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Empire celebrates 20 years of entertainment

BEYOND EXPECTATION: Events manager Margaret Turnbull says no-one could have foreseen just how busy and diversified the unique Empire Theatre would become.
BEYOND EXPECTATION: Events manager Margaret Turnbull says no-one could have foreseen just how busy and diversified the unique Empire Theatre would become.

IT BEGAN on a dark and stormy night 20 years ago.

But far from being a horror story, the tale of the Empire Theatre has been one of ongoing success.

It's a story the theatre is celebrating on Sunday, June 25 with a free open day comprising performances, workshops, tours, displays screenings and more from 10am.

Events manager Margaret Turnbull remembers opening night on June 28, 1997 saw some of the worst weather Toowoomba had experienced in years. But it didn't stop residents turning out in droves to two nights of gala concerts.

"It was terribly exciting," she said.

Margaret remembers watching as the art-deco building was transformed.

"As soon as I knew it was going to be refurbished, I knew I wanted to be involved," she said.

She signed up as a volunteer, but was delighted when she got a paid front-of-house job instead.

"It's been a privilege to be involved in it to be honest," Margaret said.

"I love my work. Every day is something different."

The Empire had closed its doors as a cinema in 1971, primarily due to competition with TV and the drive-in. After a few different uses, it had fallen into a sad state of disrepair.

With the realisation that Toowoomba needed more than its 486-seat city hall for entertainment, the Empire was given a new lease on life in 1997.

And it's first big act? None other than the then-golden boy of Aussie entertainment, Simon Gallaher.

"We really hit the ground running," Margaret said proudly.

The theatre, the largest regional theatre in Australia with 1567 seats, has become increasingly busy over the years, and Margaret said technical improvements had allowed shows to become far more spectacular than anyone could ever have dreamed.

"It's amazing how the theatre has grown," Margaret said.

"Twenty years ago, we couldn't have even imagined what we are doing now ... how big and busy and diversified it would become."

But asked for a standout performance, Margaret can't go past the impact of the first time The Wiggles came to town.

You can hear some of the stories of years gone by in tours which will take you back and front of stage as part of the open day, which Margaret said had been organised with something to appeal to all ages and all interests.

Special guests include The Australian Army Band Brisbane at 10.30am and performing Swing at 2pm (band seats must be booked), singer Brendon Walmsley, contemporary dancer Jacob Watton, the Cool Nights Big Band, presentations from local choral groups, dance groups and Empire Youth Arts.

Food and drinks will be available, so join in the party. For more details or to see what's coming up, go to www.empiretheatre.com.au.

Topics:  empire theatre general-seniors-news toowoomba


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