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Celebrating 50 years of the Canberra Theatre Centre

Laura Peppas

Decked out in furs, bowties and hats, crowds flocked to the Canberra Theatre Centre’s grand opening on June 24, 1965.

“The first production was a sell-out triple bill which included an act of Swan Lake,” says the Centre’s Director Bruce Carmichael.

“People really used to dress up in those days – if you were invited to the theatre, you really had to look the part.”

Fifty years on, much has changed: the furs have gone in favour of a more casual look and audience numbers are growing for more contemporary productions; but the venue has continued to set the stage for some of the world’s biggest musical acts, comedians and stage productions.

“Some greats to have set foot on stage include Marlena Deitrich, The Beach Boys, Billy Joel, Lou Reed, AC/DC, The Seekers, Joan Rivers, Eddie Izzard, Madam Butterfly, Chicago, The Rocky Horror Show and Barry Humphries, to name a few,” says Bruce.

This weekend the Centre will celebrate its 50th birthday with a free family fun open day.

This event includes activities for all ages; including giant puppetry, stilt-walkers, magicians, backstage tours of the Theatre, live music and more.

“Guests can also learn about the last 50 years of the Canberra Theatre Centre through a panel discussion,” says Bruce.

The Centre has seen extensive changes in its 50 years: In 1971 the covered walkway, which linked the two venues, was enclosed to create more foyer and function space for the Canberra Theatre and improved Box Office facilities. In 1982 administration offices and a large scenic construction workshop, including a mechanical painting frame and a rehearsal room/90-seat venue, The Courtyard Studio, were completed.

In 1998, The Playhouse was rebuilt to a 618 seat theatre, moving away from the older style “fan” type auditorium to a more upright semi-circular drum layout.

The next big milestones in store for the Centre, says Bruce, are the capital upgrades currently being funded by ACT Government, including new seats in The Playhouse, upgrades to access facilities and new technical equipment.

“For now we are bringing a focus to entertainment in the venues and education of school aged people in the performing arts,” he says.

View the complete schedule for the Canberra Theatre Centre’s family fun open day on our events page here:

Stay tuned for a more in-depth article on the history of the Canberra Theatre Centre in the June issue of our Magazine.


Laura Peppas

Laura Peppas is HerCanberra's senior journalist and communications manager and is the Editor of Unveiled, HerCanberra's wedding magazine. She is enjoying uncovering all that Canberra has to offer, meeting some intriguing locals and working with a pretty awesome bunch of women. Laura has lived in Canberra for most of her life and when she's not writing fervently she enjoys pursuing her passion for travel, reading, online shopping and chai tea. More about the Author