Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust
The Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust (The Trust) was established in September 1954 under the guidance of H. C. ‘Nugget’ Coombs, Governor of the Commonwealth Bank, Sir Charles Moses General Manager, Australian Broadcasting Commission and John Douglas Pringle, Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald. It aimed to establish drama, opera and ballet companies nationally.
In 1954 The Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust (AETT) was established “to provide a theatre of Australians by Australians for Australians”. Named to commemorate Queen Elizabeth II's visit to Australia, The Trust raised £100,000 by a public appeal. The trust had an agreement with the Commonwealth government to match public donations 'in the ratio of 1:3 and to provide ongoing funding'. With substantial contributions from both the public and the Commonwealth Government, The Trust commemorated the first visit of Her Majesty the Queen, who had taken the title “Queen of Australia” in 1953, and ever since The Trust has been the only arts body to bear her name.
The hope in 1954 was that there would occur in the arts in a new Elizabethan age, as productive and inspiring as the first Elizabethan age in the sixteenth century.
Development of and support for performing arts
The Trust has nurtured and seen to independence many of Australia's most significant performing arts companies including Opera Australia and the Australian Ballet Foundation. The Trust also formed, maintained and administered two music Opera and Ballet orchestras, one each in Sydney and Melbourne, to accompany ballet and opera companies, and one smaller orchestra of Sydney freelance musicians named the Elizabethan Sinfonietta.
Other companies initiated by The Trust include the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA), the Marionette Theatre, the Australian Chamber Orchestra, the Australian Ballet School, the Theatre of the Deaf, Performing Lines and the Bell Shakespeare Company.
In 1974, the late Geoffrey Wynter Armstrong bequeathed a sum of money to The Trust to establish a memorial fund to be known as the Geoffrey Wynter Armstrong and Elizabeth Mary Martin Scholarship. The annual award is currently administered by Music & Opera Singers Trust Limited (MOST®).
The Trust played a key role in establishing high culture in Australia through its involvement in setting up:
- The Elizabethan Theatre Trust Opera Company (now Opera Australia) in 1956
- The Elizabethan Opera Ballet Company, a short lived ballet company set up in 1957, and with J. C. Williamson Ltd the Australian Ballet Foundation in 1961 and the Australian Ballet School under the direction of Margaret Scott
- The Elizabethan Trust Orchestra in 1967, which in 1969 expanded into two orchestras, one each resident in Melbourne and Sydney. These orchestras became the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra in 1991, and State Orchestra of Victoria in 1986. The SOV has since been renamed Orchestra Victoria
It has also supported:
- National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA)
- Marionette Theatre of Australia
- Australian Theatre of the Deaf
- Old Tote Theatre Company
- Melbourne Theatre Company
- South Australian Theatre Company.
Following the establishment of the Australian Council for the Arts in 1968, it ceased to be a funding body for opera and ballet in 1970.
Change in focus
During the 1980s the Trust scaled back its operations and in the 1990s had a Sydney focus and operated a ticketing agency and organised theatre parties.
In 1990, The Trust went into provisional receivership and its operations were scaled back by its Administrator. Its arts promotion role passed to the Australian Council for the Arts (later the Australia Council). Management of The Trust was given back to the Directors in 1992.
In 2000, The Trust launched its international music scholarship program for Australian singers, musicians and conductors wishing to undertake overseas music study. This exciting initiative assists musicians, singers and conductors in all music genres in making a unique, original and valuable contribution to Australian Culture.
Since 2000 there have been 107 music scholarships awarded with a total value of $1,337,559. Of these there have been 29 awards to singers for study in The Netherlands, U.K., France, U.S.A., Germany and Italy. Musicians have received awards for chamber music, orchestral and solo study in U.K. Europe and U.S.A. There are no restrictions on scholars applying for further assistance and it is the Trust's view that it should stand by and support, when practical, a scholars' musical development for life.
In 2004 the Trust purchased the Independent Theatre at North Sydney and undertook a major acoustical and heritage refurbishment of the venue. This initiative resulted in the production of a fine chamber music venue with an outstanding acoustic quality for both performers and audience. The Trust sold the Independent in 2013 to Wenona School who have continued the chamber music programs.
Chairs of the Board
- H. C. Coombs (founding chair)
- Aubrey Gibson (1966-1972)
- James Darling (1973 - 1975)
- Ian Potter (1975 - 1982)
- David Griffin (1982)
- Andrew Briger ( 1983 -1989)
- James Strong ( 1989 - 1990)
- Hon. Lloyd D. S. Waddy (1992 – current)
- Tim Rowse, 'Playing the blame game', The Australian, 16 May 2007.
- MS 5908 Records of Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust at the National Library of Australia
- Annual Report 1957, The Australia Elizabethan Theatre Trust
- Roger Wettenhall, 'Kaleidoscope, or 'Now We See Them, Now We Don't!', Canberra Bulletin of Public Administration, No. 110, 2003, p. 32.
- Valerie Lawson, 'In the steps of the Empire', Sydney Morning Herald, 9 Feb 2002.
- Frank Strahan, "Gibson, Aubrey Hickes Lawson (1901-1973)", Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 14, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne.
- Corrie Perkin, 'Philanthropist made his play', The Australian, 4 May 2006.
- The Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust: the first year, Sydney: The Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust, 1956
- Stephen Alomes, The search for a National Theatre, Voices, Spring 1993, pp. 21–37.