04 Jul 2022

The Empire Theatre celebrated 25 years since the reopening in 1997

As part of the Empire Theatre’s 25th birthday celebrations, the Empire Theatre opened its doors free to the public on Saturday 2 July 2022, allowing the community to wander and take in the magnificent front of house of this grand building at their own pace, without the usual time constraints of the looming curtain call when coming to see a performance.

As part of the Empire Theatre’s 25th birthday celebrations, the Empire Theatre opened its doors free to the public on Saturday 2 July 2022, allowing the community to wander and take in the magnificent front of house of this grand building at their own pace, without the usual time constraints of the looming curtain call when coming to see a performance.

“People come to the theatre to see a show and while some come a little early, and enjoy a pre-show refreshment, many come in and head straight to their seats and only get to experience the main stage area,” Empire Theatre General Manager Kerry Saul said.

“This two and a half hours on Saturday afternoon allowed anyone to come in and wander around and take in the building and the architecture and look at the venue in a slow-paced environment instead of the hustle and bustle that can be a night at the theatre.”

During this open day styled event, the Empire Theatre’s foyer featured an exhibition looking at the theatre through the eyes of photographers and artists.

On display was memorabilia highlighting and evoking memories of the Empire’s rich and vibrant past, first having opened on the Neil Street site in 1911.

In the main theatre, there was piano recitals on stage and light shows in the main auditorium showcasing the state-of-the-art lighting systems Australia’s largest regional theatre boasts, creating the perfect lighting and mood for whatever performance graces the Empire’s main stage.

Twenty-five years ago on June 28 1997, Toowoomba’s magnificent Empire Theatre was reopened with a gala performance featuring national artists.

The original theatre opened on the Neil Street site on June 29, 1911, some 111 years ago as a picture theatre with the capacity to seat 2200 patrons.

The building was all but destroyed in a fire in February 1933 with only the northern and southern side walls left standing.

Rebuilt to the plans of architectural firm T.R Hall & Phillips and architect Guy Crick in the popular art deco style of the era, the Empire Theatre reopened on November 27, 1933 with a screening the of the British musical comedy Tell Me Tonight.

The new Empire Theatre had European styled diffused lighting, world class acoustics and one of the largest stages in Australia.

Edward Gold, the founder of Queensland’s first commercial radio station, Toowoomba’s very own 4GR (now Triple M), was the Empire’s chief electrician and responsible for the interior features including the illumination of the grand proscenium arch with its constantly changing colours.

The new Empire Theatre was celebrated as one of the grandest theatres in all of the British Commonwealth and attracted all types of performances from opera to vaudeville while continuing to operate as a picture house for the best part of the next four decades, until it finally closed in 1971.

Like many entertainment venues nationwide, the Empire Theatre had suffered financial difficulties with declining audiences as Australians sourced their entertainment primarily at home from the new phenomenon called television!

The building was used as a warehouse and also by the TAFE College for the next 20 year until 1991 when the need for a performing arts centre in the Toowoomba region saw the spotlight turn to the theatre once again, eventually leading to the magnificent Empire Theatre we enjoy today reopening in 1997.

Combining the grandeur of a heritage listed art deco main theatre and 3 other performance areas in the precinct with state of the art technical and staging facilities, residents of the Toowoomba region continue to enjoy the biggest national and international productions staged locally at the Empire Theatre, Australia’s largest regional theatre with the main auditorium having a seating capacity of 1561.