History of the Noosa Arts Theatre

Noosa Arts began officially on the 15th September 1970, at the Barefoot Gallery, Peregian Beach.There had been rumblings prior to this date, but there are no recorded minutes of any previous meetings.

Ten people met at the gallery run by Denis Hardy on the David Low Way, to try to form a combined Art Group for the Noosa area. This was prompted by the successful Art Exhibition staged at Noosa Heads by the Laguna Art Group. John Heywood was elected President, Nola Torode as Secretary, and Sandra Tyrie as Treasurer.

On the 5th October 1970, an informal gathering was held at Peregian Beach to discuss the possibility of establishing a Cultural Centre in the Noosa area. Arthur Creedy, Director of Cultural Activities, came from Brisbane to get it off the ground. Thirty-five people attended and a “party atmosphere” dominated the meeting.

The “party atmosphere” was the theme for following monthly meetings when dinner was served and the business conducted over coffee. The restaurant charged $1 for the meal but members paid $1.50 with the 50 cents going to build up funds.

There were Pool Parties, Wine Tastings, Spaghetti and Italian Dinners, Fashion Parades, Painting Exhibitions, Candlelight Cabarets and much, much more. Many people gave their time and talents in the years 1971 and 1972 to make Noosa Arts a reality.

These included Dr & Mrs Brian Ferguson who opened their Noosaville home for musical evenings, Cecily Fearnley with a reputation for fine suppers, Keith Hanney on money matters, Roy Osment hall liaison, artists Max Newton, Emma Freeman, Nancy Cato, Margot Bolton, hosts Barbro & Peter Mendoza, Marie & Bob Gillies, Pat & Wal Hourn, Marea & Peter Brown, but the pace appeared to be too much for a number of the executive – the turnover rate was rather high, with four Presidents before Marea Brown was elected to the position in 1973.

It was in 1971 under Marea’s drama leadership, that plays started to emerge. The first presentation by Noosa Arts was the performance of two skits at a New Year’s Eve function arranged by the Rotary Club at the end of 1971. Artists performed on the back of a truck at the Scouts’ Den, Noosaville.

On the more serious side, the first Noosa Arts Constitution was adopted in 1971 at the Lakes Motor Inn (where the Australis Noosa Lakes now stands).

Three One-Act Plays followed at the R.S.L. Hall, Tewantin, in January 1972. Admission charged – Adults 75 cents, Pensioners and Children 25 cents. Proceeds – $47.

Later in that year the first Three-Act Play “Running Riot” was staged at the R.S.L. Hall with Marea Brown directing, also playing the part of the rogue. Rehearsals were held at the St James Hall, Noosaville (now part of the Noosa Bridge Club building at Wallace Park).

Business discussions took place after this performance when Phyl and Lin Furness asked real estate agent, Roy Osment, if he could find a purchaser for their large holding of broad acres opposite Noosa/Tewantin Golf Course. A large corrugated iron factory assembling shed, size 50’ x 30’ was on the property.

As the fledgling Noosa Arts desperately needed a home, Marea Brown prevailed on Roy to offer the developers $500 for the shed.

Despite offers of $2,000 and more by other keen bidders, Roy was successful in convincing the developers, J.F.P. Consultants that as they were opening up the new estate Noosa River Heights, it would be great P.R. to sell to Noosa Arts.

This they did but the problem then became – where to locate the shed?

‘Now it’s there for all to see – the new Noosa Arts signboard and, behind it, the rapidly-growing theatre.’ - Noosa News, October 1975

Several sites were considered – in Goodchap Street (next to Council Offices), part of Pinaroo Park, the Noosa Heads Bowls Cub (next to where the Noosa Tennis Club courts were once located). A committee consisting of Roy Osment, Carl Neilson and Keith Hanney was elected in 1973 to investigate the position.

