The history and future of the beloved Lieder Theatre

I found the president of the Lieder Theatre, Jennifer Lamb, slightly hunched over the table in the foyer of the theatre counting money on a table.

Black and white photos of past theatre influencers, costume sketches and the many exuberant faces of performers lined the walls and watched as she sat on a long horizontal table covered in paintings of fruit.

Wearing gum boots and a thick jumper she apologised for her outfit. I had an incident with some bulls on a farm she laughed. 

LOOKING BACK: President Jennifer Lamb stands outside one of Australia's longest running theatre. Photo: Mariam Koslay.

LOOKING BACK: President Jennifer Lamb stands outside one of Australia's longest running theatre. Photo: Mariam Koslay.

One of Australia’s longest running theatre, it was first named the Liedertafel Society in 1891 and was run by a small committee in Goulburn. Owned by the group, after 10 weeks of its conception the first grand concert was organised and sold to a full house.

Musicals and smoke concerts played until the early 1920s, then there was a change of pace, and agenda, when boxing matches were organised in the 1930s and 1940s. By the 1970s the name changed to the Lieder Theatre and in 1993 the Lieder Youth Theatre company was established.

But it was forty years ago when the Lieder was on it’s last legs, that was, until Mr and Mrs Spicer came to town.

The English couple by the name of John and Mary Spicer, escaping the thralls of England, arrived in Goulburn. The couple were roped into producing a performance, a task they were not completely unfamiliar with, having previously acted in England.

The performance, which was a success, ignited the magic of theatre in Goulburn. And now, Ms Lamb questions the future of the theatre if it wasn’t for the couple's arrival.  

She first met Mr Spicer through a play her son was a part of. “Interestingly, I was involved in the theatre first as a mother,” she chuckled. “But I always had a hankering for acting.”

Her first experience with the theatre was in Sydney when she saw a show with her family. At school, young Ms Lamb wanted to be an actress but admitted to having a horrible singing voice, missing out on a lot of plays. After school she wanted to study at the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) in Sydney but her parents disapproval resulted in studying arts in Canberra instead.

After marrying a foreign diplomat and travelling to Austria, Cambodia and New York, Ms Lamb returned to Australia single, culturally aware and with two young sons.

“I was always rather scathing of Goulburn and never wanted to return, but when I did, I saw it completely differently,” she said.

“Goulburn wasn’t really art focused back then and ironically, I never really went to the theatre when I lived here.”

THEATRE SUCCESS: The Lieder's most recent show, 'Australia Day', a comedy about a small cuontry town and what it means to be Australian. Photo: Mariam Koslay.

THEATRE SUCCESS: The Lieder's most recent show, 'Australia Day', a comedy about a small cuontry town and what it means to be Australian. Photo: Mariam Koslay.

Taking up the inaugural role of president she has noted a big change in the way the theatre is perceived today.

Recognising the national struggle of theatre’s in regional towns, she has seen an increase in appreciation for the arts in Goulburn. “The Lieder is an amazing organisation run by a number of volunteers - but unfortunately, some people see it as amateur,” she said. “This is a very professional theatre.”

Today it echoes a rich timeline of history-changing performances and community love. Everything from the dark maroon leather seats, which sits 150 audience members to the personalised Green room, showered in clippings. But it is the two storeyed costume room, lined with an array of props including: bikes, suitcases, a red couch, crutches, a lamp and fur coats - which is most unique.

Often reused, most of the costumes are either donated or adapted for current performances. Ms Lamb is always amazed by Pauline Mullen, the Lieder’s costume designers, memory.

Despite council funding, Ms Lamb says that more support is always needed and sympathises with people who don’t understand the capacity of the theatre.

“It can be uncomfortable but the theatre is a place where your imagination comes to life,” she said. She encourages people to remember that Goulburn can be a place where you can act, write and perform in a show.

“You can be a big fish in a small pond, and it can be a launching pad for your career like so many others.”

Chrisjohn Hancock, who has been the artistic director since the 1990s, is currently in Poland in talks with theatre companies to perform here in Goulburn. But despite the future, great or small, one would like to think that the building and it’s influence will never be wiped from Goulburn’s past.  

“It’s the building that makes the people,” she says passionately sweeping her eyes around the space. “But the theatre stands as a testament of the people – and that’s something I never forget.”

Smartphone
Tablet - Narrow
Tablet - Wide
Desktop