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The Empire strikes back: USQ grads to debut in theatre’s reopening

After months of empty chairs at empty stages, USQ graduates will perform in the opening drama performance at one of the country’s most prestigious theatres.

The Empire Theatre will welcome patrons into the auditorium for the first drama performance back since COVID-19 social distancing restrictions were enforced.

Wren Condren, Ashlynn Parigi and Nicole Haeusler graduated from USQ with a Bachelor of Creative Arts last year, with Ms Condren and Ms Parigi starting their own independent theatre company, ‘Almost Outta Here’ and are now rehearsing for their big debut next week.

“We are so grateful to secure the rights to the play and to be part of the Empire Theatre’s Homegrown Independent Program,” Ms Parigi said.

“We’ve been motivated by the work and skills developed through our training at USQ – so being able to produce and perform here really is a full-circle moment for us,” she said.

“We hope it will help bring some healing and a sense of community to Toowoomba during what has been such a turbulent time.”

The trio will debut Almost, Maine, a play that follows nine different couples on one night during the northern lights who all have to face different aspects of love.

The play’s second performance will also be available to livestream via the Empire Theatre’s website for those who are unable to travel to the show.

Empire Theatres Projects Manager Jeanette Wedmaier said the closure of the theatre due to COVID-19 presented a unique opportunity to reschedule Almost, Maine, which was originally set to present in May.

“This was a great opportunity to give these graduate artists the chance to present work on the main stage of the Empire Theatre, something that has never occurred within the Homegrown series before,” Ms Wedmaier said.

“Due to the gradual reopening of the theatre with our Empire Strikes Back series supported by the Queensland Government, we were able to program Almost, Maine for July, along with a series of performances we are running to limited audience numbers, in an effort to get the theatre up and running once again.

“The Homegrown Independent Program gives emerging artists real world insight into producing work for audiences and is a fantastic transition from study into the live performance industry.”

University of Southern Queensland Associate Lecturer Marcus Oborn said he was extremely proud of what the graduates have been able to achieve in a changing world.

“It's always wonderful to see our graduates stepping into the industry and making their mark,” Mr Oborn said.

“It really is a hallmark of the artists that we produce at USQ: they're proactive, they’re on the front foot and they’re always searching for the next opportunity.”

In order to provide more study options to students wanting to pursue careers in the creative arts, USQ has announced the expansion of its creative arts school in 2021 with seven new courses introduced.

Mr Oborn said the new expansion has come at a timely moment, with COVID-19 forcing the arts sector to rethink how performers engage with their audiences.

“We encourage our creative arts students to think differently, get creative and become agile in a changing world,” he said.

Almost, Maine will be performed at the Empire Theatre on July 30 and 31. Purchase your tickets here. 

• This project is supported by the Queensland Government through Arts Queensland
• The Regional Arts Development Fund is a partnership between the Queensland Government and Tablelands Regional Council to support local arts and culture in regional Queensland
• The play is by arrangement with Music Theatre International Australasia Pty Ltd, on behalf of Dramatist Play Service Inc.

Learn more about the School of Creative Arts expansion here. 

performers and teacher
The USQ grads, joined by their former USQ theatre lecturer Marcus Oborn, are excited to bring in a new era of performance, both in the industry and at the University.