In 1974 the Noosa Shire Council gave the necessary approval for the shed to be shifted to leased land adjacent to the Noosa District Football Club. President Marea Brown sought assistance from the Member for Cooroora, Mr David Low (Noosa Shire was once part of the seat of Cooroora before the seat of Noosa was created in 1991). He and Mr Arthur Creedy, the Director of Cultural Activities, made personal representation to the Queensland Treasury for assistance and, finally, after much paper work, a $1 for $1 subsidy on Stage 1 of the Noosa Arts Theatre was obtained. The total cost was $9,067. Things were moving at last.

During the long period of negotiations, Noosa Arts Building Fund continued to mount with social activities and play presentations. Supporters were asked to subscribe to interest-free loans and urged to buy theatre chairs individually inscribed with the name of the donor – for $10 each.

Late in 1974, Nancy Cato’s book “Brown Sugar” was launched at the R.S.L. Hall, hilarious skits by Noosa Arts added to the night of celebration.

Then it all started.
Cooroy builder, Colin Koch, undertook the work of re-siting the shed on a concrete slab and adding the small kitchen, dressing room and two toilets under the supervision of Brian Murphy – Architect, Ken Lawrence – Surveyor and Jim Cameron – Engineer, electrician Doug Matters attended to the theatre lighting.

Assistance also came from the local service clubs, Apex, Lions, Rotary and Quota. Professional services were given free of charge or at greatly reduced rates.
A call went out for egg cartons to insulate the building; strips of hessian were used as camouflage.

With the building barely ready for occupation, the Pantomime “Puss In Boots”, written and directed by Marjorie & Arthur Harrold, was staged in the new theatre with a cast of forty.

On Saturday, March 27th 1976, the Noosa Arts Theatre was officially opened by Sir Thomas Hiley. A performance of “Big, Bad Mouse” directed by Carl Ritzau followed. The official opening included a Memorial Exhibition of paintings by the late Max Newton – a foundation member.

This photograph titled “ARTS GROW FROM TIN SHED” headed an article on the opening of the Noosa Arts Theatre on 26th March 1976.

Roy Osment, Val Warren, Marjorie Harrold, Nancy Cato, Sir Thomas Hiley KBE (former Patron and former Treasurer of Queensland), Gwen Oswell, Joan Cubis and Marea Brown.

The completion of Stage 1 of the theatre saw many varied and excellent presentations. The first musical “Down In The Valley” produced by Ross McLean with musical items by Barry Anderson and Val Warren, delighted the three night audiences.

Following keen interest by school children, teachers and parents, it was agreed a Children’s Theatre be started with Ted Webster, Director and Val Warren and Ivy Lawton from the committee. Director Ted pointed out the problems with the use of the toilets at a following meeting – the sewerage was still to be connected. Val Warren reported 29 children attended the first class, three days later 16 turned up, three days after that 64 arrived.

The Headmaster of the Tewantin Primary School heard of their plight and classes were temporarily transferred to the school.

At this time a great deal of voluntary work was carried out at the theatre. As a result of a “Buy A Brick” Fund, the foyer was built with wonderful Bert Warren leading the work team, the stage was also enlarged.
The theatre was constantly in use - workshops, Noosa Shire Charity Concerts, Queensland Day Shows, tuition in voice production, singing lessons, painting exhibitions, cabarets, garage sales, Carols by Candlelight (this at the Noosa Main Beach) - all these as well as excellent stage shows.

The first drama “Shadow In The Sun” was shadowed by its own drama when Director Carl Ritzau died the day of the final dress rehearsal.

Musicals directed by Ivy Lawton and Peter Garnsey were very popular, then first full-length musical “Oliver” with scripts coming from the U.S.A. and directed by Joan Cubis, brought Noosa Arts well into the limelight.

Large casts meant erecting tents to serve as extra dressing rooms. Cold nights and flimsy costumes brought many problems.

Peter Bergman became Noosa Arts’ Honorary Solicitor and his help was invaluable sorting out the complexities of the lease with the Football Club and the many difficulties encountered with the growth of the theatre.

Tewantin Bank of New South Wales Manager, Don Golden, was a tower of strength at this time while Len Daddow of the Noosa District Football Club soothed many ruffled feathers.

