18 February 2022

Group hoping to rewind Yass Liberty Theatre to its glory days

| Judith Davidson
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Bimbi Turner and Peter Crisp

Dedicated Yass Liberty Theatre supporters, Bimbi Turner and glass artist Peter Crisp in the upstairs foyer of the Liberty. Photo: Judith Davidson.

Despite the dimness, dust and modifications, with just a sprinkle of fairy dust the imagination sees how the Yass Liberty Theatre once was and what it could be.

With 1930s Art Deco curving forms and long horizontal lines, inside the space soars, complete with fabulous mouldings around the rim of the ceiling.

The stylish ruby pink feather-patterned carpet and typical Art Deco decorative ocean liner metal railings on the stairways lead to the upstairs dress circle or the lower stalls.

Designed by acclaimed cinema designers Guy Crick and Bruce Furse for entrepreneur H L Phillips as a movie theatre in 1939, the building has all the style and grace of the golden days of cinema and Hollywood.

“All things must harmonise – furnishings, lighting and decorations,” Crick explained. “The lighting is a feature that forms part of the design.” The original fittings remain in place.

View inside Yass Liberty Theatre

Looking down from the dress circle, the Art Deco form and mouldings of this grand old theatre are still apparent. Photo: Judith Davidson.

Comfort was assured by an air conditioning system that delivered pure air and regulated temperature. It was state-of-the-art for its day.

Sadly, the movie theatre was closed in 1974 with the owner Mr Todd running it as a roller skating rink two nights a week with movies on other nights.

Despite the best efforts of Yass Repertory, who adopted it as their home 25 years ago, and current owners Touie and Denise Smith, it has become a shadow of its former self.

The vision and energy of the Friends of the Liberty Theatre and Cultural Centre aim to change all this. This incorporated association was set up specifically to ensure the theatre, which could originally seat 700, has a future.

The Friends of the Liberty have been successful in the first EOI round for grant money from Create NSW to refurbish and renovate the theatre.

If successful, this money, along with wider community sponsorship and in-principle support from the new Yass Council plus a band of skilled and enthusiastic volunteers, will see the development of a fully working theatre and much more.

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By retaining the original features, this grand old theatre will again house cinema and live theatre as well as a space for exhibitions.

It will be suitable for a variety of events such as poetry readings, fashion shows, wine tastings, drama classes, product and book launches.

The aim is to make it a vibrant community centre for the cultural life of Yass which can bring pleasure, entertainment, education and employment to the Yass Valley.

Perhaps most exciting is the interest shown by NIDA in running workshops in the refurbished Liberty in elements of stagecraft and theatre, and as a rehearsal space.

CEO Liz Hughes says, “NIDA would welcome the opportunity to bring some of our productions to The Liberty Theatre. It would also be an excellent location to expand NIDA connect, which is a program whereby we provide training and curriculum to local artists to teach NIDA short courses for their respective communities. The Liberty Theatre is an ideal location for furthering the Arts within the Yass region and surrounds.”

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Dr Ben Crisp of the Sydney Film School agrees that for rural communities such as Yass, theatres like the Liberty are more than a business – they are the place where the community comes together to dream.

Those wishing to support this project can become sponsors by contacting treasurer Ian Wearing at [email protected] or accessing the Liberty Theatre Facebook page for more information.

This is no small dream. At times frustrating, at times disappointing, the team has been working towards their goal for six years and the dynamic driving force behind the project Bimbi Turner quotes Walt Disney: “If you can dream it, you can do it”.

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