Toowoomba’s wonderfully restored Empire Theatre is celebrating its centenary this year. Built in 1911 as a silent-movie theatre, it burned down in 1933, was rebuilt and re-opened the same year in the art-deco style which it retains today.
The Empire flourished over the following decades until it fell into disrepair during the 1970s. It came close to being razed to the ground but, due to the foresight of concerned city residents and then-Mayor Ross Miller, the theatre was saved from destruction and re-opened in 1997.
The Empire Theatre precinct contains the beautiful 1600 seater ‘main-room’ with the famed ‘bomber-light’, a flexible studio and the adjoining Church theatre. It is the largest regional theatre in Australia, and is known and admired especially by visiting artists from around the world. The home-made biscuits and fresh flowers in dressing-rooms and foyer spaces are touches provided by the Friends of the Empire, an entirely voluntary group totalling nearly 700. The Empire really is a community hub for the performing arts on the Darling Downs in southern Queensland and a source of great civic pride.
As part of the Centenary celebrations the Empire Theatre Projects Company is collecting audio, video and photographic memories of the theatre from people of all ages for a project called We Sat In the Dark.
The curated project – a visual and oral history – will then be exhibited and shared with the wider community as part of the Theatre’s Centenary Celebrations.
Members of the public are now invited to submit their memories of the Empire Theatre by Friday 3 June to be considered for inclusion. Click here to submit your memory. The Empire will be in touch if yours is selected for inclusion.
If you are in the city do get along to the TRAG (Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery) where the theatre is exhibiting memoranda – programmes, photographs, posters and costumes – from across the years.