December 1977, saw the second Constitution adopted – a marathon effort by Secretary, Marjorie Harrold. This important function took place in a party atmosphere at a Christmas Barbeque at the Oswells of Peregian.

January 1978, Sir Thomas Hiley, Roy Osment and John Oswell were appointed Trustees of the theatre.

Also in 1978 Val Warren very enthusiastically suggested the inauguration of a One-Act Playwriting Competition for residents of the Sunshine Coast – three finalist plays to be staged and the audience to choose the most popular play. Nancy Cato’s “Travellers Through The Night” was their choice and heads the Awards Board in the theatre foyer.

In 1983 the One-Act Playwriting Competition went ‘National’ - one of the conditions imposed by the Literature Board of the Australian Council for the grant of $500 for the winning playwright. Over the ensuing years a variety of organisations and individuals have sponsored the Competition (for more information visit the Playwriting Competition history page).

By this time the children’s Theatre was flourishing – divided into two sections, Senior and Junior Youth Theatre with leaders over the years Val Bassett, Kath Banks, Jo Noone, Joan Cubis, Merilyn Thomas and Melissa Mitchell. Unfortunately it was disbanded in 1995 because of a lack of trained teachers to lead the group.

In 1979, Architect Don Tame drew up plans for enlarging the facilities at the theatre. The lack of space was critical. A heart-rending plea was sent to Mr Kevin Siddell, Director of Cultural Activities, for financial assistance to this end.

1979 also saw the very successful launching of Nancy Cato’s book “The Noosa Story” although the heavy rain on the theatre roof drowned out the voices of the actors as they endeavored to present a locally written play “The Spirit of Noosa”.

1981 saw a Director come from England to be Co-Director with Val Warren in the last few weeks of preparation for “H.M.S. Pinafore”. David Warwick, one time associated with the famous D’Oyly Carte Opera Co, brought his Gilbert & Sullivan magic to the Noosa Arts Orchestra and production with dazzling results. He returned several times with ‘The Mikado’ in 1983, ‘The Pirates of Penzance’ in 1985 and ‘Patience’ in 1987.

In 1981 Sir Thomas Hiley launched the Fund-raising Campaign for the theatre extensions at a barbeque at the Noosa Nursing Home.

Pete Garnsey was elected Building Co-Ordinator and many were the committee meetings extending well into the night. Builder Joe Terrens had the patience of Job. The cost of the renovations was $58,000 with half being paid by the Queensland Treasury.

The building was completed in November when “Toad of Toad Hall”, directed by Eileen Walder, finally took to the stage for the first time on opening night!

On July 17 1982, the Grand Extensions Opening Night was held with Mr Kevin Siddell and representatives from the Treasury in attendance. After dinner the happy programme was in the hands of Pauline Penfold.
The new look theatre brought a wealth of productions, the pace was non-stop. From July 1982 to July 1983, Noosa Arts staged 10 productions as well as plays by outside groups, Noosa Film Society screenings, musical functions and a ‘Pleasant Sunday Afternoon’.
The committee began to wilt.
The First Nighters’ Club commenced in 1986, making the first night of a season of performances a Gala Night with party food and champagne flowing. The thriller “Gaslight” directed by Paul Weaver was a popular start for this exclusive Club.
A new Constitution to enable Noosa Arts to become an incorporated body was adopted at a Special General Meeting on 30th May 1986. The new name to be ‘Noosa Arts Theatre Inc’.

In August, Bronnie Norman’s play “Eliza Fraser” commemorated the 150th anniversary of the shipwreck off our coast. This production featured members of the Waka Waka Dancers along with our own actors.

Late 1986 saw our patrons in all their finery no longer stepping out of their cars into the murky waters outside the theatre but to the luxury of dry land, concrete path with kerb and channeling, generously supplied and completed by the Noosa Shire Council.

Together with the paving and landscaping of the theatre grounds and the painting of the exciting murals on the side walls by artists Ian & Judy Grieve, it was with a great deal of pride that the committee and members saw the sign ‘Noosa Arts Theatre’ erected

A world premiere of “The Green Wizard” - a pantomime written and directed by Ian Austin at the end of 1986 completed a very satisfactory year.

