There are times when a seemingly insignificant and rather easily overlooked artefact reveals information about a significant development in an organisation. This is true about the program for an event that radically changed the School: the opening of the Gehrmann Theatre.
Performances of the dramatic, sporting or musical variety have always been part of the Grammar girl experience. Indeed, from 1888, performances at Girls Grammar were held annually in the Assembly Hall of the Gailey-designed ‘new’ school building on Gregory Terrace. Nearly 100 years later, in the early 1980s, with ever-increasing enthusiasm for the Creative Arts, the Board of Trustees included in their Master Plan a modern, air-conditioned boutique theatre with superb acoustics. No longer would performances need to be held in the auditorium with its lack of lighting and sound systems. No longer would the School have to book theatres all over Brisbane for concerts and plays.
The new theatre was named in honour of the Chairman of the Board, Dr A. S. Gehrmann (father of six Grammar girls). It was designed by architect, Blair Wilson, and opened on School Day, Saturday 19 April 1986 by the Official Visitor to the School, the Governor of Queensland, Sir Walter Campbell. In her opening address, the Principal, Mrs Judith Hancock declared: ‘It is a very special day in the life of the School as it marks the culmination of many years of planning.’
Acknowledging the modern, unique design, Mrs Hancock also stated, ‘Mr Blair Wilson and his associates quickly recognised our needs and designed a practical and flexible building complex which melds unobtrusively into the school site and ensures that, once the landscaping is completed, it will provide a most pleasant environment for learning.’
While the title ‘theatre’ suggests dramatic performances, the Gehrmann Theatre was a multi-purpose facility from the very beginning and, to highlight the adaptability and versatility of this space, the official opening included enactments from the auditioned choir, La Capella, a modern dance performance, a rhythmic gymnastics display, and musical items. As the Governor was present, God Save the Queen was played. Two marches, one from Aida by Guiseppe Verdi and the second from Carmen by Claude Bizet opened and closed the showcase. As is a tradition with Grammar events, the names of all the students and staff who contributed were included.
‘The girls distinguished themselves in yesterday’s opening extravaganza, a showcase of their skills in music, song, ballet, theatre, and gymnastics.’ (Courier-Mail article, 1986).
Supported by an additional five staged Gala Spectacular performances on both Saturday 19 and Sunday 20 April, the entire School community now had the opportunity to ‘inspect the new Gehrmann Theatre and associated classroom block’.
Principal, Mrs Judith Hancock, aware of the increased modern pressures on girls, encouraged appreciation and participation in the Arts. ‘Music relaxes and disciplines you’, she said. She believed that the many small groups who use the new complex will emerge as ‘more informed and appreciative audiences of the future’. (Courier-Mail article, 1986).
Today, Girls Grammar events continue to be held in the Gehrmann Theatre, from play productions to musical evenings to visiting artists and industry professionals, and the theatre has proven to be inspirational because many Girls Grammar drama and musical productions have received industry acclaim for their professionalism and innovation. While providing opportunities for the girls to develop confidence and creativity, the theatre also accommodates a range of other uses: House Group and staff meetings; information sessions for students and parents; and individual classes sometimes view films there as part of the curriculum.
The theatre continues to grow with the School, not in size, but in terms of the continually upgraded technology and facilities. The 2022 theatre provides flexibility for productions, gatherings, and performances with a raised balcony, a sophisticated sound and lighting box, multimedia facilities, a drama teaching room that doubles as a dressing room, and tiered seating rising from the flat parquetry floor area with a cyclorama backdrop.
While technology has certainly revolutionised any publication or program created by the School in 2022, we must not forget just what this unprepossessing program represents. It celebrates the advent of a very special space, one that holds a special place in each Grammar girl’s memory—and not simply actors and musicians.
On day one, all new Year 7 students gather together in the Gehrmann Theatre as a first experience. They meet as a group and are welcomed and introduced to the culture of their new school. Then, it is also fitting that the theatre is the final place that the Year 12 students meet as a cohort on their last day. They are farewelled in that space before commencing their emotional farewell walk up Gehrmann Lane. This theatre, so humbly introduced by a folded piece of glossy cardboard, now bookends every Grammar girl’s life.
Ms Antonia Swindells (1996) Alumnae Relations Manager
Kristine Cooke (Harvey, 1967) English Staff