Music & drama

SMH March 1891

As reported reported by the Sydney Morning Herald in March 1891, entertainment has been a mainstay of the Willoughby community for a long time.

SMH Feb 1896

In 1896, the first public performance in the new Town Hall when T. Baker’s Minstrel and Variety Company performed.

Music and drama

One of the earliest Society was the Chatswood Literary & Musical Society formed around 1897. This seems to have been a debating and musical society. It seems to have folded around 1900. Soon after, in 1906, the initial Chatswood Musical Society was formed. Then in 1915 this society seems to have changed it’s name to the Northern Suburbs Musical Society. Then in 1933 the Northern Suburbs Musical Society appears to have merged with the Epping Musical Society to form the Epping and Northern Suburbs Musical Society. This union appears to have persisted until 1936 when they parted company and the Northern Suburbs Musical Society was re-formed. The society was still operating in 1954.Finally, in 1951 the current Chatswood Musical Society was formed.

Sometime before 1952 the Chatswood South Dramatic Society was formed and performed until after 1959;

The Fellowship of Players was established in 1957 and operated until 1960 when the name was changed to the Willoughby Players. The Players operated between 1960 and 1969. Then in 1969 the name was changed again to the Willoughby Musical Society and subsequently, in 2006, to the Willoughby Theatre Company.

1959 saw the creation of the Dashing Delinquents Company which performed until 1961.

The Chatswood District Band was formed in 1951. The name was changed in 1961 to the Willoughby Municipal Band and to the Willoughby City Band in 1989 when Willoughby became a city. More recently the name was changed again to the Willoughby Band.

The Northside Choral Society was formed in 1963 and joined with the Willoughby Municipal Symphony (established 1965) in 1967. The name of the two groups was changed to the Willoughby Symphony Orchestra and Choir in 1973. Also in that year the Symphony spun off the Willoughby Young People’s Orchestra. The former choral society and symphony also perform independently as the Willoughby Choir and the Willoughby Symphony.

There was a company called the Little Theatre Group in the 1960s but little is known about it.

Currently, details are also hazy about a group called Phoenix Theatre Productions that operated out of the Zenith Theatre in Chatswood. The Phoenix Theatre was formed in 1969 as the Lane Cove Little Theatre. They hosted the Central West Drama Festival at Chatswood in 1973.

Starting out as the Play Reading Group in 1969 before changing the name to the Drama Group in the early 70s the company became the Centre Players in 1970. Finally, in 1998 the company was renamed the Epicentre Theatre Company.

The Willoughby Youth Theatre was first mooted in 1973 but seems to have formed and operated between 1984 – 1995.

In 1981, Art-Reach was a Willoughby-based performing group for people with special needs. Assorted Nuts was a comedy variety group performing in 1967.

There is also a claim that the northern beaches group the Elenora Players at some stage operated out of Chatswood.

In addition to numerous street performances, various Salvation Army Bands and Choirs performed at the Music for the People Concerts in Chatswood.


performing artsThe first musical society, the Chatswood Literary and Musical Society was formed in 1897 (1). It is reported that a Hugh Duff, who later was a co-founder of the Chatswood Musical Society was a speaker at their meeting on Friday 26 March 1897.The Society held a number of concerts at the end of the nineteenth century and seems to have folded around 1900.

The Society was listed as being a debating institute. Public speaking and debating was quite popular around this time.

The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954) Tuesday 30 March 1897 p 5


After meetings to form a local band in 1902, the band was finally formed in 1903. The Bandmaster was Mr Brown. It is reported that the band was held in high esteem by the local community. Later the band became involved in the formation of a Municipal Brass Band.

The Naremburn Story, Eric Wilsch 1988.



Cast West Side Story 1968 – Picture Willoughby 005/0055299


Chatswood Musical Society was founded on Thursday 22 November.1906 (2) with Hugh Duff and T. Goodhall elected joint Honoury Secretaries. The Society then began to rehearse with their first concert given at the Chatswood Town Hall on Friday 27 September 1907.There are numerous reports of concerts being staged between 1907 and 1951.In 1951 there was an advertisement for rehearsals of “Bless the Bride” and also seeking new members.

