s fifth theatre and making the Queensland Performing Arts Centre the largest performing arts centre in Australia.

In chronological order, I provide my research, some of which stems from my final year school drama essay from 1979, supplemented with later research in 2005-2007, updated with Queensland Theatre Company and TN! Theatre Company colleagues recollections from our Facebook groups, on the history of largely demolishing Brisbane live entertainment venues…. (Her Majesties, Cloudland and the SGIO Theatre are at the top of my sadness list).  A few escaped the wrecking ball, and in the past couple of decades, the city seems to have done a 180º…  I only including cinemas that also hosted theatrical live entertainment.  a perpetual work in progress

DEMOLISHED

School of Arts (1851-1884)

Brisbane Theatre History School Of The Arts 1877The School of Arts (corner of Queen and Creek Streets) was Brisbanes first institution established to cater for the cultural needs of the developing colony when in 1849 meetings were held in the North Brisbane Court House. It opened in 1851 and was also occasionally used by touring and local live entertainment.

The School of Arts, was never referred to as a theatre even in its day yet was one of the earliest buildings used for public performances. The Brisbane Amateur Minstrels were based there, and visiting minstrel shows were popular.

The Queen Street front of the building included four shops and two offices and was the main entrance to the hall. The hall could house between 800 and 1000 patrons.

The supposed revenue to come from the shops at the front of the building was not forthcoming during an economic depression at the time and they remained empty and the hall was not popular. The financial woes of the organisation led to the sale of the site in 1872 to the Queensland National Bank (now National Australia Bank).

Membership dropped severely during the Depression.

In 1881, the School of Arts then moved to an Adelaide Street site with a new venue called Albert Hall.

Now known as The Old School of Arts (Queen and Creek Streets) remained available for hire until demolished in 1884 to make way for the Queensland National Bank’s new premises.

DEMOLISHED

Masons Concert Hall (1865-1880)

Masons Concert Hall (80 Elizabeth Street) opened on 25 January 1865. George B. Mason, who has since been credited with introducing the first regular theatrical performances to Brisbane, built the theatre which was close to, and subsequently adjoining, the Victoria Hotel where he was the lessee. Mason had previously been the proprietor of a music shop in Queen Street, he was also a teacher of music, and he was responsible for promoting some public concerts .

This was likely Brisbane’s first purpose-built theatre.  The audience sat on benches with backs that were tiered gradually to allow patrons unobstructed sightlines from the rear of the auditorium. By having no pit or gallery, the hall could be used for dance balls on the flat floor.

From 1865 to 1880, the theatre was perpetually being renovated and renamed. It was variously Masons Concert Hall, Masons Theatre, the Victoria Theatre in 1865, the Royal Victoria Theatre in 1867, and renamed the Queensland Theatre on 21 April 1874, before it was demolished by James Thynne in 1880 who entirely rebuilt the theatre as the Theatre Royal.

DESTROYED BY FIRE

Exhibition Building [1] (1875-1888)

In 1875 land was leased as an exhibition ground to the Queensland National Agricultural and Industrial Association. Brisbane’s first Exhibition Building was opened at the junction of Gregory Terrace and Bowen Bridge Road on 22 August 1876.  When the timber building was destroyed by fire in June 1888, a competition was immediately organised to design a more permanent Exhibition Building on the same site.

RE-PURPOSED

School of Arts [2] (opened 1878)

Brisbane Theatre History School of the Arts Ann StThe School of Arts purchased the Servants Home (a clearing house and hostel for new domestic servants built in 1866) on Ann Street in 1873, and leased out the property while the The School of Arts rented the Queen and Creek Street building from the Queensland National Bank until May 1878 when they finally moved into the Ann Street building.

Membership dropped severely during the Depression. No professional variety or theatrical companies have yet been identified as using the The School of Arts Ann Street premises.

In 1881, the School of Arts then moved to an Adelaide Street site with a new venue called Albert Hall.

The School of Arts Ann Street building operated under its auspices until taken over by the Brisbane City Council in 1965 and now used as a council library.

DEMOLISHED

Theatre Royal (1881-1987)

Brisbane Theatre History Theatre Royal Brisbane 1891The Theatre Royal (80 Elizabeth Street) had the distinction of standing on the site of the first official theatre in Brisbane and so is integrally linked with Brisbanes earliest theatrical history.

Built as a replacement for Mason’s Concert Hall, the Theatre Royal opened on 18 April 1881 on the site of Masons Concert Hall, Masons TheatreVictoria TheatreRoyal Victoria Theatre and Queensland Theatre with a seating capacity of 1,350. The Dress Circle held 350, the Stalls held 250, and the Orchestra level accommodated 750. A private refreshment room was provided for the patrons of the dress circle and a smoking room was at the front of the theatre “so that every bored playgoer can lounge away the acts in comfort”.

The inaugural show was farcical comedy “Our Girls”.

Brisbane Theatre History Royal 1881 Faust advertismentThe press praised the elegance of the interior design of the new theatre despite its modest exterior. The golden Corinthian columns of the proscenium were particularly liked. People were critical however, of the shape of the Dress Circle which was too much of a horse-shoe shape, somewhat obscuring sight-lines to the stage for those sitting at the side.

Brennans Amphitheatres Ltd. had control of the Theatre Royal at this time, and renovated in 1911 to install electric lighting, re-painted the interior, and improved seating and ventilation, including the installation of a sliding roof, enhancing the audience comfort.

The theatre had largely cosmetic renovations again in late 1940 and re-opened early in 1941.

The Theatre Royal was commandeered by the US Army for entertainment during WWII from 1942 and was only used for a small number of Revues for US servicemen.

At the end of the war, the theatre has been transformed back to a functioning theatre, yet intimate theatre, with modern furnishings and comfortable chairs.

Few other changes were made to the theatre before its closure on 19 December 1959

It was sold in 1960 and was used by a variety of groups like the Queensland Symphony Orchestra and the Queensland Theatre Company.

It finished its life in the 1980s as a nightclub called Swizzles before being totally demolished to make way for the Myer Centre in 1987.

DEMOLISHED

Albert Hall [1] (1881-1909)

The Mayor of Brisbane, Richard Southall and his son-in-law built the first Albert Hall (Adelaide Street between Edward and Albert Streets) which opened on 20 September 1881. Albert Hall with a seating capacity of 1,000, possessed excellent acoustic properties, and was well suited for concerts and theatrical performances.

Many performances were held in the Albert Hall in the days when the performers were not named in the programmes. Amateurs did not get personal publicity.

In 1884 the building was remodelled to include a larger stage and renamed the Academy of Music.

Two years later in 1886 it was again renovated and renamed the Gaiety Theatre aka Liddy’s Gaiety Theatre. Entertainments staged in theatre between 1886 and 1899 included those by the Taylor-Carrington Company (Harrry Taylor and Ella Carrington), Wilson Forbes Dramatic Company, Hamilton’s Dramatic Company, the Great Pantomime Company, and the Gaiety Pantomime Company.

During the time as the Gaiety Theatre, famous variety and vaudeville stars would perform, eventually turning it into a vaudeville house.  In 1888, the theatre presented various minstrel shows, all with white men, and most American.  The minstrels shows were so successful, that it’s promoter took over theatre management.

However, the mistrals were short lived, and the Gaiety Theatre was converted again to a parcels Post Office in 1899 and was demolished it in 1909 to make way for extensions to a retail shop.

DEMOLISHED

Her Majesty’s Theatre (1888-1983)

Brisbane Theatre History Her Majestys Theatre in 1890Her Majesty’s Theatre originally opened on 2 April 1888 as Her Imperial Majesty’s Opera House (193 Queen Street between Albert and Edwards Streets) with a seating capacity of 2,250.

It changed its name after the death of Queen Victoria to His Majesty’s Theatre on 23 March 1901, a name which it kept throughout the reign of the 3 Kings and even through some of Queen Elizabeths reign, eventually being renamed Her Majesty’s Theatre.

Sometimes referred to as the Brisbane Opera House, and affectionately known as “Her Maj“.

Her Majesty’s Theatre earned the distinction of being the first in Brisbane to present an attractive faade as well as interior. Her Majesty’s Theatre was the theatre for the socially elite in Brisbane with a standard dress code for audiences of formal evening attire.

A hotel was also included within the basic design of the building. The main entrance to the theatre was between two shops. The ceiling of the auditorium was decorated with an intricate design of cornices. The orchestra level seating housed almost 700 people and the stalls could fit 550. A further 400 people could sit in the Dress Circle which was accessed by its own entrance and staircase, while another stair case could access the Family Circle for 600 people.

Brisbane Theatre History Her MajestiesIn 1928 extensive renovation of His Majesty’s Theatre took place which on reopening in 1929 now had a seating capacity of 1,387. This refurbishment also included the removal of the separate gallery and dress circle and the installation of a new combined dress circle.

Further cosmetic renovations occurred in 1941.

His Majesty’s Theatre was the largest theatre in Brisbane and it hosted most of the productions by professional touring companies throughout its 95 year history;

J.C. Williamsons company held the lease on the theatre for more than 80 years. Her Majesty’s Theatre was sold to the A.M.P. Society for $3 million in 1973.

Some of the final shows at Her Majesty’s Theatre included the Queensland Theatre Company production of the musical ANNIE from Nov/Dec 1981, the Lyric Opera of Queensland production of Il Trovatore starring Rita Hunter in September 1982, The Rocky Horror Show starring Stuart Wagstaff in October 1982 with a final production of JC Williamson’s production of EVITA in October 1983.

Despite community protest, the Kern Corporation demolished it on 23 October 1983 and the Hilton Hotel and Wintergarden Shopping Centre were built on the site. The Kern Corporation caused a Union ban on construction at the site because, despite assurances that the facade of the colonial theatre would be kept as part of the new building, the entire building was destroyed.

DEMOLISHED

Centennial Hall (1888-1950)

Centennial Hall (Adelaide Street between Albert and Edward Streets) opened in 1888 and was used as a skating rink. It had a flat auditorium floor making the venue suitable for dances and balls as well as seating 700 people; a further 300 could be accommodated in the gallery. The Brisbane Liedertafel used it a music venue in the 1890s.

In 1906 was turned into Wests Olympia which was a bioscope theatre which ran until 1910. From 1940 to 1941 it was known as the Comedy Theatre where, after initially presenting comic plays it became a weekly-change vaudeville venue. In wartime it became the Cocoanut Grove Ballroom.

Fire damaged the building in April 1942 and dances were suspended.

