Townsville Civic Theatre

Civic Theatre Book Front cover 1978

Front Cover of a 1978 book about the Townsville Civic Theatre by John Raggatt

The information below including some of the pictures are excerpts from the book a copy of which is held by the Performing Arts Historical Society Townsville.

The Civic Theatre was built to satisfy presentation needs in two specific fields:
a)  as a training and performing centre for local groups who present drama, ballet, pop, choral and classical music concerts, musicals, band shows and other entertainments;
b) and as a top venue for national and world class professional panies touring from the capital cities and overseas.

This ambitious design requirement was aimed to extend the range of — particularly in the fields of entertainment, drama, music and dance. It involved the provision of highly efficient, specialised and sophisticated stage facilities and technical equipment.
— pation in the performing arts by city and district communities, to improve local presentation standards, and to provide more comfort and convenience for theatre patrons. And from these basic ideals its versatility, technical efficiency, and impressive characteristics ing venue for the performing arts in this country.

In the early stages, it was foreseen that the success of the Civic Theatre project would depend largely on expert know­ledge and advice on modern theatre design and operating techniques. It was also recognized that the theatre should not only meet the needs of patrons and performers today, but also of future generations.
Many authorities were consulted — entrepreneurs, theatre and concert managers, and architects and design experts in Australia and overseas. The Townsville City Council’s City Architect, Mr N R Daniels, was appointed to design the new theatre in April 1973.
Research was stepped up, and theatres were inspected in capital cities and provincial centres in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, and also Canberra.
Advice was sought on a wide range of theatre equipment and facilities. Consultants were appointed to provide expertise in highly technical fields such as acoustics, lighting and stage machinery.
The site in Boundary Street was selected in October, 1973. The preparation of working drawings began early in the following year. But then, a perennial problem for local government — funding — arose, and the project was temporarily shelved. The Queensland Government approved a subsidy of one-third of the estimated cost (under provisions for government grants for cultural complexes) and the Townsville City Council was committed to meet the remaining two-thirds.
By mid-1975, detailed plans and speci­fications were completed and approved. Tenders were called in November.  In February 1976, a quote of $2,908,706 to build the theatre, by John Holland (Constructions) Pty Ltd, was approved, and construction work began.
The project was completed within the contract time. The overall cost, $4.5 million, includes site preparation works, the provision of parking, landscaping, consultants’ fees, and contract commitments for rises in wages and materials costs.


The Townsville Civic Theatre then dominated the skyline on the south side of the city. Close to the central business area, it is situated on Reid Park, an area of reclaimed land named after one of Townsville’s first settlers.
The parkland reserve, on Boundary Street and adjacent to Ross Creek which runs through the heart of the city, had for years been recognized as an ideal location for city beautification and landscaping schemes.
The area was then earmarked as the site for the development of a multi-million dollar complex of cultural and community recreation facilities.
The Civic Theatre is the first of these. The imposing white concrete masonry structure, with its 70′ high “fly tower”, has been readily identified by Townsville people as an important landmark.
Paved and landscaped walkways from Boundary Street, and from the adjacent theatre parking lot for over 200 cars, lead directly to the forecourt and entrance.
The Civic Theatre had then three main door­ways, flanked by panels of beaten copper. Above them, backlit panes of coloured glass illuminated the facade and ceilings over the entrance. Inside the foyer, patrons were immediately welcomed into a colourful and attractive theatre environment. A carpet of ultramarine blue, and yellow and varnished timber furnishings was softly lit by scores of single pendant ceiling lights. The mood was maintained by pools of pastel light illuminating the upper walls and ceilings in the side foyers leading to the auditorium. On entering the auditorium, the immediate impression was of colour, warmth, intimacy and comfort. Rows of orange coloured seats in a single, stepped tier spread out in a fan-shaped mass from the stage. Blue carpeting and distinctive dove grey textured masonry walls provide contrasts.
The atmosphere of warmth and anticipation was heightened by big burgundy coloured stage curtains, specially made for the Civic Theatre by a Sydney firm. A striking feature of the auditorium is its compactness. There is no dress circle, or gallery. There are no pillars to obstruct the view. Dyed-in-the-wool theatregoers were also surprised to see there were no aisles either — a design feature gaining wide acceptance in new theatres overseas and in Australia. Adequate space is allowed to reach all seats between the rows.
High overhead, seven rows of acoustic “ceiling clouds” are suspended from steel beams and girders in         the roof. The triangular shaped timber “clouds” also act as sound reflectors.

