QTC Early History
A COMPANY united
The Queensland Theatre Company (today, now known as “Queensland Theatre”) is the state theatre company of Queensland, established by statute on 8 April 1970, with Royal Assent given to the Act of Parliament, which incorporated the company on April 10, 1970, and the 3rd largest in Australia. In 2020, it virtually celebrated 50 years.
In the 1960’s, a quasi-professional performing arts group called the “College Players” led by director Bryan Nason at the University of Queensland, having no theatre of their own, led the charge to establish a fully professional state theatre company had been attracting attention throughout Brisbane and the parts of the State to which they regularly toured.
In the late ’60’s, the Australia Council had made a decision to fund a state company in every Australian state. On February 11, 1969, the Queensland government State Cabinet decided that a Board be appointed to form a State theatre company. This was the first time in Australia that a theatre company had been incorporated by Act of Parliament and it was regarded by many as an unusual. In introducing the bill which became the Queensland Theatre Company Act 1970 to Parliament, The Hon. A.R. Fletcher (later Sir Alan), then Minister for Education and Cultural Activities stated, “The formation of the Queensland Theatre Company is a natural, logical and necessary stage in the growth of the creative and performing arts in this lusty young state.”
The Australian Elizabethan Trust, were suggesting that Peter Shaffer’s THE ROYAL HUNT OF THE SUN could be presented as QTC’s first production. By coincidence, the College Players were planning a Brisbane season of the same play, to be directed by the Players’ leader, Bryan Nason. While on tour, the Players’ Production Manager, Don Batchelor, discovered the parallel plan.
A meeting between the QTC Board and the College Players was arranged, resulting in the appointment of Bryan Nason as guest director and Don Batchelor as Production Manager for QTC’s inaugural presentation of THE ROYAL HUNT OF THE SUN which opened on 1 October 1969 at the SGIO, Produced, Directed and Designed by Bryan Nason, with Reg Cameron, Jane Harders, Allen Lander, Peter Lavery and Rod Wissler. The opening night saw processions along Turbot Street accompanied by band music and flaming torches. Inside the SGIO Theatre the play was welcomed by an enthusiastic audience. The audience responded well to the play’s spectacle. By its closing date, over 8,000 people had attended. [See more images of QTC’s The Royal Hunt of the Sun]
Around the same time, the board had to choose between the various options of promoting one of the local amateur companies to professional or starting a new company. The board failed to come to an agreement and the government intervened. The Queensland Theatre Company (“QTC”) was established as a brand new entity, granted statutory recognition in 1970 and became the first federally funded professional theatre company in Queensland. It is a non-profit statutory authority governed by a Board of Directors and its Patron, the Governor of Queensland.
A recruitment campaign by the Queensland Theatre Company received a total 61 applicants scattered worldwide for the post of Artistic Director. Bryan Nason was not engaged as the founding artistic director in favor of Englishman Alan Edwards, at the time a tutor in acting at the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) at the University of New South Wales. He’d been in Australia for 5 years and as well as teaching and directing at NIDA he had acted at Sydney’s Old Tote Theatre and on A.B.C. and commercial TV. He’d received his training at the Old Vic Theatre School, and, after acting in English theatre, films, radio and TV, he taught and directed plays at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) and at the Central School of Speech Training and Dramatic Art in London. He was considered (and proven to be) the most suitable. On July 15, 1969, Alan flew to Brisbane for the interview. While awaiting his return flight at the airport, he received a page to take a phone call, where the QTC board chairman, Sir David Muir, told him he got the job.
The QTC moved into the 611 seat SGIO Theatre.— a theatre of distinction, and fully air-conditioned!
The first production Alan Edwards directed was the premiere of an Australian musical with book and lyrics by Rob Inglis and music by Robin Wood called A RUM DO! which opened on April 10, 1970 coinciding with the day that Royal Assent was given to the Act of Parliament which incorporated the Company and its selection influenced by the Captain Cook Bi-Centenary Celebrations. A RUM DO! was set in Sydney in 1825. It told the story of Governor Macquarie and his achievements as a builder and of Francis Greenaway the convict architect who helped him achieve his aims. In development, before transitioning to a musical form, it was called THE OLD VICEROY.
A RUM DO! was designed by Cliff Simcox with choreography by Keith Bain and a cast headed by Raymond Duparc, Elaine Cusick, Ken Kennett, Geraldine Turner and Murray Foy. None of the creative team was very happy with the final title, but all agreed it was better-suited to the regal occasion than the working title, EVERYBODY SNIFF YOUR NEIGHBOUR. A special performance on April 13, 1970 was held in the presence of HM Queen Elizabeth II, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh and HRH The Princess Anne [Official Itinerary Book in PDF]. Critical reaction was mixed, ranging from David Rowbotham of the Courier Mail “The finest Australian musical I’ve seen” to “The disappointment of the decade”. Following a 4 week run of 27 performances, 11,076 people had attended. A RUM DO! toured Queensland to Stanthorpe, Toowoomba, Roma, Longreach, Innisfail, Cairns, Ingham, Townsville, Mackay, Rockhampton, Bundaberg and Nambour. [See more images of QTC’s A Rum Do!]
