Have a Look at La Boite Theatre, Australia’s First Purpose-Built Arena Theatre

La Boite Theatre is undeniably one of Petrie Terrace’s most interesting landmarks. Considered as Australia’s first purpose-built arena theatre, the historic site helps in showcasing the development of theatre in Queensland.

The La Boite Theatre is key to restoring amateur theatre in Queensland. The theatre is also significant for serving as a purpose-designed building for the Brisbane Repertory Theatre Society (now La Boite Theatre Company). They are currently Australia’s oldest,  continuously running theatre company and have played an important role in the development of theatre arts in Queensland.

History of La Boite Theatre

A group of local theatre enthusiasts founded the Brisbane Repertory Theatre Society during the growth of the ‘Little Theatre’ movement in 1925.

Brisbane theatre-goers warmly embraced the theatre group. In fact, newspapers reported that large and appreciative audiences frequented their shows through the 1920s and 1930s.

The group has since performed in many theatres including Her Majesty’s, the Bohemia, Cremorne, Theatre Royal, Rialto, and the Old and New Albert Halls. They also held a lease on the Princess Theatre in South Brisbane for several years.

Unfortunately, these theatres closed one by one which prompted the group to seek for new performance spaces.

The Box

The Society acquired two timber cottages on the corner of Hale and Sexton Streets, Petrie Terrace in the late 1950s. The site initially served as club rooms.

Subsequently, they purchased adjoining properties and decided to convert one of the houses into a theatre-in-the-round. At the time, there was no existing theatre-in-the-round in Brisbane despite the popularity of experimental productions. The society also felt that it is necessary to establish a permanent home ‘where the theatre’s image could flourish and members would be welcome at all times’.

The converted cottage initially seated 65 people and opened for performances in June 1967. Although the performance space was small and technical facilities were limited, the new theatre turned out to be an artistic success. The group named it La Boite which means ‘The Box’ referring to its box-like shape.

La Boite Theatre

La Boite Theatre with Blair Wilson. Credit: State Library of Queensland/Vimeo.

In 1971, Brisbane City Council approved the plan for a new theatre which replaced the converted house. Blair Wilson of Brisbane firm R Martin Wilson & Sons created the design which includes input from the theatre’s Artistic Director, Jennifer Blocksidge. It was the first purpose-built arena theatre in Australia.

Interestingly, in an attempt to save on the cost of building the theatre, Wilson used irregularly-shaped reject bricks which also added to its unusual character.

The La Boite Theatre officially opened on 11 June 1972.

La Boite Theatre Now

La Boite Theatre (2003). Photo credit: Heritage Branch staff/Queensland Heritage Register

With its continuous innovation, Brisbane Repertory Theatre established the Early Childhood Drama Project in 1975. Furthermore, it became a professional company in 1993.

Their growing needs of the company to consider moving. Towards the end of 2001, the theatre company announced that they would move to the new Creative Industries Complex at Kelvin Grove.

La Boite Theatre is now a part of Petrie Terrace’s heritage trail and has been carefully converted into offices.