In 1994 another ‘Buy-a-Brick’ campaign was launched for a new bio box which was added to the eastern wall of the theatre to house the computerised lighting board, the two follow spots and the audio system. This then allowed two more rows of seating in the auditorium, which now numbers 145 seats. Following the lead of the founders, two more chair buying drives were run in the ‘90s to obtain the extra seats needed, this time at a cost of $20 per chair!

In November 1995 Noosa Arts celebrated its 25th Anniversary with a special concert featuring musical numbers from many of the productions which had been performed over the years. Many of the founding members of the theatre were present and the cutting of the birthday cake took place in a happy party atmosphere.

As part of the extensions an ‘office-in-a-cupboard’ was built in the foyer and a new photocopier and computer were purchased to make our clerical duties more professional and also enabling the theatre to design and print its own posters, newsletters, tickets and programmes.

At the end of 1998 three reverse-cycle air-conditioners were installed in the auditorium, so patrons and cast can be comfortable all year round.

The theatre leases the land from the Department of Natural Resources, and in 1999 requested that the western boundary be re-aligned to allow us more room to grow. In November a new Building Fund was launched at the opening night of “South Pacific”. This was to raise money for an ambitious extension — a more ‘eye-catching’ façade, two new dressing rooms to replace the old ‘uni-sex’ one, with cast toilets and a shower. Also more toilet facilities for patrons and one for disabled people. A larger costume store is to be built on the southern wall, along with an ‘alcove’ for an orchestra. As of April 2015 these extensions are now complete; no doubt the fundraising will continue for the next round of building works!

The theatre is growing and improving all the time, with more than 35,000 hours of time freely given by its members each year, both on and off stage. With five or six productions a year and a turnover well in excess of $100,000, it has come a long way since its inception in 1971.

Over the years Noosa Arts has uncovered many people who had no idea of the talent they possessed. No Noosa Arts history would be complete without mention of Ivy Lawton and Margaret Courtney and their costumes; of Bronnie Norman, Meg Williams and Susan Dearnley with their stage properties; of Nelson Tomlin for his technical abilities; and of George Courtney and his set design and construction. Noosa Arts could never have attempted many of the ambitious presentations we have been privileged to perform and enjoy without their amazing contributions. Noosa Arts’ reputation for lavish musicals has evolved over the past 20 years thanks to Pauline Penfold, with such productions as ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’ and the memorable ‘Barnum’.

Where too, would Noosa Arts be without ‘stayer’ Val Warren – she joined the theatre shortly after it began and worked actively until the mid ‘90s. She did step down for a few months in 1983 but the lure of Noosa Arts and grease-paint was too powerful and she was soon back in her favourite office of Treasurer. And of course Pete Garnsey with his beautiful tenor voice, along with his organizational abilities, a wonderful director as well.

There have been so many dedicated and talented people who have helped make Noosa Arts what it is today – to name them all would be impossible. Apart from the directors, actors and musicians, there are the people who create the sets, costumes, lighting and audio; the large number whose contribution is working front-of-house during a show; and the backstage people without whom our productions would never get on stage. The people who do the publicity and newspaper columns and those who help maintain the building itself. Everyone is necessary and valued!

In almost forty-five years of existence, Noosa Arts has grown and is an important part of the cultural life of Noosa, bringing entertainment to the community and giving the opportunity to many to foster their talents. It is a source of training and a help to many, overcoming lack of confidence, bringing friendship to Noosa newcomers and a sense of satisfaction to both young and old.

The path has not been easy and it would not have been possible without the interest, generosity and help of so many wonderful people.

That was the past – for the future there will be changes. What has gone before will seem to many to be ‘old hat’.

A thought which has applied throughout the ages, still applies today and will tomorrow – the theatre exists only because of its patrons. The patrons deserve the highest standard of entertainment it is in the theatre’s power to give and it is our bounden duty to aim for this ideal at all times.

Contributors to this History:
Gwen Oswell
Bronnie Norman
Margaret Courtney