The ‘Golden Years’
For the first years the company began each season with a musical and these were its best attended productions, for example, early musicals OH, WHAT A LOVELY WAR (the first time the HOUSE FULL signs were produced and stayed on display); LOCK UP YOUR DAUGHTERS; YOU’RE A GOOD MAN CHARLIE BROWN; GODSPELL; GYPSY; ANNIE; HELLO, DOLLY! and APPLAUSE were some of the iconic QTC musicals.
A core group of now iconic actors formed the base acting company pool, and whom quickly became recognizable and adored by audiences. Alan Edwards regular performances were a feature of the QTC under his leadership.
The charity The Actors’ & Entertainers Benevolent Fund of Queensland was started by Alan in 1975 and he was the inaugural president of the organization. Alan served in that role until 1994.
As the company established itself the audience base grew, thanks additionally to a clever subscription program supported by large team of volunteers, the unique introduction of the Wednesday morning matinee with 100% attendances and a gutsy programming model including both commercial lineup of annual musicals, Shakespeare, famous dramas, along with Australian plays and occasionally edgy (for it’s time and place) picks…
Queensland Theatre Company opened its 1975 season with Peter Shaffer’s EQUUS, complete with an infamous 3-minute nude scene. Under Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s conservative reign, the idea of the state theatre company staging a scene with actors in the buff made most of Brisbane very nervous, but the controversy meant the city was buzzing too. The young duo of David Waters and Gaye Poole would appear naked, and for whom the threat of arrest was very real. The Company soothed any jitters by agreeing to cover their legal fees. In the end, tact, diplomacy and cool heads prevailed. Despite a police presence at the show at the SGIO Theatre, there were no pickets, and more than 20,000 audience members saw EQUUS during its smash hit run. There was not a single complaint. [See more images of QTC’s Equus]
In 1979 the QTC opened its first outdoor play, A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM, staged as part of the Warana Festival celebrations in Albert Park which was so successful, the annual tradition of performing a Shakespeare play continued in the Albert Park Amphitheatre for many years, with AS YOU LIKE IT (1981), THE TEMPEST (1982), MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (1983), HENRY V (1984) and THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR (1987).
Many of the Albert Park presentations aimed at celebrating the professional performing arts in Brisbane, and the standards they had reached in such a short time. They generally involved the 3 major state companies — the Queensland Theatre Company, the Queensland Ballet Company and the Queensland Opera Company. The Queensland Theatre Orchestra also participated along with dancers from the newly-formed Australian Youth Ballet.
In 1979, in place of a resident company of artists, the policy evolved to cast as wide as possible for the best ad hoc cast available for each production. This gave audiences a continual stream of new faces, many of them established identities. Resident Director Joe MacColum, finished his full time duties on December 31, 1978 and was replaced by John Krummel. Since his graduation from NIDA, where he had been a pupil of both Alan Edwards and Joe MacColum, John Krummel had won many acting awards but now turned his talents to directing.
During the ‘golden’ period, some of the most loved plays were THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, HADRIAN VII, BREAKER MORANT, TRAVELLING NORTH, DEATHTRAP, AMADEUS, LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, SATURDAY SUNDAY MONDAY, CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, RICHARD III, KING LEAR, THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER and HEDDA GABLER.
T.I.E. & Touring Theatre
One of QTC’s major objectives was to stress the “Queensland” part of its title by serving not just the capital city but the entire state and regularly to rural NSW. From the beginning, as part of its charter, the QTC reached out to the entire state. More than any other state company. They were also aware of the need to cater for young people with various schools programs, at one time the ensemble called the “Young Elizabethan Players” (led by David Clendinning, Carol Burns, Michael Ferguson, Susan Day and Russell Thomson) also toured 4 theatre-in-education programs all across Queensland. From its inception QTC’s touring activities have been conducted in conjunction with the Arts Council of Australia (Queensland Division) now the Queensland Arts Council.
Murray Foy was appointed as the first Education Officer (and later Associate Director). Murray instituted the Youth and TIE programs and was one of Alan’s first and most significant appointments at the time. Alan Edwards believed in the importance of education and training for the company and to encourage young people to the theatre. The QTC was very active in the Theatre-In-Education movement, presenting programmes and projects for Secondary and Primary School students under various brands including ROADWORK. In a state the size of Queensland this presented enormous logistical and artistic challenges — the difference in climate, lifestyle and taste between say, Cairns and Cunnamulla is often as wide as the distance that separates them. It also ran training schemes for Artists, Adults and School students. Until 1981 when funding was cut, the TIE commitment were often as much as 6 months’ duration. Sometimes they average 3 performances a day in conditions which were, to say the least, unsophisticated. Special tours had been mounted to cater for the specific needs of children in the remote areas of Arnhem Land and Central Australia.
