Elected La Boite’s Theatre Director in 1969, Jennifer lost no time in initiating a period of change and development unprecedented in its history. Her first big challenge was an ambitious one involving a building and a lot of money. Some back history is necessary, here!
Since 1942, Brisbane Repertory’s main-house productions were all performed in Albert Hall. During this time, the Rep’s Council had cleverly bought houses in the Hale Street, Milton area and, when news came in the mid-‘60s that Albert Hall was to be demolished, even more cleverly decided to convert one of them into a theatre. Under newly-appointed Council President Bruce Blocksidge’s leadership, walls were knocked out and there it was – a perfect little theatre space in-the-round measuring just 23 feet and 4 inches square! Actually, it was more like theatre-in-the-box, hence the very suitable French name of La Boîte. So classy! (Note: the French ‘umlaut’ eventually disappeared into the too-hard basket!) It was very much an actor’s space and audiences loved it, but with an audience capacity of around 80, after five years it was economically unsustainable.
In its place, Jennifer envisioned a new style of theatre building to meet her evolving vision for La Boite. She was excited by the electrifying change that was afoot in the guise of a ‘New Wave’ of theatrical activity in Sydney and Melbourne that was nurturing a new generation of writers, actors and directors. She wanted Brisbane to join the action, ideally in a new building designed for new and innovative theatre. This is where Bruce Blocksidge’s property know-how came in very handy, as did the Blocksidge’s friendship with Architect Blair Wilson (later also a Council President). Bruce could see the potential for demolishing the first little La Boite theatre to build a radical new theatre on their own property, that would meet Jennifer’s dream of producing radical new works. But how to pay for it? This is where generous Government support comes in!
You see, while Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen may have had little interest in matters cultural, the Treasurer and Leader of the Queensland Liberal Party, Sir Gordon Chalk, was well-disposed towards La Boite’s ambitions. Connections are helpful – the Blocksidges were senior members of the Queensland Liberal Party - but in the end, according to Bruce, it was Jennifer’s well-crafted funding application that secured a Queensland Government $40,000 subsidy to be matched dollar for dollar by La Boite.
Blair Wilson and his company headed the project. It was both a pragmatic decision to build a theatre-in-the-round (a proscenium theatre was beyond their budget) and an artistic one. Jennifer could see that an intimate performance space, already a proven success in the first La Boite, was just right for the alternative theatre she was most interested in producing.