A History of the Avalon Theatre

The Avalon itself is a really symbolic space. It’s a home for the Arts that has a history and a legacy. And I think the reopening of the Avalon will allow for that legacy to continue building for years to come.

~ Dr Lynne Bradley (Co-Founder of Zen Zen Zo Physical Theatre Company)


The Avalon Theatre was once a space that held unlimited creativity and the desire to push boundaries in the Arts world.

The theatre was built in 1921 and was acquired by the University of Queensland in 1962, before being transformed into a teaching space in the 1970s

Memories of the theatre continue to live in the minds of UQ’s Drama Alumni. With the Avalon Theatre scheduled to reopen in 2024, it’s timely to reminisce with those who created in the theatre, as well as look to the future and watch the new wave of drama students make their own mark in the Avalon.

UQ drama student Kaitlyn Grealey investigates the history of the Avalon Theatre at UQ 

Kaitlyn Grealey investigates the history of the Avalon Theatre at UQ 

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to sit down with some amazing UQ Drama Alumni to discuss their experiences and memories of the Avalon Theatre in time for its opening in 2024. 

When speaking with Alumni, I felt the sadness in their words when they spoke about the Avalon closing down. In turn, it made me feel sadness as well. Sadness for something I don’t think any of us current Drama students believed we would ever experience. But now we are! One of the most standout pieces of information I learnt from interviewing each Alumni is that the Avalon Theatre was, as Visual Arts teacher Kate Cornfoot describes:

"A very familiar and very beloved space. I don't know anyone who worked in the Avalon who doesn't feel extreme fondness for it."

Studying Drama at UQ always encourages you to explore your creativity and embrace the weirdest and most unique parts of you. When I spoke with Matthew Filkins who studied an extended major in Drama during his time as a student at UQ, he was really excited to share some of his wonderful memories of his time in the Avalon. Matthew shared with me that the Avalon ‘always had this great artistically creative buzz’ because there were independent theatre companies who called the theatre their home. He went on to note that:

“The Avalon Theatre played an essential role in my development as an actor. It was a space where we could explore ourselves and create art. Sometimes, when there were no classes in the theatre, we would sneak in just to practice, especially if there was a show coming up, and hang out. As well as learning about acting and performance techniques, I learnt so much about theatre from all throughout the world and history, but I also saw some great theatre there [Avalon] as well.”

For those of you who may be thinking, “Kaitlyn, will the Avalon have opportunities for independent theatre companies now that it’s reopening?”And I can tell you with much excitement that the answer is, “Yes!”. We are so lucky to have Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble as our first resident company in the restored and refreshed space, so keep an eye out for that one in the future.

Now, it would be wrong for me to talk about the Avalon’s resident companies and not tell you about the first resident company to call the Avalon home. Lynne Bradley and Simon Woods started their theatre company Zen Zen Zo during their time as Drama students at UQ. Zen Zen Zo is an innovative and forward-thinking physical theatre company that was one of the first of its kind, especially in Australia (and the rest of the world).

When I sat down with Lynne to speak with her about Zen Zen Zo and her time as a student at UQ, I asked her if learning in the Avalon impacted her career choice to which she responded:

“Oh, absolutely. If we hadn’t had the residence partnership with the Avalon, I don’t think Zen Zen Zo would exist. We had a little office in the back of the theatre and when there were no classes on we would use the space to conduct our Stomping Ground workshops, but also we would rehearse shows.”

The Avalon has always brought people in the community together. But it has also been the place where couples like Lynne and her husband Simon, as well as Kate and her husband Ben, met each other. It’s safe to say we want to keep the romantic element of the Avalon alive, and what better way to do that than by having a Juliet balcony. So heed my warning, when you come to watch any of the future productions at the Avalon, you may fall for more than the gorgeous architecture when you visit.

I also had the pleasure of talking to a couple of our current Drama students, Emily Pell and Isabella Baker, who will be moving into the Avalon for all of their drama classes once it reopens. When I asked them how they felt about that they both expressed their excitement for working in a professional environment. Both girls went on to comment:

Isabella: Being in a professional theatre space that provides different technologies will be important for our overall experiences as students, but it will also give us a better understanding of how to approach the professional industry.

Emily: Having the opportunity to learn and rehearse in a theatre like we are professionals in the industry will be really exciting, but I also think it will give us the confidence to believe that we can make a valid career out of this [Drama].

What Emily said really resonated with me as someone who is at the end of their undergraduate degree, and is now preparing to apply and study for an Honours year in Drama. For the majority of my degree I’ve confronted many doubts about whether or not having a career in Drama is realistic, which is ironic because we always learn in our classes to challenge reality. But I honestly believe the reopening of the Avalon is giving the reassurance that anything is possible, and it also shows that the University acknowledges Drama as a valid career choice, as Lynne Bradley says:

“The future of theatre is always uncertain. But a guarantee that the stage will always be there starts with students believing it’s possible to have a career and a life in the industry. One thing I know is that UQ students are really smart and have so much potential. And I think it’s really important for them to have the appropriate resources and spaces they require to explore their creativity. It’s lovely to know that upcoming theatre professionals will have a home to be innovative in, and also that the university understands the importance of the Arts and is happy to provide the space and resources students and staff need.

I don’t want to make you believe that entering the theatre industry is the only career choice you have as a UQ Drama graduate. As I mentioned previously, Kate went on to become a teacher, and I plan to stay in academia researching every little nugget of theatre history I can. But there is one person who broke away from the mould of a drama graduate and his name is Dr Kirril Shields. Kirril, as well as being a UQ academic, is an expert consult for the UN Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect. Kirril’s career shows just how many different directions a Drama major can take you in. After he graduated with his Bachelor of Arts, majoring in drama and something else he couldn’t remember (I think his exact words were, “It was 20 years ago Kaitlyn, I actually have no idea what I studied *insert laughing*), his play that was co-written by Norman Kemal, was performed at the Avalon and then picked up by professional Brisbane theatre company La Boîte. However, soon after working on a TV Show, Kirril decided he wanted to go back to uni to study Literature and Political Science.

“I think that’s [Political Science] something I’ve always been interested in ever since I was a little boy. So to think of it, Drama was more like a ten-year hobby that was fun, I still love going to the theatre.”

The Avalon Theatre reopening is nothing but a good thing. Us Drama students have always been distinguishable from every other major in the university, and I’m so happy we finally get to have our own little space. With the theatre being just a short walk along the Brisbane River from campus, we really do have our own community. Kirril said something lovely when we were talking and that was:

“The Drama community has always been different and special in its own way. The thing about Drama and the Avalon is that as a family you’re together, from first year all the way through to your last and maybe your Honours. Sometimes we would just hang around after class was finished, just because we felt like we were in our own little world.”

I have a feeling we’ll be trying our hardest to be in the Avalon 24/7. Lucky for us current students, we won’t have to sneak in through a broken window like some of you Alumni did (you know who you are). With a great booking system and tap access during working hours, it sounds to me like we’re re-entering the golden age of the Avalon and Drama Studies at UQ, and I can’t wait to see you all making a name for yourselves in the space.

I guess all that’s left to say is… To our Alumni, I thank you for paving the path and leaving a legacy like no other, and I hope you know that you will always have a place to call home in the Avalon. To our current students, whatever you may choose to do with your degree once you leave UQ, always remember that anything is possible so long as you believe in yourself. Dare to dream and dream big. I hope you all create your own legacy within the walls of the Avalon and leave your mark, because one day we will all be remembered as the ghosts that reside in the walls of the theatre.