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.
It takes a lot to get a house full of Toowoomba people on their feet for a standing ovation, but it happened last week at the opening night of The Boy From Ozdirected by Lewis Jones. This is the latest big musical production from Empire Theatre Projects Company (EPC) based at the gorgeous hard-top Empire Theatre which just happens to be celebrating its centenary this year. I hear that audiences stood again at subsequent performances.
The EPC's productions of plays and musicals - a couple a year - are hugely popular and, more often than not, draw full houses. By the way The Boy From Oz concludes today with an additionally-scheduled Sunday performance, and I have no doubt that delighted audiences will rise as one yet again. Why wouldn't they? By any standards it's a terrific production led by Tye Shepherd as Peter Allen and Bernadette Pryde as Judy Garland. Besides, Toowoomba needs a good shot in the arm, and this joyous, sensitive production is just the tonic.
The Boy From Oz is a community production and proudly so, but it defies any kind of pigeon-holing in terms of its definition as either amateur or professional. As far as the scope of its work goes, labels just don't stick on the EPC - unless it's the 'extraordinary' label. The EPC has been working non-stop for the past few years under the Artistic Direction of Lewis Jones. It runs regular drama workshops for children and young people in Toowoomba and other centres in its regional catchment area; mentors and provides production experience for local artists and small independent groups as well as higher education students and trainees, and provides professional development seminars for teachers. It also provides employment for artists, creatives and technicians. Continue reading On their feet: The Boy From Oz at EPC Toowoomba
Everything's coming up roses for the Empire Theatre right now. Lewis Jones and I are having lunch at Encores, the very smart little restaurant attached to Toowoomba's iconic theatre. As is fitting for the Garden City on the Range, we can see gardenias and overflowing beds of gorgeous pink and white roses just outside the floor-to-ceiling open windows. There's a crisp autumn breeze, a touch of rain, but there's no dampening of enthusiasm when Lewis talks about EPC, the Empire Theatre Projects Company - he's its Artistic Director. The Empire goes well with the roses; it's a beautifully restored art deco building that is justifiably the pride of the city. Lewis is clearly relishing his job at the helm of EPC. Since his appointment in 2008, his task has been to establish a company to work with and reflect the community of Queensland's Darling Downs region.
'Friends in Brisbane ask me, How are things up there? and they think I'm joking when I say, I have the best job in the world. I really do.' I'm keen to hear why he thinks working in a regional city trumps a similar job in a metropolitan centre. It seems to be all about opportunity, and it's all positive.
Continue reading The best job in the world … Lewis Jones (Interview 6)
25 February 2008: Update. The rains have come ... the dread of any outdoor festival. The first postponement for the season has hit. Tonight's dress-rehearsal and tomorrow's education workshop day are on hold. We watch the skies and hope ...
Shakespeare in Queen's Park Festival (now Shakespeare in the Park Festival) is about to hit Toowoomba for the 5th time. So there I was this afternoon in the park watching the acting company go through some of their paces under the eyes of director Scott Alderdice and fight director Nigel Poulton. It was hot, sunny and well .... deja-vu-ish. Here we were 5 years on from the spindly little Hamlet set under that great tree (it's still there ... the tree that is) to a big, rock concert kind of stage for Romeo and Juliet complete with canopy so the actors can work in shade, and should it rain (god forbid) the stage and the lighting rig are protected. I don't miss watching the skies and praying for fine weather.
Couldn't help feeling a twinge of pride to see how our baby has grown to a vigorous youngster. This wonderful little theatre festival that could has exceeded everyone's expectations. Its future is now in the lap of the gods and the will of mere mortals. But for now, bring it on. The Park is the place to be for the next couple of weeks.