Monday, April 26, 2010

Cremorne Theatre

This week we are looking at the area around Southbank Parklands. What did Brisbane people do for entertainment before television and before movies? Well, live theatre was very popular; and one of the most popular live theatre venues was the Cremorne, built on the river at South Brisbane. It opened in 1911, and here is a photo of it from 1950.
(Photo: QPAC Collection, John Oxley Library; #1997_061_062)

In its early days, the Cremorne was an open-air theatre, somewhat of a handicap in Brisbane's sub-tropical climate when an evening thunderstorm could drench both the actors and the audience. During WWI, various attempts were made to weatherproof the theatre, and in 1917 the Brisbane Courier recorded: 'Open-air entertainments are delightful on summer evenings in Brisbane, and the popular “Cremorne” theatre, situated on the river bank, South Brisbane, facing the south-east, and open to the cool breezes, is always a favourite resort. During the cool evenings, and when the weather is threatening or unpropitious, the popular theatre is converted into a huge canvas hall, and completely enclosed in waterproof awnings and side screens which afford protection against inclement weather. The main head covering is composed of best waterproof tarpaulin, and the water is caught in large gutterings, and carried through special drains direct into the Brisbane River. The sides are fitted with canvas screens reaching to the ground, thus preventing the rain from beating in, and affording complete protection from the wind. Agricultural drains in the auditorium render it impossible for moisture to affect the floor of the theatre. “Cremorne,” therefore, is perfectly warm, snug, and cosy, and when one witnesses the excellent entertainment provided by Mr. John N. McCallum’s “Courtiers,” it is not surprising that large audiences assemble there nightly.'
(Photo: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #2000_019_002)

One of Brisbane's favourite Cremorne performers was George Wallace, a comedian. He was described as "small and tubby, with goggle eyes, mobile expression and a croaky voice". That's George, on the left in the photo above, at a back-stage party at the Cremorne. His son, George Jr, was also an actor and vaudeville performer, and became one of Brisbane's first television "stars" on channel BTQ7.
(Photo: © 2010 the foto fanatic)

The Cremorne operated until it was destroyed by fire in 1954. After that time, the Theatre Royal in the city became the venue for much of Brisbane's live theatre. In 1974 it was decided to build a new art gallery on the site of the old Cremorne at Southbank, and at the same time to build a Performing Arts Centre as part of the same precinct. This centre, known as QPAC, contains the Lyric Theatre which hosts large live events, and the smaller Cremorne Theatre, named after the original, for more intimate events. A picture of the new Cremorne Theatre can be seen above.

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Next: Plough on Inn

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