The History of the La Boite Theatre

La Boite / translation ‘the box’

The French translation is a perfect way to describe the small, box-shaped building famously known as the La Boite Theatre.

The old La Boite Theatre is a heritage listed building that has been retained throughout the years, including the tunnel, an iconic space where actors and techies graffitied the walls with jokes, ditties and drawings over the theatre’s long history. The tunnel no longer exists, however the owners have preserved these graffitied walls, protecting them with glass to guarantee that the spirit of the theatre lives on.

Relocating from Chapel Hill to the old La Boite Theatre, Excite Media, a team full of designers, developers, marketers, photographers, writers and musicians are proud to become part of this historic creative space.

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Extensive renovations to the Hale Street building have preserved its rich history.

Where it all started

Originally the Brisbane Repertory Theatre Society, The La Boite Theatre Company was founded in 1925 by theatre enthusiasts Barbara Sisley, a British drama teacher, and Professor Jeremiah Joseph Stable, an English literature professor. Their passion was to stimulate and promote the development of dramatic literature and the arts.

In 1931, the company ran an Australian Playwriting Competition which caused controversy due to the winning play presenting realistic subject matter and coarse language. Despite the controversial content, this incident paved the way for the company, which became known as a modern and innovative theatre.

With the closure and demolition of Albert Hall in 1967, the company’s theatre space since 1942, the Brisbane Repertory Theatre Society needed a new home. Brisbane Rep’s Council President, Bruce Blocksidge, had the idea that an old house in Milton held the potential to be converted into a theatre space. The La Boite Theatre was born.

where-it-started

Professor J.J.Stable had a great influence on the intellectual and cultural life of Queensland in the first half of the twentieth century.

Building the La Boite Theatre

The building was designed by Blair Wilson of R Martin Wilson & Sons, with input from the theatre’s Artistic Director, Jennifer Blocksidge. The State Government financed the construction through a dollar-for-dollar grant of $40K. To reduce Wilson’s proposed budget of $100K down to $80K, the decision to reuse the lighting and sound equipment from Albert Hall was made. Reject bricks with chipped corners and irregularities were also used to cut costs, which were noted by theatre goers to add character to the building, resulting in local demand for similar bricks.

The new theatre seated 70 people and attracted a new generation of directors and actors such as Barry Otto, Jane Atkins and John Stanton.

It was Bruce Blocksidge’s idea to name the theatre La Boite. This was not only due to its box-like structure, but also in reference to a coffee house called La Boîte, which he visited when in London and was frequented by well-known theatricals. The first production in the theatre was John Osborne’s drama ‘Look Back in Anger’, directed by Babette Stephens and starring Bille Brown. Described as a harsh realistic English drama, the play was in stark contrast to the conservative content performed in Brisbane at the time.

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Extensive renovations to the interior of the building have preserved its rich history.

Why the Round?

Developed in the early 20th century as a new theatrical form, theatre-in-the-round was designed to combat the restrictions of traditional theatre. Taking cues from ancient Greek and Roman theatres, the audience surrounds the main stage looking down onto the actors. Theatre-in-the-round brings the performers and audience closer together while amplifying sound.

At the opening of the La Boite Theatre in June 1972, The Courier Mail noted that the Brisbane Repertory Theatre Society had made Australian history. Since those early beginnings, the walls of the La Boite Theatre have witnessed and survived a roller-coaster of emotional theatre-goers, a changing political and cultural landscape, not to mention devastating Brisbane floods.

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Anthony Phelan in Dickinson by David Allen directed by Malcolm Blaylock, 1980.

Present day

Redevelopment of the heritage listed building has transformed the La Boite Theatre into a unique and sophisticated creative space. The historical content of the theatre has been preserved throughout, leaving intact the original brick facade and graffiti, encapsulating the original charm of the architecture.

Excite Media are delighted to be relocating from Chapel Hill to the old La Boite Theatre, continuing the creative legacy that began all those years ago in an old Queensland house on Hale Street.

laboite-renovation

The team at Excite Media are proud to call the old La Boite Theatre building our new home.

 

Share your story with us

We would love to hear your story if you’ve been involved in the history of the old La Boite Theatre. If you have seen a show, worked at the theatre or performed on the stage, please share your story below.

Images courtesy of 90 Years of La Boite.

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