In 1946 it became a dinner theatre called the Guild Cafe Theatre until closing in 1950.

Princess Theatre (opened 1888)

Brisbane Theatre History Princess Theatre WoolloongabbaThe Princess Theatre (8 Annerley Road, Woolloongabba). Built in 1888, Queensland’s oldest-standing theatre, a heritage-listed building, and is Brisbanes only surviving colonial theatre. When it opened on 6 April 1889, the theatre was known as the South Brisbane Public Hall. It had many name changes including the Boggo Road Hall, the New Theatre Royal, and the Boggo Road Theatre, before being named the Princess Theatre in 1894 after the owner sold the property to his father (and former Mayor).

The design made it appropriate for musical and theatrical performances as well as for special events. Six dressing rooms were situated under the stage. The stage, was larger than either the Gaiety Theatre or the Theatre Royal, was fitted with fly gallery. The auditorium had a seating capacity of 700.

In 1899 the Princess was sold to Thomas Finney who turned it into a clothing factory; Finney, however, did allow the Princess to be used for sporadic performances.

John Burke Dent took control of the theatre in 1912 and this marked the beginning of the Princess life as a picture theatre; being wired for sound in the late 1920s. Some of Brisbanes burgeoning little theatre companies performed in the Princess during the 1930s.

The Entertainment Unit of the American Armed Forces took possession of the Princess during World War II and used it for rehearsals.

After the war many different community groups used the Princess for various performances. The last live performance at the Princess took place in 1948 with the theatre being used for a variety of non-theatre related purposes until the mid 1980s; at different times it was a paper warehouse, a bookbindery, the base for an engineering firm, and a second-hand furniture shop.

In 1985 the property was acquired by REMM Group Ltd, who carried out external restoration, and offered TN! Theatre Company a ten year lease from 1986. Internal restoration and refitting was carried out by TN! and it became the home of TN! Theatre Company until the company folded in 1991.

The theatre was sold in 1992 for $451,000.

The theatre became a venue for music and community theatre. Rock and Roll Circus moved in. Then, in 1999 when it became apparent that the Princess was in grave danger of being developed into a medical centre, the Community Princess Revival Association was formed to take management control for the theatre in early 1999.

The Lifecity Church took over the building for church services in February 2001, and purchased the building in 2003.

In recent years the Princess Theatre has experienced an extensive refurbishment, and is now a rental venue with a seating capacity of between 320 and 400.

In 2020 it was listed for sale.

Princess Theatre WolloongabbaIn April 2021, the owners announced the purchase and revitalisation of the 133-year-old Princess Theatre.   Helmed by brothers Steve Sleswick and Dave Sleswick (owners of The Tivoli), alongside Brisbane businessman Steve Wilson, announced that it will reopen in August 2021 with a program of world-class music and live arts. The restored heritage building will have a standing capacity of 900, a seated capacity of 500 and an array of private event spaces featuring 4 bars, a public café, private event spaces, a rehearsal room, a co-working creative office and workshop space, and an outdoor courtyard. The Princess will also give a permanent home and workshop space to one of Queensland’s premier independent arts organisations – visual theatre company Dead Puppet Society.

RE-DEVELOPED

Albion Public Hall (1888-2014)

Brisbane Theatre History Albion Public HallThe Albion Public Hall (344 Sandgate Road) opened on 9 May 1888 and was used as a multi-function space for meetings and events, but also used for live theatrical shows such as drama, vaudeville and minstrel shows as well as used as a dance hall.

In 1918, it was converted into a permanent cinema known as the Empire Picture Theatre, yet still continued to be used for other purposes when required.

It became the Capitol Theatre in 1934, and operated until 1968.

In 2014, the building was entirely redeveloped as a shopping mall.

RE-PURPOSED

Exhibition Building [2] (opened 1891)

Brisbane Theatre History Exhibition BuildingFinancial difficulties and the possibility of importing a prefabricated building from England delayed the construction of the new Exhibition Building until 1890. The passing of government act in 1890 legally allowed the National Association to become owners of the land they occupied and also empowered them to borrow money from the Government to erect its new building. The foundation stone was laid on 25 April 1891

The newly re-built Exhibition Building, also known as the Exhibition Concert Hall (480 Gregory Terrace) opened in August 1891. Estimated to cost around £20 000 for a T-shaped building, accommodating an exhibition hall, concert hall and basement dining room.  It became a substantial musical venue in 1891 owned by the Queensland National Agricultural & Industrial Association.  This imposing building was built primarily to hold exhibitions, concerts and large scale musical entertainments.  The concert hall accommodated 2,800 people and had a gallery on three sides, and included a pipe organ.

The building was built of brick with a corrugated iron roof. The Exhibition Concert Hall occupied the shaft section of the T shaped building with the Exhibition Hall located at the top. On the northern side of the Exhibition Hall was a colonnaded verandah, with access to the hall through french doors. Half the area beneath the Exhibition Hall was a large open dining room with an adjacent kitchen. Both the Exhibition Hall and the Exhibition Concert Hall had projecting porte cocheres. The main entrance was on Bowen Bridge Road with the carriage drive running in front of the Concert Hall porte cochere, around into the porte cochere of the Exhibition Hall then curving out to the gate on Gregory Terrace.

In 1897 the responsibility of repaying the government loan, combined with the depressed economic conditions of the 1890s, caused the Association to go into liquidation and the government to take over ownership of the building. The concert hall continued to be used for its original purpose.

In 1900 the Brisbane City Council, following the purchase of the Exhibition Concert Hall’s purpose built organ, leased the hall from the Government and organised a program of regular concerts and civic functions.

At the same time, the Queensland Museum decided to move to and adapt the Exhibition Hall for a museum, after twenty years in a comparatively smaller purpose built building in William Street. Tenders for altering the Exhibition Hall into a museum were called in March 1899 and involved the construction of a gallery within the main hall, addition of a line of windows in the main northern wall to light the new gallery and modifications to the basement dining room to provide offices, preparation and storage spaces.

In 1930, following the opening of its City Hall auditorium, the Brisbane City Council vacated the Exhibition Concert Hall and the space was converted to an art gallery. The City Hall became the main concert venue in Brisbane.

In 1974 the Queensland Museum then expanded into the space and remained in the building until 1987 when they moved to the South Bank precinct.

It was State Heritage listed on 21 October 1992 and has been the temporary home of the Queensland Youth Orchestra, the Restaurant and Caterers Association and various other short term activities. Only minor changes have been made to the building to accommodate these uses.

DESTROYED BY FIRE

Cremorne Theatre (1911-1954)

Brisbane Theatre History CremorneThe Cremorne Theatre (on the South Bank) an open-air venue, opened in August 1911, and had a seating capacity of 1,800. There was a ceiling above the stage area which was lit by electric lights. The floor of the auditorium was covered in bark and seats were arranged in a semi-circle around the stage. It was little more than a huge timber and iron barn, but lacked protection from the weather.

Ongoing early renovations were undertaken in an attempt to help the theatre better stand up to Brisbanes summer rain. In 1916, Cremorne was fitted with waterproof tarpaulin operated by a system of ropes & pulleys, with side screens making it essentially a large canvas hall. They also installed a large gutter which was designed to drain all the water from the overhead awnings, keeping the floor dry. When the system worked, it gave protection from rain, wind and cold. Later, the theatre eventually gained a proper roof.

In 1934 the Cremorne was leased to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for 2 years from 1934 to 1936 and was renovated by adding a sound system and halving the width of the auditorium by adding false walls. This reduced the seating capacity of the theatre to 1,300 but also effectively improved the acoustics and the ventilation.

Vaudeville took the stage at the Cremorne in 1940 and after another renovation, managed to dominate the professional theatre scene in Brisbane for another decade. The popular appeal of vaudeville declined after World War II. Ceasing to operate as a vaudeville venue in 1949, the space was used by amateur groups such as the Musical and Theatre Guild of Queensland for a couple of years.

Brisbane Theatre History Cremorne FireIn 1952, the Cremorne was sold to major film distributor Universal-International Pictures and then converted into offices.

The building was destroyed by fire on 18 February 1954, the cause was the combustion of the inflammable film. An estimated 40,000 Brisbane residents stood and watched the fire destroying the building.

DEMOLISHED

Albert Hall [2] (1901-1969)

Brisbane Theatre History Albert Hall MethodistsThe second Albert Hall opened in 1901 (Albert Street between Ann and Turbot Streets). The main function hall had a seating capacity of 450. The medium-sized Albert Hall was a popular concert venue used by local musical groups, magic shows, cooking demonstrations and choral groups as well as visiting performers and university drama societies.

The second level housed the offices of the Central Methodist Mission. During the depression Albert Hall served as a soup kitchen.

After it was renovated in 1940 with a new design removing the floor and making it into a large space to allow for 720 seats, it became a popular venue for various local companies including Twelfth Night Theatre Co., Brisbane Arts Theatre, Brisbane Repertory Theatre Society, Brisbane Opera Society and Musica Viva.

During the 1940s and ’50s, there were up to 100 events held there a year, so it was a very busy hall.

The final performance held in Albert Hall was a Gala Revue on 28 April 1969.

The Queensland Government purchased the site in 1969 from the Methodist Church and demolished it to make way for the new S.G.I.O. offices and the new S.G.I.O. Theatre.

DEMOLISHED

Tivoli Gardens Theatre (1907-1908)

Brisbane Theatre History Tivoli Gardens Theatre AdThree theatre locations for a purpose built moveable 1,000 seat theatrical venue in three months.  The busiest and shortest lifespan of any venue perhaps.

Tivoli Gardens Theatre #1 (1907-1907)

Opened in 1907, the first Tivoli Gardens Theatre (on Hamilton Road, between Hunt and Cooksley Streets) was a tent that could hold 1,000 patrons in a raised configuration with it’s own stage and dressing rooms, erected on 4 acres of land at the Breakfast Creek-end of Hamilton Road (now Sir Kingsford Smith Drive). It was a popular,  open-air theatre famous for its Vaudevillian acts. Miss Bella Sutherland, a famous performer on the vaudevillian circuit famous for her singing both in Australia and internationally, established the theatre.

Equipped with a large stage, acetylene lighting (a form of gas lighting) and decoratively painted scenery. At the time, it was said “the appointments are right up to date, the seating accommodation is splendid, and the scenery and other effects are above the ordinary”.

The Tivoli Gardens Theatre shows proved to be popular with Brisbane residents, who made the trip along the riverfront to Hamilton by tram.