In 1977, the QTC established the Darling Downs Youth Theatre, the first founding of a Regional Community Theatre in Queensland and was indeed the first theatre of its kind in Australia. Some 60 students aged between 15 and 18 were recruited from 6 centres on the Downs to create, under professional guidance, a theatrical production, which would then play in each of those centres. Since the youngsters were involved in all aspects, from scripting to administration, this was not only theatre for young people but theatre by young people. Their first production, appropriately named GENESIS, told from a contemporary theatrical viewpoint rather than religious one, was an enormous success, a tribute to the teenagers themselves and their advisors of Robert Kingham, Rick Thompson, Lloyd Nickson and Jim Cotter. The Darling Downs community itself responded in a very positive way with support and assistance of every kind, including donations of busses, and which provided a blueprint for similar ventures elsewhere. [See more images of QTC’s Genesis]
By the end of its first 10 years, the Queensland Theatre Company emerged as one of Australia’s leading companies, riding high in public prestige in its own state and its interstate reputation had never been stronger. Lewis Savage’s subscription management with a stimulating innovation in 1979 was the formation of the Queensland Theatre Company Guild led by Magda Wollner, season ticket subscriptions reached 10,000 patrons, an incredible achievement.
QTC Tangent Productions was formed in 1981 to mount experimental work in a converted office building on Edward Street.
The company sought and received a royal charter, and was granted the prefix “Royal” in 1984 when renamed the Royal Queensland Theatre Company (“RQTC”).
In 1985 the RQTC opened the new Cremorne Theatre in the Queensland Performing Arts Complex (QPAC) with a production of CHEAPSIDE by David Allen.
After 19 years, Alan Edwards retired as artistic director in 1988, but continued to direct and act in many productions.
Along with Alan’s vision, creativity and leadership, which can never be over-estimated or accurately assessed, a large number of people deserve tribute, not the least the hardworking and industrious members of the Board, executive and production staff. At the Board level the guidance and community influence inaugurated by Sir David Muir continued by his successor, W.R.J. Riddel. During his 7 years as Production Manager John Watson was responsible for the soaring growth of QTC’s technical production resources, from a work-bench to a thriving enterprise. Gillian Coar, the Executive Officer and Secretary to the Board, was the one member of the staff to have worked from the very beginning to Alan’s departure. The names of Joe MacColum, Murray Foy, Gregory Gesch, Lloyd Nickson and Arthur Frame will always be found high on the list of those who shared the dedication, persistence, inspiration and hard work of Alan’s stabilizing and guiding influence.
In 1997, the RQTC after complaining for serious need for a rehearsal space the State Government gave the QTC an old Brisbane building called “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. This now gave the RQTC 2 places to perform… The Shed and The South Bank Playhouse.
On August 31, 1997 the RQTC production of Director Neil Armfield’s take on the 1778 play THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO — the basis for the Mozart opera starring Geoffrey Rush, Bille Brown, Robyn Nevin, Jennifer Flowers, Andrew Buchanan, Leah Purcell and Gerry Connolly, opened the new 850 seat South Bank Playhouse (then called “Optus Playhouse”) built within the QPAC complex.
The Royal prefix was dropped from the company’s name in 2001 returning its name to the iconic Queensland Theatre Company, yet while introducing an array of different brand logos under different Artistic Directors.
During rehearsals for THE TRAGEDY OF KING RICHARD THE SECOND in September 2001, Alan Edwards makes the painful decision to permanently retire from acting.
In 2002 the Queensland Theatre Company moved from its previous home in The Shed to a new purpose-built site on 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. The new site brought together all sections of the company under one roof. The three-storey building contains costume and props departments, administration offices, a box office and production facilities. It is also next door to the company’s set construction warehouse.
In January 2003, QTC founding Artistic Director Alan Edwards AM MBE passed away.
Sadly the SGIO Theatre (renamed the Suncorp Theatre in 1986) was demolished in July 2007. In 2009, a permanent art installation to celebrate the vast production history of the QTC at the SGIO Theatre was unveiled on the exterior facade of Turbot Street.
The Queensland Theatre Company dropped the “Company” from its name in 2016, thereafter known only as “Queensland Theatre“.
In 2017, Queensland Theatre reached its largest audience in the 50-year history of the entity when over 188,450 saw a Queensland Theatre show in 55 theatres around the world. The season included the highest grossing show ever in Queensland.
In 2019, Queensland Theatre maintained 6,869 season ticket holders, a 20 year high.
None of the Company’s success would have been possible without the financial assistance received from the Queensland State Government through Arts Queensland and the Commonwealth Government through the Theatre Board (Major Performing Arts Board) of the Australia Council.