Hunter School of the Performing Arts

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Sport Houses

Our sport houses honour local theatres: Civic Lyrique Royal Star

The majestic Civic Theatre, a NSW heritage treasure, began life as a  picture palace in 1929, its first screening was the ‘talkie sensation’ Behind the Curtain. It was soon described as the "wonder theatre of Australia" for its history and extravagant, Morocccanan‐style architecture. The 1,700 seat auditorium is a modified Empire style, with Spanish/Moroccan overtones. There is a large ornamental dome in the ceiling and huge recessed arches over the Royal boxes which flank the stage. Designed for both live theatre and cinema use, the stage is 30 metres wide and 12 metres deep, the proscenium is a 14 metre wide Classical frieze. First operated by Northern Amusements, it came under the control of Hoyts Theatres chain in 1941. Hoyts closed the Civic Theatre as a cinema in 1973 and it was taken over by Newcastle City Council. The building is now a National Trust historic building used for live theatre and music events.

The Lyrique opened in 1910 as the Masonic Hall, facing Thorn Street. In April 1915 it opened as a cinema called the Lyric Theatre. It closed in 1926 to reverse the theatre with the entrance on Wolfe Street and a balcony was added. After a few months it reopened with Wallace Reid in Broken Laws operated by a subsidiary of Greater Union Theatres. After being equipped with sound equipment in 1930 it closed and was converted into a mini-golf course, which closed in 1931 and cinema use resumed. This didn’t last long either and it was converted into a billiard club. By 1941 the Lyric was in use as a hostel for servicemen. It re‐opened as a cinema under Great Union again in 1942 with Abbott and Costello in Ride ‘em Cowboy. In 1959 it was re‐decorated and re‐named the New Lyric Theatre screening art house films - it opened with Jacques Tatiin in Mon Oncle, but closed in October 1987. After several years it was taken over by an independent operator and re‐named the Lyrique Theatre and reopened in 1991 with Adam's Rib. The Lyrique Theatre closed again in 1999 and unresolved issues with tighter fire and safety regulations have hindered plans to renovate and re-open it.

The Theatre Royal opened in 1924 with the feature film Hearts Aflame, plus a few Paramount comedies, travel films, newsreels, and a ‘full orchestra’. Its huge proscenium was flanked by ‘Royal Boxes’ topped by a huge ornamental golden dome with a horse-shoe shaped dress circle. The facade featured classical columns, balconettes and decorative shields and insignia. In 1927 it held the world premiere of the Australian silent film For the Term of His Natural Life. In 1929 ‘talkies’ debuted with Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer. In 1939 it was remodelled from its Baroque style into an Art Deco style, relying heavily on deep horizontal and vertical lines and geometrical motifs. A crying room was constructed at the rear of the stalls for mothers with screaming babies. It reopened with Tyrone Power in Suez. In 1941 Hoyts Theatres took over and installed CinemaScope. It had a major upgrade in 1962 including a bigger screen and reopened with Frank Sinatra and Shirley MacLaine in Can Can, but seating was reduced from 1,390 to 960 seats. It is one of few remaining 1930s Art Deco theatres and has many key features that exemplify that era. It also reflects the transition toward multiplexes as the cinema experience was transformed from grand aesthetics and a sense of occasion to one of increasing standardisation and commercialism. NBN-TV bought it in 1979 and twinned the theater, renaming it the Royal Twin. The stalls became Cinema 1 and the dress circle Cinema 2 - it reopened in 1980 with The Empire Strikes Back and Sea Wolves. It closed in 1989 and later a church rented the downstairs Cinema 1. In 2010, after failing to sell, the church moved into the building on a long term lease.

The Star was a one-level big tin shed with no ceiling, but capable of seating 1000 people - however there was a sliding roof for winter months and rain. Vaudeville and silent films reigned supreme in the early days and during patriotic drives for raw material in World War I patrons could exchange rubber tyres for Saturday matinee tickets. In 1934 some distinctive art deco remodelling featured a tall facade of dark red bricks and new ceiling and walls with star-shaped grilles. But it was still just a big converted barn with the old-world charm and the character of a large suburban cinema, but with marvellous acoustics. Noisy coal trains even ran along the eastern wall of the picture theatre until the Burwood line was closed in 1954. In 1965 the theatre was renovated again with a huge fly tower added to allow the theatre to be used for live performances. It was renamed The Star and was used to test new Sydney productions. In the 1980s it was demolished and a commercial and medical centre was built on the site.

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