Outside the theatre in a garden, tables and seats were provided for pre and post show refreshments accompanied by a brass band.  To add to the fun, a kinetoscope, the precursor to cinema, could be viewed in the garden. This was a small timber cabinet where a series of images were conveyed over a light, creating an impression of movement. The ‘moving picture’ was viewed through a small window at the top of the cabinet.

Tivoli Theatre #2 (1907-1907)

Two weeks later on April 15, Sutherland relocated the Tivoli Theatre Under Canvas tent to a vacant block of land near the city’s Botanical Gardens. It is identified as being next to the Metropolitan Hotel in Edward Street, on the south side of Hamilton Road, and the new location allowed for lower ticket prices.

Tivoli Theatre #3 (1907-1908)

On April 23, she transported the venue across the street to the north side of Hamilton Road, between Racecourse Road and Allen Street.

Brisbane Theatre History Tivoli Gardens Theatre Ad for SaleBy the 22nd of May 1907, the Tivoli Gardens Theatre closed down likely due to the cold weather. It appears that Sutherland decided not to reopen for summer and on February 8, 1908 put the premises up for sale by auction, described as a new stage building about 30ft 30ft, of first class timber, with iron roof, along with 100 school forms, wooden galley, drops and scenery, 1,000 ft of barbed wire, 10 marbles tables with iron frames, various tassels, seats, signboards, glass showcases, closets, urinals and a complete acetylene gas plant with piping, lamps and burners for 36 stage lights.

DEMOLISHED

Brisbane Festival Hall (1910-2003)

Brisbane Theatre History Festival Hall 1959Brisbane Festival Hall (Albert Street and Charlotte Street) was an indoor arena originally known as Brisbane Stadium, built in 1910 as a boxing stadium, but as the popularity of boxing and wrestling waned after the introduction of TV, it began to be used more often as a venue for concerts and theatrical presentations.

Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole and Johnnie Ray played there in the 1950s.

In 1958, the venue was demolished and a new building constructed in a postwar modern style, similar to its namesake, the Royal Festival Hall in London, as part of the Centenary of Queensland.

It opened on 27 April 1959 and named Festival Hall with a capacity of 4,000 people, it was the largest indoor public venue for more than forty years.

Brisbane Festival Hall Entertainment Centre 1959

On 28 June 1964, The Beatles played the first of four concerts at the venue.

Boxing events for the 1982 Commonwealth Games were held at Festival Hall.

Some early performances were done by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and the Bolshoi Ballet.

Brisbane theatre History Festvial Hall exteriorFestival Hall hosted performances for virtually every major tour by visiting overseas artists. The Eagles, Pink Floyd, Rick Wakeman, Ike & Tina Turner, Glenn Campbell, Little Richard, The Bee Gees, Ray Charles, The Kinks, The Seekers, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Santana, Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, Fleetwood Mac, AC/DC, Iron Maiden, The Ramones, Bob Marley & the Wailers, Phil Collins, INXS, Madness, The Cure, Nirvana, U2, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ozzy Osbourne, Moby, Björk, Sex Pistols, Massive Attack, Radiohead, Beck and Blondie.

The final concert held there, Michael Franti and Spearhead, took place on 9 August 2003, and the Festival Hall closed on 29 August 2003, and demolished to make way for an apartment development known as Festival Towers.

DEMOLISHED

Empire Theatre (1911-1986)

Brisbane Theatre History EmpireThe Empire Theatre (176 Albert Street between Queen and Elizabeth Streets) opened on 14 January 1911 as a purpose-built vaudeville house.

Considered one of the finest purpose-built vaudeville theatres in the southern hemisphere at the time of its opening.  Apparently there was not a seat which did not command a good view of the stage and the seating layout, size and spacing, allowed great convenience and comfort.

The most beautifully furnished part of the theatre was naturally second floor lounge balcony and dress circle. Ringed by portraits of well-known theatrical identities, this area included “a commodious ladies cloak room and a retiring room fixed with marble wash basins and accessories. Interestingly, the dress circle did not have steps, but rather a gently sloping floor.  Another feature of the theatre was a long balcony lounge that ran along one side of the dress circle.

In 1916, lessee Fullers Theatres renovated the Empire.  Fullers’ Theatres took full control of the theatre in January 1918. Within a short period of time the theatre became known as The Fullers’ Empire Theatre.

The Empire was converted into a movie theatre and renamed the St. James Theatre on 19 April 1930 to take advantage of the new “talkie” phenomenon.  Occasionally live revues would be staged until at least the end of WWII.

However, with its final renovation in 1965 it was again renamed becoming the Paris Picture Theatre (also known as the Paris Theatre) and it was exclusively used for cinema.

The Paris Theatre was demolished in 1986 and is now part of the Myer Centre.

DEMOLISHED

Bohemia Theatre (1912-1954)

Brisbane Theatre History Bohemia AdThe Bohemia Theatre (Stanley Street in South Brisbane) aka The Ritz, was built in 1912, where variety shows were presented frequently over the first decade of its existence. The Bohemia was also used for the staging of boxing and wrestling matches.

During the late 1920s Greater Brisbane Amusements held the lease on the Bohemia Theatre with a policy to keep the Bohemia closed so that it would not compete with the neighbouring Cremorne Theatre; therefore it was used primarily for meetings at this time.

The Brisbane Repertory Theatre Society occasionally held performance at the Bohemia in the early 1930s but the theatre had closed down by 1935.

The Bohemia Theatre then became known as the Bohemia Stadium in 1939 when it was used as the Saturday night venue for wrestling.  The last bouts appear to have taken place there in April 1940.

In 1947 it was taken over by the Brisbane City Council, and leased out for use as a depot and store before being demolished in 1954 to make way for a car park fronting Stanley and Grey streets.

DEMOLISHED

Palace Gardens (1912-1924)

Brisbane Theatre History Palace GardensThe Palace Gardens (corner of Ann St and North Quay), opened on 10 August 1912, with a seating capacity of 2,000. The management positioned it as the finest place of open air entertainment in the Commonwealth.

At various times the Palace became an open-air cinema, and presented drama and boxing.

The demand for open-air entertainment in Brisbane was higher than anywhere else in Australia due to tropical climate.  One of the benefits of the open-air venues was that audience members could smoke if they desired. The also maintained a roof garden for post-show suppers.

The managements of open-air theatres needed to gamble on the weather conditions for the success of their seasons.

The closure of the Palace Gardens was inevitable given that Brisbanes summers are usually wet.

The management decided to off-load the property and put it up for auction on 22 November, 1914. But that auction did not appear to have reached its reserved price because it was again put up for auction on 19 June, 1915. When it failed again to attract a buyer the management advertised a selection of items from the venue to be sold at auction, including light fittings, chairs, tarpaulins, ropes etc.

In March 1917 a third attempt to sell the property was made, with advertising pointing out its suitability as a theatre, fruit market, produce store, skating rink, residential flats or any wholesale business or factory. Several months later, on 1 August, 1915, the venue re-opened as a live theatre.

In about 1919, the Palace Gardens was given an iron roof in an attempt to overcome the obvious problems that beset open-air venues in Brisbane during its summer rainy season.

In January 1922, a venture by it’s lessee to fund a massive renovation failed, the theatre closed in 1924 and was subsequently demolished.

DEMOLISHED

Elite Picture Gardens (1913-1923)

Brisbane Theatre History Elite Picture Gardens adThe Elite Picture Gardens (on Dixon Street near Wooloowin Railway Station) situated in a largely residential area which initially caused much civic debate as to whether a license would be granted. The open-air venue’s big drawcard was its close proximity to Wooloowin railway station and its relatively short distance to the Lutwyche Road tramline.

Throughout its life it was known as The Elite Picture GardensElite PicturesElite Picture Pavilion and Elite Theatre.

Although few details regarding live entertainment, there is evidence available which suggests that live performances are believed to mostly involved Brisbane amateurs to appear as between films showings.

The Picture Gardens were also used for benefits and concerts, which often mixed together films, live performers and music – invariably performed by the house band (or “orchestra”).

In August 1914 the theatre was renovated and new seating installed.

In November 1919, a midnight fire in the Elite Picture Pavilion, as a result of arson by an 18 year old ex-employee (the pianist), destroyed the ticketing and management offices.

The business was acquired by Wooloowin Amusements Ltd, possibly in early 1923. The company soon afterwards demolished the building and erected the Royal Picture Theatre in its place.

DEMOLISHED

Tivoli Complex (1915-1965)

Brisbane Theatre History Tivoli Theatre BrisbaneIn 1914, construction began on the new Tivoli Theatre Complex (Albert Street: if it existed today it would stand opposite City Hall in King George Square), and opened on Saturday 15 May 1915 with a vaudeville “The Tivoli Follies

When it opened, the Tivoli was unique in Australia for combining two theatres in the one building; the design allowed for two separate companies to function autonomously with 2 distinct entrances for the audiences of the two separate theatres.. Throughout its early history, both venues were used for live performances as well as films.

Tivoli Theatre (1915-1965)

The Tivoli Theatre main auditorium had a seating capacity of 1,800 people over three levels while the Tivoli Roof Garden Theatre was built as an open-air venue holding 1,200 people.

Tivoli Roof Garden (1915-1965)

The Tivoli Roof Garden Theatre had open sides which were designed to let breezes cool the audience while specially designed steel shutters could protect the audience from rain and this allowed it to be promoted as the Coolest Theatre in Australasia. Another attraction of the Tivoli Roof Garden Theatre was that smoking was allowed

The motion picture company Union Theatres Ltd. renovated the Tivoli Theatre in 1927. The basic design principle was to sacrifice the stage for the inclusion of more seats. The two galleries were removed to make way for a single dress circle, effectively decreasing the seating capacity 1,400

More renovations to the foyer as well as the auditoriums took place in 1935.

The Tivoli building was purchased by the Brisbane City Council in 1963 and closed in 1965.

It was demolished when King George Square was constructed.

DEMOLISHED

Crystal Palace (1920-2000)

Brisbane Theatre History Crystal TheatreCrystal Palace (Lutwyche Road near the corner of Le Geyt Street) opened in 1920

Like many  cinemas prior to WWII, the Crystal Palace was a multi function theatre used for balls, dances, meetings, choirs, pantomime, plays, variety and clubs. It was also used by political parties, dance schools, local schools (during the 1920s and 1930s), and served as a polling booth.

The venue was known as the Windsor Picture Palace from 1920 to 1927, then (mostly) as the Crystal Palace until its closing.

Interestingly the Crystal Palace pioneered “the home of picture dancing,” with patrons offered a combination of film and dancing (together) on certain nights.

