4 July 2023

Riverina Rewind: Was there really a goat on stage at the Wagga Civic Theatre opening?

| Michelle Maddison
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Mayor Ivan Jack and Town Clerk Bill Ellis (the two men at the right) check out the Wagga Civic Theatre model. Photo: Supplied.

A very special Rewind from the Museum of the Riverina this week as we wish our friends at the Wagga Wagga Civic Theatre a very happy 60th Birthday!

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The theatre’s opening in June 1963 was celebrated with performances by two of the leading theatre companies of the time – the School of Arts Players and the Theatre Club. The ceremony and entertainment were reported as being “an exciting and memorable evening”.

black and white photo of construction work

The build begins on the banks of the lagoon. Photo: Supplied.

For local performing groups and their audiences, the theatre was a milestone that had been a long time coming and provided these groups with a proper venue at which to perform. Previously, the Theatre Club presented its musicals in the Wonderland Theatre, and the School of Arts performed most of their shows in the St Andrew’s Presbyterian Hall on Cross Street.

Theatre under construction

The Civic Theatre takes shape. Photo: Supplied.

Funding for the Theatre came from several sources, including Council finances, the Wagga Chamber of Commerce’s Community Advancement Fund, the War Memorial City Building Fund, while a substantial contribution of more than £57,000 (approximately $115,000) came from the Wagga School of Arts selling their Fitzmaurice Street premises. At the time of construction, the Civic Theatre was one of the first public-owned theatres outside a state capital city.

The Civic Theatre mural is finished. Photo: Supplied.

The theatre has had several upgrades since its early days. Acoustics were improved dramatically, while the original size of the orchestra pit was reduced. An early drawback for actors was a lack of hot water in the dressing rooms. This brought some screams from visiting performers seeking a shower after an energetic show, particularly in the middle of a Wagga winter!

Improvements over the years mean that it is now regarded as one of the best regional theatres in NSW and a fitting part of Wagga’s rich theatrical community.

Civic theatre

Inside the new theatre, including doors in the centre. Photo: Supplied.

The 60th birthday gala was held last Thursday (29 June) and featured a mix of emerging local artists and seasoned performers like Wagga’s own Darren Coggan, the Australian Army Band Kapooka, musicians from the Riverina Conservatorium of Music, and Ivy and Geoff Simpson. For the grand finale, performers were joined on stage by a very well-behaved little goat named Claire in tribute to the theatre’s first performance 60 years ago that also featured a friendly nanny.

Goat on a stage

The original goat performance at the Civic Theatre. Photo: Supplied.

Images from the Museum of the Riverina, Charles Sturt Regional Archives.

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