The Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust
The Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust
Supporting the arts in Australia by Australians and for Australians since 1954.

Our History

The hope in 1954, upon the establishment of the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust was that there would occur in the arts in Australia a new Elizabethan age, as productive and inspiring as the first Elizabethan age in England in the sixteenth century. Those hopes have been realised and indeed exceeded by what has followed.

Within a year of its establishment the Trust had secured the old Majestic Theatre at Newtown refurbished and renamed it The Elizabethan. In 1955 The Elizabethan opened with Terence Rattigan’s The Sleeping Prince, and in September 1955 The Trust’s Australian Drama Company produced Medea starring Judith Anderson. 

In 1956 the Trust presented Ray Lawler’s Summer of the Seventeenth Doll and our first commercial Australian play was seen both in Australia and later in London and New York.

The Trust Players, directed by Robin Lovejoy, had their first season in 1959, but as large scale touring proved uneconomical, local companies were formed in each State.

The Sleeping Prince 1955 Opening Night
Photo: The Daily Telegraph, Sydney - Opening Night at The Elizabethan Theatre 27th July, 1955

National touring companies were established to perform ballet and opera. In 1962 the Australian Ballet was established and made its debut with a full length version of Swan Lake in November that year. 

In 1970, the same year as the Australian Ballet becoming autonomous, The Elizabethan Trust Opera Company was renamed the Australian Opera and transferred to an independent management. Known today as Opera Australia, it is one of the most distinguished opera companies of the world.

The Trust also formed, maintained and administered two specialist orchestras, one each in Sydney and Melbourne, to accompany the national ballet and opera companies, as well as one smaller orchestra of Sydney freelance musicians named the Elizabethan Sinfonietta. By 1990 both orchestras were transferred to independent managements in Melbourne and Sydney respectively and are now known as Orchestra Victoria and Opera Australia Orchestra

Other companies initiated by the Trust include The National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA), The Marionette Theatre of Australia, The Australian Ballet School, The Theatre of the Deaf, Performing Lines, and The Bell Shakespeare Company.

For many years The Trust was renowned for its entrepreneurial activities including a visit by the Old Vic Company’s Royal Jubilee production of ‘Hamlet’ starring Derek Jacobi in the leading role to celebrate The Trust’s Silver Jubilee. Other tours ranged from the Kabuki theatre of Japan to the Dance Theatre of Harlem. Through the Halftix ticket service The Trust has been a major force in marketing the cultural life of Sydney and has assisted over 350 major and minor performing companies and encouraged tourists and citizens to taste the delights Sydney had to offer. 

In 2000, The Trust launched its Overseas Music Scholarship Program for Australian singers, musicians and conductors, wishing to undertake music study abroad. This exciting initiative is intended to assist musicians in all music genres in making a unique, original and valuable contribution to Australian Culture.

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.