A fire broke out in the projection room on 12 February 1931 but was brought under control by the fire brigade but resulted in the loss of all the films currently held by the theatre.  In reporting the incident the Telegraph newspaper records that although the venue was crowded the patrons dispersed in a remarkably calm manner while the orchestra played a light fantasy.

From February until October 1938 it was known for one night each week as the Crystal Palace Dansant, where in addition to dancing, these evenings invariably included vaudeville and singing.

The venue appears to have operated exclusively as a cinema from 1940 onwards.

It closed down in 1999 and was demolished the following year.

DEMOLISHED

Royal Picture Theatre (1923-1933)

Brisbane Theatre History Royal WooloowinThe Royal Picture Theatre (on Dixon Street near Wooloowin Railway Station) opened for business in October 1923.  In addition to motion pictures, the 1,400 seat fully-enclosed theatre was designed with live entertainment (including dressing rooms) along with special provision for dances, skating and similar entertainments.

In September 1927, an explosion due to a short circuit in an arc light being adjusted occurred in the projector room of the theatre, and caused almost total blindness to the projectionist.

In 1929 application was made for a dance floor and other re-modelling was approved.

In 1930 two theatrical impresarios from north Queensland combined to take over the lease, yet most of their income came from “mixing silent pictures at depression prices and skating“.

Throughout its lifespan, it was known as The Royal Picture TheatreRoyal Pictures and Wooloowin Picture Theatre.

Although the theatre initially attracted audiences due to its close proximity to Wooloowin railway station and the nearby Lutwyche Road tramline, competition from an increasing number of other cinemas and the unfolding Great Depression saw the Royal eventually struggle.

On May 16, 1933, the Wooloowin Picture Theatre was auctioned, with all sets sold off, and soon after demolished.

DEMOLISHED

Wintergarden Theatre (1924-1981)

Brisbane Theatre History WintergardenThe Wintergarden Theatre (adjacent to His Majesty’s Theatre). Opened on 1st August 1924 with the film “Where the North Begins” starring Rin Tin Tin. It was designed by Melbourne based architectural firm Ballantyne & Hare in association with Hall & Prentice of Brisbane.

Billed as “More than a Theatre – a Revelation”,  the 2500-seat Wintergarden Theatre (1,500 in the stalls and 1,000 unusually large and ultra comfortable seats in the circle) had a proscenium 45ft wide and was equipped with the biggest theatre organ in Australia, a Wurlitzer (removed in 1937 and installed in the Plaza Theatre, Sydney).

Brisbane Theatre History Wintergarden Theatre PressIt had open sides and steel roller shutters to open at will and the most advanced and sophisticated lighting scheme ever introduced into a theatre at the time with over 10,000 light points, in red, amber and blue, all hidden between coves and reflected on the ceiling dome.   The Wintergarden Theatre had an orchestra of 20 performers, led by Haydn Beck, acknowledged as Australia’s foremost conductor, and previously from J.C. Williamsons Ltd.

The Wintergarden Theatre continued in use as a cinema until December 1973, when it was closed and the foyer was converted into retail use, and later a bank.

The auditorium was demolished in 1981, and later the remainder of the building was demolished to build the Winter Garden Centre on the site.

The Wintergarden Theatre was purchased in February 2003 by ISPT, a property investment company, to invest $100 million redevelopment in 2010 – 2012.

DEMOLISHED

Arcadia Theatre (1923-1952)

Brisbane Theatre History Arcadia TheatreThe Arcadia Theatre (corner of Racecourse Road and Kent Road) was a 3,000 seat semi-enclosed horseshoe-shaped theatre that opened in 1923.

Initially, a former vaudeville soprano active on the stage between ca. 1896 and 1916, known professionally as Eva Lee had acquired the old Elite Picture Gardens in 1923 with a plan to renovate the Elite Picture Gardens, but that was soon was scrapped in favour of erecting the Arcadia on a new site.

Eva Lee sold the business in 1929 and thereafter the Arcadia was owned and operated by several firms, each with a vested interest in combining films with live entertainment. A key innovation by the management was to engage a jazz band/orchestra to play music prior to the film programme. The musicians may also have provided musical entertainment during breaks and intermissions.

The Arcadia also played host to musical comedies, pantomime, radio broadcasts, community singing, local concerts and recitals, lectures, and political speeches and patriotic rallies.

In December 1929, the comedy farce “Charley’s Aunt” was presented by the producer of “The Merry Widow” and JC Williamson.

In 1931, the Arcadia was renovated including the full closure of the roof. An R.C.A. sound reproducing unit was also installed.

In 1935 a number of local businessmen came together to acquire the Arcadia and soon afterwards gave the building another renovation with provision of an emergency exit, neon awning and lighting upgrades, and with enlargements and upgrades to the stage and drapery to accommodate larger shows. It re-opened  in October 1935.  Over the next 14 years the Arcadia experimented with numerous ideas including community concert broadcasts (1935-1936) and recitals by local dance students.

Ascot Theatres Ltd was the last company to operate the Arcadia.

After it closed in 1949 the venue lay vacant until Savoy Theatres Ltd bought it in 1952.

The old building was then demolished and a new one erected in its place. This was known as the Ascot Theatre.

RE-PURPOSED

Rialto Theatre (1926-1995)

Brisbane Theatre History RialtoThe Rialto Picture Theatre (corner of Hardgrave Road and Skinner Street, West End) was built in 1926 for Garricks Entertainment Ltd. built on the site of an old grocery shop.  Also known as the Rialto Theatre or simply the Rialto. Grander in scale than most Brisbane suburban theatres, it was purpose built as a cinema but also used as a venue for live theatrical productions.

The Rialto has had a number of ‘regenerations’ as owners and managers have attempted to relaunch the theatre in various cultural directions. The Rialto has been the venue for vaudeville shows, pantomimes, music concerts, and film screenings.

During the 1940s & 50s it was also used as a radio studio.

The Musical and Theatre Guild of Queensland performed there from 1952 after the closure of the Cremorne Theatre.

Brisbane Theatre History Rialto Rocky Horror Show advertismentDuring the late 1950’s and 1960s, television caused a decline in Brisbane cinema audience numbers and so it was used more for live theatrical shows.  Notable productions were: MTC’s “Summer of the Seventeenth Doll” in 1956, the Gibb brothers appeared in “Jack and the Beanstalk” in 1960, and in 1978 it hosted “The Rocky Horror Show“.  Between live shows, The Rialto screened many Greek language films to meet the specific needs of the West End migrant community.

Nancy Weir purchased the theatre in 1983 and tried to revive the theatre with musical and variety productions, but it was sold again in 1987.

From its reopening in 1988 it continued to provide a venue for touring productions and community groups including: annual Gang Shows, The Phillipe Genty company, Roll Back the Years vaudeville shows, and Hinge and Brackett in “The Importance of Being Ernest“.

During this time it continued to screen films, however it ended its life as a theatre after a severe storm in 1995 when the building was unroofed during a double screening of Clockwork Orange and Pulp Fiction.

The Rialto was Local Heritage listed since 1 July 2002

The Rialto Theatre is no longer operational, and was adaptively reused as a location of a couple of restaurants.

DEMOLISHED

Regent Theatre (1929-2010)

Brisbane Theatre History Regent Theatre Brisbane ca. 1955Hoyts Theatres Ltd built The Regent Theatre (167 Queen Street while the main body of the theatre was on Elizabeth Street between Albert and Edward Streets) as a venue to accommodate live performances and motion pictures equally. Opened on 8 November 1929 with “Fox Movietone Follies of 1929” which included an evening line-up of ‘georgeous’ stage spectacles and music from classical to jazz was provided by the Regent Grand Concert Orchestra.

Approval to build a lavish Regent Theatre in Brisbane, which would accommodate all classes of theatrical entertainment from opera to vaudeville and films, was granted by the City Council in 1926, at a time when ‘picture palaces’ were gaining popularity

The Regent Theatre had a seating capacity of approximately 2,500 in two tiers. Highlights in the auditorium were an elliptical dome in the main ceiling, chandelier, ornate proscenium arch, stage curtains, boxes, candelabra and orchestra pit which held 25 musicians, and it had a Wurlitzer organ which could be raised and lowered via a hydraulic mechanism. The shops facing Elizabeth Street sat underneath the stage.

A new era in theatrical entertainment in Brisbane was ushered in last night when Hoyts Theatres Ltd. opened the doors of the Regent Theatre to more than 3,000 people“, reported The Telegraph newspaper on the official gala charity opening of the Regent Theatre.

Brisbane Theatre History Regent Theatre Program Opening NightUntil 1978 when renovations were made, the original auditorium existed which had a capacity for 2,583 with 1,400 in the stalls and 1,183 in the balcony.

The Regent, like other theatres of the time, offered a temporary escape from the harsh reality of life during the Depression. The theatre also showed newsreels, keeping audiences informed of current events, which was particularly important during WWII. The introduction of drive-in theatres from the mid 1950s and television from 1959 in Queensland were largely responsible for the decline in attendances at these large picture theatres. From the 1970s, cinema companies began constructing multiplexes to cater for smaller audience numbers watching a wider range of films.

The final performance in the original auditorium was on 29th July 1978 with a capacity audience attending a preview screening of “Thank God It’s Friday” plus selected film clips from 1929-1978.

Despite a ‘Save the Regent Campaign’, the auditorium was stripped of its fixtures and fittings in December 1978.

Workers began demolition on Saturday 9 December 1979. Newspaper reports indicate that seven or eight young men demolished the interior with sledge hammers, axes and chain saws. Plaster on the walls was broken up, the royal boxes destroyed, and seats either kicked in or thrown from the upper windows to the ground. The plaster decoration around the screen was destroyed although the ceiling remained intact on Monday 11 December.

After some delays during construction, the $5 million redevelopment opened on 2 August 1980, being known as the Hoyts Entertainment Centre.  A four-screen cinema complex with 1,978 seats was built, of which Cinema One was decorated similarly to the earlier theme. The original 1929-era front of house and main foyers in their Gothic style were retained as an entrance to the plain cinemas.

It was added to the Queensland Heritage Register on 21 October 1992

In February 2008, plans were put forward to close the Regent Theatre, retaining the heritage listed facade and main foyers which would become an entrance to a new office tower block, to be built on the site of the auditoriums.

Greater Union Event Theatres closed the Regent Theatre on 5th June 2010 with “Titanic”, “Casablanca” and “Sex in the City” and “Lord of the Rings” being the final films screened.