The Civic Theatre stage was then the biggest in Queensland.  It compared favourably with many well known overseas theatres. It is in fact about the same size as the Old Vic in London, and the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, Stratford.
Design features aimed to achieve versatility, without detracting from first-class presentation standards, were incorporated in the theatre. They enable it to be used for an extraordinarily wide range of productions.
They take three basic forms:
1.  Large theatre or concert hall
This configuration will accommodate major drama productions, symphony concerts, big band and pop shows, recitals, choral concerts and special presentations. It is specifically for productions which do not involve the use of the pit or a pit orchestra. The pit is then replaced by three rows of seats. The total seating capacity is 1066.
2. Music and dance theatre
This is basically for presentations which need a theatre or pit orchestra; for productions such as musical comedies, opera, ballet, variety, dance and entertainment shows. The pit can accommodate up to 50 musicians. The theatre seating capacity is then 1004.
3. Small intimate theatre
Special design features on stage and in the auditorium convert the theatre into a small intimate play­house, or a venue for recitals, chamber music performances, local music, drama and dance productions, theatre workshops, or presentations which do not normally draw large crowds. For these productions, big sliding proscenium panels reduce the stage opening. The proscenium height is also reduced by special borders. In the auditorium, an acoustic curtain which slides on rails high up in the ceiling, cuts out nearly two-thirds of the seats. The electrically operated traverse curtain hangs behind the ninth row. The intimate theatre capacity is 382.
To extend production options, the orchestra pit area can be adjusted at different levels. Shaped           platforms which slide out from beneath the stage, with portable rostrums, can bring the pit up to stage level. They can also form different levels on three sections of the front stage area, as well as other configurations.
Elizabethan production techniques (approaching “theatre in the round”) can be simulated when the forestage acting area is extended 18 feet beyond the curtain.

Performers and theatre technicians who were accustomed to cramped and cluttered conditions backstage in older theatres were impressed by the planned spaciousness of Civic Theatre working areas.
The total backstage area, at ground floor level, is in excess of 4400 square feet (56 x 79 feet excluding pit extensions).
The acting area behind the proscenium exceeds 1500 square feet. The proscenium opening is 12.2 metres (about 40 feet) wide, but this can be reduced for intimate shows to 8 metres (26 feet) in width.
The proscenium height is 7.3 metres (24 feet) but this can also be lowered for small productions to 4.8 metres (16 feet).
The stage floor had been specially designed to assist dancers. The floor is sheeted with structural chipboard on a suspension frame system, to provide resilience especially for ballet dancers.
Apart from first class technical facilities for the stage director, a sealed stage lighting and sound control room was initially situated high up above the auditorium at ceiling level. (The sound and lighting desks have since been moved to the rear of the auditorium)
The fly tower, rising more than 60 feet above stage level to the grid, handles settings, scenery and lighting battens which are hung or “flown” down to stage level. There are 65 set lines, which can be operated from the fly balcony 30 feet above the stage, or by staff in the wings.
A big orchestra sound shell, used as a backing for symphony orchestras or bands, will be “flown” as will stage sets, furnishings, lights, and a big sky cloth. The stage can accommodate the largest symphony           orchestras in the world.
Backstage, there are ten well equipped and comfortable dressing rooms, to accommodate more than 80 performers. In addition, two large all-purpose rooms are available.
Four star dressing rooms at stage level have their own showers and toilets. There are two large chorus rooms, each to accommodate 24 dancers, choristers, or musicians.
A theatre wardrobe room, equipped with a washing machine, sewing machines, clothes dryer and steam irons, is located on the first floor.
The Civic Theatre also has a “green room” or reception room at ground floor level.
The loading and unloading dock is at stage level, and protected from the weather. Big scenery storage rooms and the property store are also available. Door openings, more than 7.2 metres high, enable large flats and scenery to be moved vertically.

T V and radio
In the auditorium, soundproofed glass-fronted control and operating rooms are located above the last row of seats. These were to accommodate film projectors, a TV camera booth, and broadcasting control rooms.  Interpreters’ booths, needed for conferences and seminars were also planned to be located here.
TV camera positions, concealed from the audience, had been built close to the stage on each side of the proscenium.
The theatre is airconditioned to provide extra comfort for theatregoers in Townsville’s warm, sunny weather.
The auditorium roof is soundproofed by a 150mm (6″) concrete slab “ceiling” beneath the roof, which is also insulated, to minimise noise problems from aircraft and wet season storms.

A new Steinway orchestral concert grand (9’model D) was purchased for the theatre following recommendations by musicians and conservatorium authorities. The second grand, a Bosendorfer, is available and a third piano, an upright, is also available

The Civic Theatre was administered by the Townsville City Council, through its Community and Cultural Develop­ment Committee, headed then by Alderman Sheila Keeffe. (The Townsville City Council still administers the theatre)
The then Theatre Manager, Mr J L Lamb, took up his appointment in October 1977. Permanent staff under his direction included a technical manager and box office personnel.

The Civic Theatre’s stage equipment included house curtains, a sky cloth, gauze cloths, tabs, a full set of black legs and borders and an orchestral sound shell. Stocks of flats, cloths and rostrums were also available.
Sound equipment was monaural, with a ten channel mixer, record turntable, and a reel-to-reel tape deck.
The stage lighting system was then very comprehensive and included some of the most up-to-date equipment available then in this country. The dimmer control board was a Strand S.P. 80 (3 preset). There are four stage bars, follow spots, beam lights and four effects projectors.

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