The Empire Theatre, Toowoomba – Flashback to 1998


On With the Show's

Flashback to 1998

EXPERIENCING the magic of live theatre surrounded by a true work of art is the treat for audiences flocking to the beautifully restored art deco Empire Theatre in Toowoomba.

On Saturday, June 28th 1997, the Empire Theatre became Toowoomba's premier performing arts centre and a new era of entertainment and performing arts began on the Darling Downs.

One of the Empire Theatre's most striking features, the grand proscenium arch, is thought to be the only one of its kind left in the world. The decorative plaster work, its size, its structure and tasteful appointments give theatre patrons a true sense of occasion.

The Empire Theatre is a fine example of art deco architecture and is heritage listed by the National Trust of Queensland.


THE Empire Theatre was originally opened 86 years prior on Thursday June 29, 1911, operating as a silent movie house. In February 1933, fire broke out almost completely destroying the Empire Theatre.

However, the Empire `struck back' and was reopened in November 1933. The architectural styling of the new Empire Theatre was art deco, in keeping with the trend of the 30s.

The new movie theatre was equipped with the most modern of facilities and held 2400 people making it the largest regional theatre in Australia.

This proud history was not lost in the refurbishment undertaken by the Toowoomba City Council in restoring the Empire Theatre to its former glory.

The theatre still proudly claims the title of the largest regional theatre in Australia with 1567 seats set in continental style, 1000 seats in the stalls and 567 in the dress circle.

The interior art deco styling has been faithfully restored to the finest detail. The lattice-look plaster pattern proscenium arch, back lit with a parade of colours, creates a perfect frame for performers. House lights are provided by a series of decorative sconces and the large `bomber' light, so named during the war years when locals took it down for fear that a bomb may drop and send a shower of glass onto theatre patrons below.

To accommodate the expectations of today's audiences, the architects added glass towers to the original building housing complimentary foyers on two levels complete with four bars, supper and lounge areas.

The foyers feature the original warm brick walls, acid washed and still bearing 90 years of use with light fittings and down pipes still attached. The 1911 high porthole air vents in these walls blend aesthetically with the modern additions.


WHILE the foyers and auditorium remain faithful to their art deco origin, backstage has been completely redesigned to include all the modern facilities required to stage the most complex of productions.

The stage is over 13 metres wide and 8 metres high with more than 15 metres of wing space combined. It has 80 fly lines including 5 overheads lighting bars and an orchestra pit that can be hydraulically raised to audience floor or stage thrust levels.

Visiting crews find bumping in is fast and easy with direct loading dock access to the stage on the same level. Unloading pantechs can be assisted by the dock door scissor lift and smaller heavy vehicles can simply drive onto stage to unload via a ramp.

Performers are well catered for with individual facilities for 65 people in 8 dressing rooms and a below stage orchestra dressing and tuning rooms. All dressing rooms are equipped with their own shower and toilet facilities, hanging space and lockers for personal belongings.

The complex also features a restaurant, two function rooms, visiting management office, a laundry and wardrobe area. The green room is equipped with kitchen facilities and boasts an intimate mezzanine lounge and pleasant outdoor garden patio area.

Immediately behind the main stage, separated by large, sound-proof double doors is The Studio. It seats 200 for recitals, meetings and receptions and serves as a dance studio or rehearsal space with a floor size matching the main stage playing area. The Studio is a versatile space for presenting experimental theatre, during conferences it serves as a break out room or display area and is ideal as a large dressing room for fashion parades or robing for ceremonial events.


THE Empire Theatre also operates two other heritage listed venues, the City Hall theatre and the adjacent Church.

The venues in combination are affectionately known as the Heritage Collection. With the expertise of the dedicated staff, almost any style of presentation is possible from variety performances to large plays, ballet, opera and musicals and from corporate theatre to showcases and product launches.

In partnership with organisations including the Burke and Wills Toowoomba Hotel and Encores At the Empire Restaurant, the Empire Theatre extends their services to assist with accommodation and meals for touring artists and can coordinate conferences and corporate launches.


CITY Hall Theatre is a fully operational intimate 496 seat theatre. Originally built in the 1880, the venue has subsequently been refurbished to cater for contemporary theatre practice. The technical facilities include a full fuly tower with 20 lines and adequate lighting and sound equipment to stage all styles of theatre and live performances.

The theatre is also used for conferences and has excellent exhibition and break-out areas in its foyers and the large atrium.


THE Church is the most recent venue addition to the Empire Theatre's complex. Located adjacent to the Empire, The Church is an atmospheric 1877 vintage chapel that came complete with a fully operational pipe organ.

The first function was held in February 1998 when members of the Northern Australian Regional Arts Centres Association were guests at a medieval themed luncheon.

Empire Theatre plans to stage a variety of performances in The Church including cabaret, comedy, choral work, fine music and jazz.

Corporate theatre, conferences and weddings are also presented in this historical and elegant building.

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