In November 2011, scaffold was erected on the front entrance to the building, in preparation for its demolition/conversion into the new office tower entrance. Demolition of the auditorium was completed in May 2012.

The site of the auditorium remains an empty ‘hole in the ground’ in 2015.

City Hall (opened 1930)

Brisbane Theatre History City HallThe construction of a new City Hall, completed in 1930, provided a new and more centrally located civic auditorium. The organ was relocated from the Exhibition Concert Hall, and the City Hall became the main concert venue in Brisbane.

The hall been used for royal receptions, pageants, orchestral concerts, civic greetings, flower shows, school graduations and political meetings.

The Concert Hall and was so vast that early performers dubbed it the ‘two acre paddock’. It is the largest single volume space in the building and its circular design with fluted pilasters around the perimeter is based on the Pantheon of Rome. The walls of the auditorium have large, fluted Corinthian pilasters, in keeping with the Corinthian columns on the front facade. A decorative frieze runs above the stage features a classically-inspired design of nymphs playing trumpets and cymbals.

In 2008, it was discovered that the building had severe structural problems.

After a three-year restoration, it re-opened on 6 April 2013.

DEMOLISHED

Cloudland (1940-1982)

Brisbane Theatre History CloudlandThe Cloudland Dance Hall was constructed in 1939–40, originally called Luna Park, opened on 2 August 1940 as a hilltop entertainment venue located in Bowen Hills, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. Cloudland was the epitome of a multi-functional space used for numerous formal balls, concerts, theatre performance, rehearsal space, dances, civic events, school and university examinations and later, a marketplace. It was the largest building of its type in Brisbane

Cloudland’s distinctive parabolic laminated roof arch was highly visible. A funicular railway ran from the tram stop on Breakfast Creek Road carrying people to the rear of the Ballroom. The funicular was dismantled in 1967 and turned into a car park.

Soon after Cloudland was opened the building was abandoned until 1942 when it was used by the American military. They arrived shortly after Pearl Harbor was bombed in December 1941.

When Cloudland was re-opened after the war, the name Luna Park was dropped and the building was known as Cloudland Ballroom. As a gift to the people of Brisbane, the dance floor was rebuilt by the US military. The smooth hard floor was constructed of one inch tongue and groove boards that ran the length of the ballroom. The close-fitting narrow boards were not nailed. The floor area reserved for dancing sat on huge metal coil springs placed uniformly underneath the bearers so that dancers could feel and see the movement of the boards beneath their feet.

Other features of the interior were huge decorative columns, sweeping curtains, domed sky lights and chandeliers. The dance floor was framed by private alcoves, decorative curtains, a domed skylights and chandeliers. Cloudland also had an upper circle of tiered seating which overlooked the floor and stage.

Cloudland was purchased for £16,000 and re-opened on 24 April 1947.

On 2 September 1948 Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh visited after doing the play School for Scandal for a débutants ball for the “Royal Society of St George”.

As a concert music venue Cloudland hosted thousands of dances and concerts in the 50s, 60s and 70s, including a number of notable events. It hosted three of the six concerts performed by rock ‘n’ roll legend Buddy Holly on his only Australian tour in February 1958.

In the 1960’s, a huge mirror ball was installed over the ballroom’s floor. More headline acts included The Bee Gees, Little Pattie and Midnight Oil performed.

Music for the dancers was provided by resident bands and vocal performers from the time of Cloudland’s reopening after the war until its closure.

Cloudland Ballroom was said to be the finest ballroom in Australia.

Despite strenuous public calls for its preservation, the building was demolished overnight on 7 November 1982 and subsequently developed into an apartment complex. The demolition was done by the Deen Brothers, a demolition company often used by the state government, the Brisbane City Council and the “white shoe brigade” for controversial demolition projects.

The demolition took place despite there being no permit and in spite of its National Trust listing.

Remembering it’s legacy:

  • Midnight Oil, who had played at Cloudland many times, immortalized the demolition in their song “Dreamworld” (from the Diesel and Dust LP) which attacked the greed of the pro-development forces.

  • In 1983, Queensland Theatre Company actors Darien Sticklen and Peter Noble wrote a boutique musical called Cloudland which was presented by the Queensland Theatre Company Tangent Productions, directed by Gregory Gesch, at the Redcliff Community Centre in October 1984, and then transferred to the Edward Street Theatre in November 1984.
    Brisbane Theatre History Cloudland QTC Brisbane Program


  • In 2004, The Queensland Ballet Company presented Cloudland choreographed by Francois Klaus was premiered at the Energex Brisbane Festival at the Suncorp Theatre from September 24 to October 2, 2004 where designers Graham Maclean and Matt Scott re-created the atmosphere of Cloudland.

  • A sculpture in Cowlishaw Street is called Cloudland Memorial Arch and was created by Jamie Maclean.

  • The name of this venue was used in 2009 by a Brisbane Italian restaurant and nightclub located at 641 Ann St in the Fortitude Valley.

The Ascot (1952-1969)

The Ascot (corner of Racecourse Road and Kent Road) opened on January 1953 with a charity night for the Red Cross.

Rather than restore the Arcadia Theatre on the site, the company demolished it and erected a new The Ascot at a cost of £45,000.  It was reported to be a prefabricated steel igloo with an elliptical ceiling for best acoustic effect, as well as to improve safety and reduce risk of fire.

The tram line which travelled past the Arcadia on Racecourse Road had contributed to its popularity with audiences from nearby suburbs for many years, but the arrival of television in 1956 was a major source of competition for cinemas for upwards of a decade.

The Ascot eventually closed in 1969. The final film screened at the Ascot was “It’s a Mad Mad World.

A supermarket and chemist shop now stand on the site.

DEMOLISHED

Gowrie Hall (1956-1970)

Gowrie Hall (39 Wickham Terrace) was a church hall that was transformed into a small theatre to complement Albert Hall, where major productions were staged.

The upper area converted to a small theatre space seating 112, and the lower area for speech-training studios and dressing rooms.

Gowrie Hall was acquired by the Twelfth Night Theatre Company in 1956.  By 1966, all productions were staged at Gowrie Hall until its final production of Don’t Feed the Sharks which closed on 16 November, 1968.

The Twelfth Night Theatre Company was relocated from Gowrie Hall to the Twelfth Night Theatre on Cintra Road following the demolition of Gowrie Hall due to the construction of the Turbot Street Bypass in 1971 which would pass through this hall.

Arts Theatre (opened 1961)

Brisbane Theatre History Arts TheatreBrisbane Arts Theatre (210 Petrie Terrace), was the first theatre company in Brisbane to operate its own theatre premises. With 152 seats and features a small courtyard and a bar.

The property was purchased in June 1959 for £6,000 and redeveloped as a theatre. Initially reported to seat 220, it opened in September 1961 with a single-level, raked 144-seat auditorium and a 10ft-deep stage. The first floor accommodated the costume department and office.

On 31 May 1964, the theatre was heavily damaged by fire, caused by an electrical fault in the toilet block. Upon initial assessment of the damage, the theatre director and insurance representatives agreed that the building could be repaired within a matter of weeks; however, smouldering materials ignited a second blaze at 8.30am, which resulted in extensive damage throughout.

Brisbane Theatre History Arts Theatre VenueA new design for the renovation added a dress circle, increased stalls capacity, a 25 ft deep stage and two dressing rooms under the stage. The theatre reopened on 25 June 1965, the reconstruction totalling £20,000.

In the late 1960s, the adjoining Cottage was purchased for £6,000 and later, in August 1971, a two-storey building at 222 Petrie Terrace was added to the complex for $16,000 which housed the theatre’s wardrobe department and rehearsal space until its sale in 2011.

The previous two rehearsal venues were renovated between 1976 and 1978 at the same time as the construction of the theatre’s current office and bar. The Cottage was again refurbished following the sale of 222 in May 2011.

I had the honor and privilege of starring in a production of AND THE BIG MEN FLY in Jun/Jul 1980 and working in stage management on a couple of shows here.

A number of notable Australian actors have performed at Brisbane Arts Theatre, including Carol Burns, Michael Caton, Barry Otto, Jennifer Flowers, John Stanton, Kate Wilson (Foy) and Dale Camilleri. Other notable performers include actor and director Ian Thomson and the late Wayne Goss, who would later become Premier of Queensland.

DEMOLISHED

La Boite Theatre [1] (1967-1972)

Brisbane Theatre History La Boite 1The Brisbane Repertory Theatre Society was founded in 1925 by a group of local theatre enthusiasts, the theatre company became known for its production of modern and innovative theatre. The group has performed in many theatres including Her Majesty’s, the Bohemia, Cremorne, Theatre Royal, Rialto, Old and New Albert Halls and held a lease on the Princess Theatre for several years. However, one by one theatres closed and with the demolition of the Albert Hall in 1967, the last available and affordable venue for productions in the central city area was lost.

The society acquired two timber cottages on the corner of Hale and Sexton Streets in the late 1950s for use as clubrooms. They then purchased adjoining properties and in 1967, Brisbane Repertory Theatre Society President Bruce Blocksidge (husband of Jennifer Blocksidge) had the idea that one of the old houses in their property portfolio could be converted into a theatre space.

The cottage at 57 Hale Street was converted into an intimate theatre-in-the-round which seated 70 people. With its interior walls ripped out and benches placed around the remaining walls, a performance space of 22 feet square was created.  It was named La Boite (The Box in French) by Bruce Blocksidge who thought of the name to acknowledge its box-like shape.

The first La Boite opened at 57 Hale Street on June 23, 1967 with a production of John Osborne’s drama Look Back in Anger, directed by Babette Stephens and starring Bille Brown. New Theatre Director Jennifer Blocksidge took the helm.

The remaining cottages were used as studio, workshop and storage areas.

Brisbane Repertory Theatre mounted more than 40 productions over the next 4 years and their space needs became pressing.

The theatre was demolished to make way for a new purpose built theatre on the same site in 1972

DEMOLISHED

SGIO Theatre (1969-2007)

SGIO Theatre (Brisbane, QLD) AuditoriumA 611-seat proscenium theatre, The SGIO Theatre, Turbot Street, Brisbane opened in 1969, before the SGIO Tower was finished, and majestically hosted shows through the ’80’s.  Resident home of The Queensland Theatre Company, and host to many other companies.

The Queensland Government purchased the site, and the design of the State Government Insurance Office (SGIO) building was the result of an internal competition held by Conrad and Gargett in 1967. This competition was won by Keith Frost, who designed a stark 28 story high concrete building with a steel frame, modeled after the PanAm building in New York.  The most important feature of Frost’s design was the rotation of the building in relation to the city grid. This led to a north-south orientation to optimize internal sun control.

