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 and Marea & Peter Brown.  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.

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 and also playing the part of the rogue.  Rehearsals were held at the St James Hall, Noosaville.

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 the shed 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), in part of Pinaroo Park, the Noosa Heads Bowls Cub (next to the tennis courts).  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, and the Director of Cultural Activities, Mr Arthur Creedy, and made personal representation to the Queensland Treasury.  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 as architect, Ken Lawrence as surveyor and Jim Cameron as engineer.  Electrician, Doug Matters, attended to the theatre lighting.  Assistance also came from local service clubs; Apex, Lions, Rotary and Quota.  Professional services were given free of charge or at reduced rates.  A call went out for egg cartons to insulate the building, strips of hessian were used as camouflage.  (These are still inside the internal auditorium walls today!)  With the building barely ready for occupation, 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 audiences.

Following keen interest by school children, teachers and parents, it was agreed a Children’s Theatre be started with Ted Webster, Val Warren and Ivy Lawton from the committee.  At a following meeting, Director Ted pointed out the problems with the use of the toilets – 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 the “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 on the day of the final dress rehearsal.

Musical programmes, directed by Ivy Lawton and Peter Garnsey, were very popular, then our 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 sub-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.  Len has been a member of the theatre ever since.

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 Nightwas their choice and heads the Awards Board in the theatre foyer.  Entrants had to be Sunshine Coast residents.

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 This Other Eden.

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. PinaforeDavid 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 Fundraising Campaign for the theatre extensions at a barbecue 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 (which included a bio-box) was $58,000 with half being paid by the Queensland Treasury.

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 entertainment programme was in the hands of Pauline Penfold.

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

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.  In 1983 the One-Act Playwriting Competition went ‘National’.  More history on the One Act Plays can be found here.

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.

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 Gaslightdirected 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 Wakka Wakka Dancers from Cherbourg, 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 a ‘buy-a-brick’ campaign was launched for a new bio box which was added outside 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 to be added in the auditorium, which then numbered 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!  As part of the extension, a new verandah was added to the front of the building and a concrete slab was poured ready for the kitchen. 

In November 1995 Noosa Arts celebrated its 25th Anniversary with a special concert featuring musical numbers from 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.

The theatre underwent a radical face-lift in 1995 when the exterior was painted shades of yellow and gold with the colour being extended into the foyer.  Then the blue was added along with gold curtains and upholstered seating for our patrons and a complete re-arranging of facilities. 

There were further alterations to the foyer in 1998 when the ‘kitchen‘ area was removed from the foyer and the new kitchen and bar serveries were added to the building, giving an internal entrance to the bio box.  At the same time the floors of the foyer and kitchen were tiled.  The $15,800 price tag was met by a grant from the Gaming Machines Community Benefit Fund.  Two years before the same Fund had granted the theatre $10,000 for a new roof.

During 1997/98 beautiful blue stage curtains were donated in memory of Maureen Marno, a much loved member of the theatre.  The auditorium was painted, two new heavy-duty curtain tracks were installed on the stage, and three canvas back-drops were purchased.

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 could 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.  Eventually this massive extension took place in February 2015 under the leadership of president Liza Park, and as well as professional dressing-rooms and sufficient toilets, we have a separate office, a catering-standard kitchen and bar, foyer with seating and an outdoor patio with tables and chairs for patrons’ comfort, plus a red exterior that no-one can miss!

In December 2001 a larger costume store was built on the southern wall and this was further extended in 2017.  The auditorium was re-carpeted and proper theatre seating was installed, having been purchased from the Noosa Cinema.  The directors’ chairs were now used for outside seating for our patrons.  In 2008 the floor was raked, new seats installed and a colour change took place.  Another major refurbishment of the auditorium took place in 2014 when the seats were re upholstered, it was re-carpeted and new black velvet stage curtains installed.

In 2002 Noosa Arts started a long association with the Noosa Longweekend.  In 2007 we staged the musical, They’re Playing Our Song as part of the Noosa Longweekend and in 2008 we staged the 30th Anniversary of our One Act Play Festival.

We have staged many plays written by our patron, David Williamson, including Charitable Intent, Flatfoot, Birthright, Operator andin 2006, Strings Under My Fingers featuring Australian guitarist Karin Schaupp. 

The theatre is growing and improving all the time, with hours of time given freely by its members, both on and off stage.  With six or seven productions a year and a turnover in excess of $250,000, it has come a long way since its inception in 1970.

This history is testimony to the passion, the charisma, the excitement and the achievements of our community theatre and the abundant goodwill and energy with which people approach their work at Noosa Arts Theatre.  Creativity is at the heart of this theatre and there is always an air of expectation about the next amazing experience for actors and audience among the people who make up Noosa Arts Theatre and in the fibre of the building itself.C

Contributors to this History: 
Gwen Oswell
Bronnie Norman
Margaret Courtney John Woodlock March 2019