The building’s rotation however necessitated the acquisition of the adjacent plot from the Methodist Church, which was occupied by the Albert Hall on Albert Street, which was subsequently demolished to create a spacious forecourt with lavish water features. As compensation, the SGIO incorporated a 611 seat (medium size) theatre in its design, with input from several of the Brisbane theatre companies, along Turbot Street, which became the resident home of The Queensland Theatre Company.  

The SGIO Theatre official opening was on Tuesday 27th May 1969. 

The first production at the theatre was Peter Shaffer’s The Royal Hunt of the Sun.

The SGIO Theatre was renamed the Suncorp Theatre in 1986

The Suncorp Theatre closed in late June 1998 when the Queensland Theatre Company relocated.   It’s final Queensland Theatre Company show was a production of Joanna Murray-Smith’s Honour, directed by Robyn Nevin from June 4 – 20, 1998.  The Amalgamated Property Group took ownership of the theatre building.

A 35th anniversary commemoration of the theatre in 2004 for the Brisbane Energex Festival led to it being re-opened for four productions in September that year (The Gigli Concert / Sandakan Threnody / Cloudland / The Amazing Magician)

Sadly the Suncorp Theatre (or as I like to remember it, the SGIO Theatre) was demolished in July 2007 during the transition of Labor Party Premier’s Peter Beattie to Anna Bligh.

Schonell Theatre (opened 1970)

Brisbane Theatre History Schonell TheatreThe Schonell Theatre One was constructed in 1970 as a 420 seat theatre at the University of Queensland’s St Lucia campus owned and operated by the University of Queensland Union (UQU).

In August 1981, the Schonell Theatre hosted the world premiere of STARSTUD by John Rush & Malcolm Cork for the TN! Theatre Company.

Brisbane Theatre History Schonell Theatre NewsThe theatre is still used for live theatre productions but in 2018 the University of Queensland announced a development plan that does not include the theatre as part of its $300 million renovation project, the university intends to demolish the UQ Union building that includes the Schonell Theatre.

A sustained campaign to save the St Lucia campus’ 50-year-old theatre began in 2019 after UQ released a redevelopment plan in which the UQ Union complex housing the theatre would be demolished.  In July 2021, new UQ Vice-Chancellor Professor Deborah Terry AO told ABC Radio the coronavirus pandemic had put a pause on the university’s capital expenditure program and allowed the university to reconsider its plans, and in about turn, now working with the student union and alumni, to understand how best redeveloping the student complex

Cement Box Theatre (opened 1970)

Brisbane Theatre History The Cement Box TheatreAt the same time the Schonell Theatre One was constructed in 1970 within the University of Queensland’s St Lucia campus, the University of Queensland Union (UQU) also built The Cement Box as a small studio theatre named after it’s cement bessa-block walls.

Throughout its life, it has hosted fringe-style productions, with the occasional larger show that demanded an extremely intimate space. Errol Bray’s The Choir had its Queensland premier here for the TN! Theatre Company.

In 2005 The Cement Box was refurbished and renamed the Geoffrey Rush Drama Studio.

It is home to the Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble. The space features industry standard sound and lighting and banked seating.

In late 2009 the venue was remodeled again, and is now used by the University as both a performance, workshop and a teaching space.

In 2018 the University of Queensland announced a development plan that will demolish the UQ Union building that includes the Cement Box Theatre.

In July 2021, new UQ Vice-Chancellor Professor Deborah Terry AO told ABC Radio the coronavirus pandemic had put a pause on the university’s capital expenditure program and allowed the university to reconsider its plans, and in about turn, now working with the student union and alumni, to understand how best redeveloping the student complex.

Twelfth Night Theatre (opened 1971)

Brisbane Theatre History Twelfth NightThe Twelfth Night Theatre (4 Cintra Road, Bowen Hills) began construction (budgeted at half-million dollars) on 14 November 1969.

Twelfth Night Theatre Company was initially established as an amateur theatre company in 1936 by Rhoda Felgate (1901-1990), a drama teacher & theatre director whom created her own speech and drama studio forming an amateur theatre society to help her pupils called the Twelfth Night Players.

Brisbane Theatre History Empire ChambersOriginally located in Empire Chambers (1 Wharf St, corner of Queen & Wharf St), also known as Empire House, with a teaching studio, rehearsal room and a seating capacity of 104. In 1941, they leased a gymnasium at 51 Wickham Terrace. In the same year, the Twelfth Night Theatre Company was the first to put on a play at Albert Hall.

In 1948 the Twelfth Night Theatre Company obtained the lease of a large two-storey building adjoining the gymnasium at 51 Wickham Terrace. The upper floor became a rehearsal and play-reading space, and the lower housed speech teachers, including Felgate, and their studios. The Twelfth Night Speech and Drama School contributed to the strength of the Twelfth Night Theatre Company, at times providing economic stability.

In 1954, a Junior Twelfth Night Theatre Company was established to educate both primary and secondary school children, along with theatre workshop groups in speech, mime, stage techniques, make up and fencing. Productions using these students were held in the Wickham Terrace premises at the end of each term. The profits made from this junior theatre group were used to pay annual rent at Gowrie Hall.

In 1956 the Twelfth Night Theatre Company acquired Gowrie Hall (38 Wickham Terrace), a church hall that was converted into a little theatre to complement the Albert Hall, where major productions were staged. The upper area converted to a small theatre space, and the lower area for speech-training studios and dressing rooms. The Twelfth Night Theatre Company for a time operated out of a house in Abbotsford Road behind the yet to be built theatre.  Brisbane luminaries such as Carol Burns, June Finney and Joan Whalley (whom had previously lectured at NIDA) were teachers.  Sigrid Thornton was a student.

Joan Whalley became Artistic Director of the Twelfth Night Theatre Company in 1962 and stayed in that position until 1976.  The Twelfth Night Theatre Company had previously performed in many theatre’s, predominately at the Princess Theatre, Albert Hall and at Gowrie Hall until its final production of Don’t Feed the Sharks which closed on 16 November, 1968.

In 1965, a Junior Twelfth Night Theatre School of Speech and Drama was formally established.

Twelfth Night Theatre Company was relocated from Gowrie Hall to its present location on Cintra Road following the demolition of Gowrie Hall due to the construction of the Turbot Street Bypass in 1971 which would pass through this hall.

The Cintra Road land was sold, below value, to the Twelfth Night Theatre Company in 1966 by Brian and Marjorie Johnstone, who owned the adjacent Johnstone Gallery in an attempt to create a cultural enclave.

Prior to the construction of the Twelfth Night Theatre, there was a revival production of Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas in a tent on the land where the theatre was built. (A production of Under Milk Wood had previously been staged in Albert Hall in 1958 starring Barry Creyton).

The Twelfth Night Theatre Club opened just before the theatre on 12 February 1971 with cosy and intimate space in the basement of the Twelfth Night Theatre complex at Bowen Hills. The basement maintained a licensed club where women shared equal status with men.

The Twelfth Night Theatre opened on March 17, 1971 with its first mainstream production of A Flea In Her Ear by Georges Feydeau directed by Twelfth Night’s artistic director Joan Whalley,   The first inaugural youth production was of The Rose and the Ring adapted from William Thackeray’s original pantomime by John Dalby, directed by Bill Pepper which opened around the same time.  The Twelfth Night Complex includes the main theatre with seating for 400, a licensed club room and separate licensed restaurant in the basement area which has been used by for dinner theatre shows since July 2002.

By the time the Twelfth Night Theatre complex opened, the Twelfth Night Theatre Company which had been established as an amateur theatre company, was forced to turn professional in a bid to gain financial support from both the Queensland and Australian governments, and was now $186 000 in debt.  The Government could not offer further assistance as its condition for subsidy had been broken. A special rescue grant by federal and state sources was negotiated. The State Government and the Australian Council each provided $100 000. However, even after the Government relieved them of their financial liability, the company still found professionalism too costly.   As a result the Twelfth Night Theatre complex was sold to the State Government who resold the theatre to recoup monies spent.

Gail Wiltshire purchased the building in 1977, along with its debt of $1.3 million and a vandalized theatre space.

In 1979, the Twelfth Night Theatre Company, now operating under the name the T.N. Theatre Company (and later known as the TN! Theatre Company) was spun-off to operate solely as a performing company which would lease whatever premises as it required for performance.

Gweneth (Gwen) Iliffe and her puppeteer son Peter liffe formed The Puppet People, and utilized the theatre as a puppet theatre with their productions of Bees Hey with music by Bizet (May 21, 1983) and Spring (October 18-28, 1983). Gwen later became a prominent variety booking agent in Brisbane.

In 1986 the TN! Theatre Company took a 10-year lease of the Princess Theatre in Woolloongabba, and its last performance was in 1991 due to financial difficulties.

Twelfth Night Theatre remains the only privately owned theatre in Australia. It is not controlled by any commercially funded or government organization and receives no public grants from either the Queensland State or Australian federal governments.

RE-DEVELOPED

La Boite Theatre [2] (1972-2003)

Brisbane Theatre History La Boite entranceAs a result of the issues of the original La Boite theatre in the cottage, Brisbane City Council approved budget for a new La Boite theatre replacing the converted cottage in 1971. It was also to be a theatre in the round, though this time designed and built for the purpose.

It was the first purpose-built arena theatre in Australia. The construction was financed by a dollar-for-dollar grant of $40,000 from the Queensland Government in November 1971. The original quote was for $100,000, but they reduced this to the available budget of $80,000 by modifying some details, reusing lighting and sound equipment from the old building and reducing costs for by utilizing reject bricks that had chipped corners or minor irregularities of shape effected a major saving.

The new theatre (69 Hale Street) opened on 11 June 1972 and was added to the Queensland Heritage Register on 30 January 2004.

In 1988, seats from the Expo 88 Russian Pavilion replaced the original seating.

In 1993 it became a professional company. As such, its needs were somewhat different than those of the amateur company for which the theatre was designed.

In 1996 La Boite incorporated as a non-profit organization.

On his appointment as Artistic Director in October 2000, Sean Mee recognized that the theatre had to be re-located as a matter of urgency. By 2003, with the increasingly overpowering presence of the neighbouring Lang Park Football Stadium (now Suncorp Stadium) and the associated ever-growing road closures and traffic issues in the area, coupled with the near 30-year old theatres maintenance issues and outgrowing its 200 seat capacity, La Boite sought a new performance space.

A location was found when the Queensland University of Technology agreed to include a theatre building for La Boite in its plans for a Creative Industries Precinct within Kelvin Grove. The Queensland Government funded the company’s move to the Roundhouse Theatre at Kelvin Grove.

Fittingly, the final production at 69 Hale Street was a revival of David Williamson’s The Removalists, closing on September 6, 2003.

Front door of La Boite with Bill Wendy Parkinson Sean Mee photo of Jennifer Blocksidge Kylie Morris Muriel Watson Kaye Stevenson Rosemary Walker[photo] At the entrance to La Boite, Bill & Wendy Parkinson (long time subscribers), Sean Mee (Artistic Director) holding photo of Jennifer Blocksidge (the 1st ‘honorary’ Artistic Director) Kylie Morris (young actress), Muriel Watson (actresses from 1st play in cottage), Kaye Stevenson (former Board member and actress from 1st play in purpose-built theatre), & Rosemary Walker (longest serving employee).

By the end of 2003, after selling the Hale Street property for $1 million, the La Boite Theatre Company had moved into the $4.3 million purpose-built 400 seat Roundhouse Theatre complex with a 25 year lease.

The iconic heritage theatre at 69 Hale Street was re-developed as a commercial office building.

Edward Street Theatre (opened 1981)

Brisbane Theatre History Metro Arts Theatre 2005The Edward Street Theatre (109-117 Edward Street), known as Metro Arts Theatre is a heritage-listed building, originally a warehouse built in 1890. It has also been known as Community Arts CentreCoronation House and Metro Arts Centre. It was added to the Queensland Heritage Register on 21 October 1992.

The site was purchased in 1871 as a warehouse in 1890 and leased it to George Myers & Co. In March 1902 the upper levels were substantially damaged by fire but were later repaired. The warehouse was subdivided in 1907 to accommodate other tenants. Between 1931 and 1937 the building was vacant. In 1938 the building was renamed Coronation House in celebration of the coronation of George VI. During the latter part of World War II, sections of the building were occupied by the Australian Government Department of Supply and Shipping. In March 1949 the property was acquired by the Australian Government and was used by various Australian government departments.

By the early 1970s the building was regarded as unsuitable for government offices and by 1976 all government departments had moved elsewhere. Then work began on converting the building into a community arts centre.

In July 1981 the Community Arts Centre was officially opened, and contained a theatre, two art galleries, rehearsal rooms, workshop spaces, meeting rooms, dark room, printing shop, cinema and restaurant.

Queensland Theatre Company Tangent Productions were regularly presented at the theatre in the early 1980’s.

Further work was undertaken in 1988 to provide additional facilities for artists. The building was renamed the Metro Arts Centre in 1988.

The Metro Arts building was sold in December 2019, with Metro Arts relocated to within West Village and opened their New Benner Theatre.

Metro Arts hosted it’s final show at the theatre, entitled ‘Metro Arts, with love’ which took place from 1-15 February 2020.

RE-PURPOSED

Mayne Hall (1973-1993)

Brisbane Theatre History Mayne Hall at UofQMayne Hall at the University of Queensland in 1973 and was named in recognition of the of donors Dr James O’Neil Mayne and his sister Miss Mary Emelia Mayne

For 25 years, the building had played an important role in university life as the venue for graduations, concerts and examinations.  During its life, it served as rental concert hall and boutique performance space.

Some famous performers who played Mayne Hall

  • Bo Diddley (1974 and 1975)
  • Split Enz, (1976 and 1977)
  • Richard Clapton Band (1976)
  • Stephane Grappelli (1976)
  • Little River Band (1977)
  • Cliff Richard (1978)
  • Tom Waits (1979)
  • Bruce Cockburn (1983)

However, declining public use and insufficient space for graduations provided an opportunity by the University of Queensland to address the need for new use.

In 1993, Mayne Hall was redeveloped to house the UQ Art Museum and exhibition space.

It was renovated again as an art museum in 2002.

RE-PURPOSED

Brookes Street Theatre (1977-1985)

Brisbane Theatre History Brookes Street TheatreThe Brookes Street Theatre (112 Brookes Street between Wickham & Ann Streets), formerly the Fortitude Valley Wesleyan Church and Church Hall built in 1871, was renamed the Epworth Centre when the final service, revoking their status as sacred buildings, occurred on 27 February 1977.  The interior of church hall is painted brick, spanned by timber trusses. The ceiling is timber-lined with exposed rafters.

The TN! Theatre Company formed an alliance with the Brisbane College of Education and leased its performance space in the church, with the Valley Child Care Centre operating from the adjacent hall.

Used by TN! Theatre Company as both a rehearsal and performance space, a production of Skitz N’ Frenzy! ran from May 20 until June 6, 1981.

In 1985 the church was sold to the Royal Geographical Society, renamed Gregory Place & Gregory Hall, and was refurbished as offices, as the headquarters of the Royal Geographical Society.

In 2015, the church was occupied by a furniture company.  It is now an architectural studio and coffee shop.

DEMOLISHED

Woodward Theatre (1979-2016)

Brisbane Theatre History WoodwardThe Woodward Theatre (Kelvin Grove campus in L block) opened in April 1979 and served as a practical art space, featuring a wide range of work from undergraduate through to postgraduate performances and commercial theatre use, particularly for dramatic plays and musicals.

The space was similar to a black box, multi-functional, and could be configured for traditional end stage, thrust or in-the-round.

In 1980, the Woodward Theatre hosted my productions of The Long and the Short and the Tall (January) and The Admirable Crichton (April).  Also later in 1980, I designed a production of Grease in the Woodward.

In 2016, QUT relocated activities from the Woodward Theatre to their expansion of the Creative Industries Precinct on Musk Avenue.

The Woodward Theatre was permanently closed on the 12th December 2015

It was demolished in mid-2016 to make way for the construction of a new education precinct.

QPAC (opened 1985)

Brisbane Theatre History QLD PAC exteriorThe Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC) broke ground in 1976 and opened on 20 April 1985. The road to its development was long.

By the early 1970s, the standard of major facilities for the performing arts in Brisbane was lagging behind contemporary venues elsewhere. New theatres and concert halls in Australia built in the postwar era were raising the standards with new approaches to acoustics, sight-lines, seating plans and theatre design. These new standards became more stringent with higher expectations of patrons. These trends were already being reflected in Australia with the construction of the Sydney Opera House, the Adelaide Festival Centre and the Perth Concert Hall, all completed in 1973.

The need for a new major performing arts centre in Queensland became more urgent in 1973 with the sale of Her Majesty’s Theatre. The new owners the AMP Society, intended to demolish the building and redevelop the site.

The imminent demise of Her Majesty’s Theatre became a key consideration in the decision by the Queensland Government in November 1974 to announce the development of a Cultural Complex incorporating a Centre for the Performing Arts at South Brisbane. The Cabinet submission noted that, with ‘Her Majesty’s Theatre closing, Brisbane will be really deficient in this area’ and that ‘other capital cities are well served in this regard with Sydney, Adelaide and Perth having recently completed large centres‘.

The government established a Performing Arts Authority comprising representatives from the Australian Opera, Australian Ballet, Queensland Theatre Company, Queensland Opera Company, Queensland Ballet Company, Queensland Light Opera Company, Conservatorium of Music and Queensland Symphony Orchestra. This Performing Arts Authority needed assess the needs of the performing arts in Brisbane and recommend the extent and the scope of new facilities in the proposed performing arts complex.  Three options were proposed, with the preferred choice for a performing arts complex comprising:

  • Opera and Ballet Theatre (seating 1,800)
  • Concert Hall (seating 2,000)
  • Drama Theatre (seating 600)
  • Experimental Theatre (seating 300)

Defining what key spaces were required for the performing arts complex was critical to inform the master plan for the Queensland Cultural Centre which was finalised in October 1976.  Two specialist consultants were engaged to assist: Tom Brown, ballet dancer, actor and founding member of NIDA, who provided theatre advice; and acoustic consultant Peter Knowland. Brown was a an experienced theatre designer who had advised on the recently completed Adelaide Festival Centre. The planning brief outlined the design approach to the key facilities as:

Lyric Theatre (opened 1985)

The Lyric Theatre will be designed as a musical theatre for the presentation of opera, musical comedy and dance. Its staging facilities, orchestra pit size and backstage accommodation will enable the theatre to accept and efficiently present major musical theatre productions of either Australian or International origin. The stage dimensions, the installed technical production equipment and accommodation spaces will take into account other comparably sized theatres in Australia to allow for an efficient and economical transfer of productions between the States.

Concert Hall (opened 1985)

The Concert Hall will be designed primarily as a hall used for performances by symphony orchestras, chamber music ensembles, solo instrumentalists, through the whole range of instruments including the organ, solo and group vocalists, folk singers, light entertainers both instrumental and vocal, pop groups with and without vocalists, ‘big’ bands, brass and military bands, electronic music amplification and new music in a variety of forms.

Rehearsal rooms

Three spaces—one of which to is be …

Cremorne Theatre (opened 1985)

an Experimental Theatre with seating capacity up to 200.

The planning brief also stipulated necessary support facilities including offices for administrative staff, a comprehensive suite of dressing rooms, production spaces for artists and technical staff, and a restaurant with seating for 120.

The Cremorne Theatre has a $2.3 million refurbishment in 2017.

The development of QPAC essentially redefined the epicentre of Brisbane’s live arts to South Brisbane.

QPAC schedules over 1,000 performances annually and saw 1.3 million people through its doors in 2017.

The Shed (opened 1997)

In 1997, the Queensland Theatre Company after complaining for serious need for a rehearsal space the State Government gave a $150,000 allocation to refurbish a South Bank building known as The Shed so for the first time in its history the company now has its own rehearsal rooms, and a place in the arts precinct of South Bank.

It included 2 custom-built rooms which could be used as a performance space in part answer to the nationwide shortage of theatre venues.

This now gave the QTC 2 places to perform… The Shed and The South Bank Playhouse.

South Bank Playhouse (opened 1997)

Brisbane Theatre History South Bank PlayhouseAfter QPAC was built, what was missing was a drama theatre. The Cremorne Theatre was too small.

A new planning committee recommended a 850-seat theatre, six rehearsal rooms, administrative space for the Royal Queensland Theatre Company, Lyric Opera of Queensland and Queensland Philharmonic Orchestra, and ancillary public facilities. The cost of the revised plan was $56 million.

Not all proposed users of the new theatre approved of the revised plans. The Queensland Theatre Company, Musica Viva, Lyric Opera Company and Queensland Philharmonic Orchestra all expressed reservations about the 850-seat theatre. Consequently, the government established another inquiry to satisfy itself of the need for a theatre and consider community opinion. After this inquiry, in October 1994 the committee recommended that the project proceed on the basis of an 850 seat multi-purpose facility with principal use as a Drama Theatre available to the performing arts community and that preferential access by the Queensland Theatre Company not be such that it results in the effective exclusion of other groups.

On August 31, 1997 the Queensland Theatre Company production of The Marriage of Figaro starring Geoffrey Rush,  Bille Brown, Alan Edwards and Robyn Nevin opened the new 850 seat South Bank Playhouse (then called “Optus Playhouse“) built within the QPAC complex incorporating a proscenium arch, orchestra pit, and an auditorium with seating for 850 patrons in stalls and a balcony.

Brisbane Powerhouse (opened 2000)

Brisbane Theatre History PowerhouseOpened by the Brisbane City Council on 10 May, 2000, The Brisbane Powerhouse is on the banks of the Brisbane River (beside New Farm Park) and was a former power station that has been repurposed with an industrial design containing a variety of flexible spaces focussed on independent groups and companies creating theatre, dance, music, film and visual art.

In the post-war years it supplied electricity for the largest tram network in the southern hemisphere. As trams were replaced by buses, it was decommissioned in 1971.

from 1971 until 1999, the derelict building was a welcome shelter for the homeless, a site for target practice for the army, a location for film-makers and, as a precursor of its future, a canvas for graffiti artists and a stage for underground art happenings where squatters and artists made their home amongst dangerous industrial structures.

In 2007, the building underwent a further stage of development with increased audience capacities, restaurant and bar facilities as well as functions and conference spaces.

Its primary Powerhouse Theatre seats about 500 with an ‘end on’ stage theatre, an intimate 200 seat apron stage theatre, an 800 viewer open platform, two restaurants, conference and rehearsal rooms and offices.

Brisbane Powerhouse is a not-for-profit organisation owned and supported by the Brisbane City Council.

Judith Wright Arts Centre (opened 2001)

Brisbane Theatre History Judith Wright CentreThe Judith Wright Arts Centre (aka The Judy), a visual and performing arts centre was renovated and re-opened as an arts centre in October 2001. The Centre is managed by the Queensland Government through Arts Queensland.

The venue includes performance spaces with 3 rehearsal studios for dance, theatre and music. The main 300 seat performance space is a flexible “black box” theatre.

The Centre is home the Aboriginal Centre for the Performing Arts, Artour, the Australasian Dance Collective, Blakdance, Carbon Creative Circa Contemporary Circus, Creative Partnerships Australia, Flying Arts Alliance, Institute of Modern Art, and Musica Viva.

Roundhouse Theatre (opened 2004)

Brisbane Theatre History RoundhouseThe Roundhouse Theatre (in the Kelvin Grove Urban Village) is Australia’s only purpose-built theatre in the round. The building is owned by Queensland University of Technology and used by the La Boite Theatre Company. The $4.3 million purpose-built Roundhouse Theatre can seat 400 people for central staging (audience on four sides) or 336 people for thrust stage (audience on three sides).

In 1998 the Australian Army decided it no longer required its heritage-listed Gona Barracks which led to a partnership being formed between the Queensland Department of Housing, the Brisbane City Council and the Queensland University of Technology to redevelop the site as the Kelvin Grove Urban Village with a strong arts and entertainment theme.

The university constructed the Roundhouse Theatre in 2004 as a theatre for training students in the performing arts, as well to generate income from community rentals. This enabled the La Boite Theatre Company to sell the La Boite Theatre Building for $1 million and lease the Roundhouse Theatre for 25 years.

Between 2004 and 2009 Artistic Director Sean Mee’s seasons consisted almost exclusively of Queensland works, a strategy which worked extremely well, with the company’s gross box office totalling well over $2 million.

The La Boite Theatre Company (Queensland’s 2nd largest theatre company and Australia’s oldest continuously running theatre company) perform at the Roundhouse Theatre.

Queensland University of Technology also own the QUT Gardens Theatre on their Gardens Point campus. That theatre was originally built for the Queensland Conservatorium of Music.

Bille Brown Theatre (opened 2018)

Brisbane Theatre History Bille Brown TheatreIn 2018, the Queensland Theatre moved into its own purpose built premises at 78 Montague Road. The building includes two performance spaces: Bille Brown Theatre and the Diane Cilento Studio.

The Bille Brown Theatre is a 351-seat theatre and the main venue for Queensland Theatre which reopened in October 2018 after a $5.5 million renovation which converted it from the former 228-seat Bille Brown Studio.

$2 million of the renovation cost came from a grant from the State Government, with Queensland Theatre fundraising campaigns raising $1.5m, including a $1,250 per theatre chair personalized plaque campaign.

Previously a ‘Black Box’ studio, the architects commenced in 2016 designing a functional and industrial aesthetic that complements the history of the significant site, formerly home to the West End Brewery. With a tight timeframe and a limited budget, emphasis was given to the patron experience, including audience accessibility, amenity and comfort.

New Benner Theatre (opened 2020)

Brisbane Theatre History New BennerNew Benner Theatre (111 Boundary Street) owned by Metro Arts as their flagship venue inside their West Village purpose-built precinct opened September 3, 2020 featuring the underground New Benner Theatre, two galleries and two rehearsal rooms.

The New Benner Theatre is an intimate space with raked seating for 119 patrons, suitable for live performance including theatre, music, comedy and cabaret, and includes a foyer, box office, café and bar.

Specialising in the development of new work, Metro Arts nurtures artists creating, developing, experimenting, and presenting contemporary work.

QPAC extension (announced 2018)

Brisbane Theatre History QPAC extension conceptAn upgrade to the Performing Arts Theatre was announced in May 2018. The additional $150 million new world-class theatre targeted for completion in 2022 will integrate with the existing Queensland Cultural Centre at South Bank, which will support more than 100 jobs during construction and more than 40 new full time jobs upon completion.

QPAC’s fifth theatre will be a result of the Queensland Government’s commitment of $125 million towards the $150 million new theatre which is the largest investment in Queensland arts infrastructure since the Gallery of Modern Art.

Once the the additional theatre and facilities opens within QPAC, it will become the largest performing arts centre in Australia.

The new venue would support the state’s four home companies – Queensland Ballet, Queensland Symphony Orchestra, Opera Queensland and Queensland Theatre – by providing access across five QPAC venues.

It’s expected to deliver capacity for an extra 260 performances annually with the potential to welcome an additional 300,000 visitors every year.

THEATRE RESTAURANTS (since 1964)

A special note is worthy here…

A post war craze for theatre restaurant entertainment began in Australia, somewhat in opposition to mainstream theatres.  Aimed entirely on selling to traditional theatre-going audiences, theatre restaurants started popping up in many parts of Australia in the 1960’s with extravagantly decorated imitations of the 19th century musical halls, medieval banquet halls, or other specially themed settings.

The theatre restaurants employed many performers, creatives and technicians, either starting out in their careers, or who were often struggling to survive with occasional radio drama and irregular theatrical engagements.

Comedy plays and the staples of vaudeville were the mainstays of such venues.

Brisbane Theatre History Mark Twain Theatre Restaurant c 1960sThe idea caught on in Brisbane when the Mark Twain Theatre Restaurant on Adelaide Street opened in 1964.  Here they typically presented small plays in a proscenium setting.

Soon after, the Living Room Theatre Restaurant at 60 Edward St, operated by Frank Mesh, opened on 27 September, 1967 with a production of “Who in the Hell are You?”, directed by Russell Jarrett and designed by Ken Lord. Weekly smorgasbord lunches became a popular feature. In 1975, the Living Room Theatre Restaurant moved to new premises on Margaret Street. The new restaurant had Regency style decor, seated 280 over 3 raised sections and 2 ‘celebrity’ boxes.  The Living Room Theatre was famous for its melodrama alternating with pantomime and charged AUD $3.50 for a la carte dinner and show in 1976.

Brisbane theatrical luminaries, many of whom trod the boards for the major theatre companies performed… Brian Cahill, Brian Tait, Rowena Wallace, Judi Connelli, Lance Strauss, Sheila Bradley, Johnny Watson, Harry Scott, Phil Moye, Hugh Munro, Arthur Frame, Phyllis Wass and Duncan Wass were just a few of the notable names. Ken Lord, and his wife Margaret (also know as Maggie) were active popular dinner theatre performers and writers.

The concept of themed premises, costumed singing waiters adding to fun, sometimes bawdy, live entertainment mixed with basic dining (food was typically not as important as drink) became popular with many more theatre restaurants opening and operating, including:

  • Brentleighs Theatre Restaurant (on Lutwyche Rd opened in 1973, owned by Graham Newton, hosted by Sheila Bradley & Paul Charlton focussed on musical review and comedy, alternating with melodrama and charged AUD $14 for set priced menu and show in 1976);
  • National Hotel (corner of Queen and Adelaide Sts at Petrie Bight, with musical revues in the mid-1970’s and charged AUD $10 for menu and show in 1976);
  • Court of the Seven Lamps (at the Twelfth Night Theatre);
  • Groucho’s (497 Lutwyche Rd);
  • Henry Africa’s Theatre Restaurant (in South Brisbane at the Melbourne Hotel run by David Birmingham);
  • Dirty Dick’s (12a Caxton St., from 1977 for a few years, run by Frank Baden-Powell);
  • Bonaparte’s Retreat (237 St Paul’s Terrace, Spring Hill);
  • MV Bonapartes Afloat (in 1981 was Brisbane’s first floating Restaurant moored at Howard St.);
  • New York, New York (on the top floor on Queen Street, also hosted by Ken Lord);
  • Stagedoor Dinner Theatre (opened in 2002 in the Twelfth Night Theatre complex. Home to Starbuck Productions)
Brisbane Theatre History Sources

include my original typed essay from 1979 at Brisbane Grammar School entitled “Lost Theatres of Brisbane” and research in 2005/2006 of newspaper searches, various libraries, personal collections of theatre friends and program notes.  Updated in 2021 with research online, including Trove, State Library of Queensland, Queensland Heritage Registry, ABC archive, Ausstage, Brisbane Times and Queensland Theatre Company & TN! Theatre Company Facebook groups.

      
If you have suggestions, images or amendments, please contact me.

S.G.I.O.Theatre
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Queensland Theatre Company
The Queensland Theatre Company QTC

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