The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954) Saturday 24 November 1906 p 16


In 1915 Mr. Arthur Champion was appointed as the conductor of the Northern Suburbs Musical Society at Chatswood, a body previously known as the Chatswood Musical Society. 
The Sun, Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954) Wednesday 5 May 1915 p 6)
The Northern Suburbs Musical Society is practically a reorganisation of the Chatswood Musical Society, which will be remembered for its excellent work under the baton of Mr. Harry Sherlock.
 The Newsletter: an Australian Paper for Australian People (Sydney, NSW : 1900 – 1919)Saturday 8 May 1915 p 9


Photo Mrs J Green

This group formed towards the end of World War I for the presentation of general
entertainment with an emphasis on amateur theatrical stagework. It became quite a large group and presented the opportunity for young people to be involved.

The Naremburn Story, Eric Wilsch 1988


In 1933 the Governor has granted his patronage to the Epping and Northern Suburbs Musical Society, which was recently formed with Arthur B. Robinson as President. The society will give its first musical next month. It appears that the Northern Suburbs Musical Society.may have merged with an Epping Musical Society. 1933 p 8
 The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954) Saturday 20 May


Then in 1936 “another tender young plant has poked up its head in the cultivated soil of the North Shore. It’s the Northern Suburbs Musical Society, an amateur group with an ambition to do musical comedy for charity. They hope to put on Magyar Melody, only once before played in Australia, as their first show, and producer Lee Pearce (XM3270) would be glad to hear from any golden voiced citizens who’d like to do some singing“.

This looks to be a new group formed but coincidentally there are no further reports of the Epping and Northern Suburbs Musical Society after 1936. So there may been a reformation of the original Northern Suburbs Musical Society. This society was still operating in 1954.

  The Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954) Tuesday 11 August 1953 p 17



Founded in 1951 with the objectives of promoting interest and enjoyment in musical theatre, particularly operetta and musical comedy. Since 1951, CMS has gained a reputation as one of the leading operetta companies in Sydney and although CMS’ show line-up includes a broad range of productions, we haven’t forgotten our traditions. The Society produces three shows annually.


The Fellowship of Players was formed in 1957 and operated until 1960 when it changed their name to the Willoughby Players


In 1960 The Fellowship of Players changed their name to the Willoughby Players and operated until 1969 when they changed their name to the Willoughby Musical Society. In 1969 it is reported that Mayor Dougherty attended the 12th Annual meeting of the Players. This is consistent with the Players having previously been known as the Fellowship. It would seem that the 12th AGM was probably the last before the group changed their name again to the Willoughby Musical Society.


Cast c.1930 – Picture Willoughby  6533/6533203

In 1969 the Willoughby Players changed their name to the Willoughby Musical Society, a name that became synonymous with quality theatre of an exceptional standard. The Society operated until 2006.

Hugh Jackman in Paint Your Wagon 1989

In 1969 the Willoughby Players changed their name to the Willoughby Musical Society, a name that became synonymous with quality theatre of an exceptional standard. The Society operated until 2006.

WilloughbyTheatreCompany1WILLOUGHBY THEATRE COMPANY (2006 –      )
In 2006 the Willoughby Musical Society changed its name to the Willoughby Theatre The company continues to operate as one of Australia’s leading theatre companies providing quality theatre for the communities of Willoughby and surrounding areas.


The Dashing Delinquents Company  was producing their second revue “Heatwave” at St. Basil’s Hall, Broughton Street, Artarmon. planned for Saturday 4 April.

Clarion 12 March 1959
The Dashing Delinquents (D.D’s) are presenting; their Revue for a season of Friday and Saturday evenings at the Ballet Theatre, 505 Pitt Street, Sydney. There are no reports of the Company post 1961.
Le Courrier Australian (Sydney, NSW : 1892 – 2011) Friday 24 March 1961 p 5


In 1952 the Chatswood South Dramatic Society presented the hilarious tale of a bride who read the Wedding Service and decided that only — ‘FOOLS RUSH IN’ by Kenneth Home (of ‘Much Binding in the Marsh’). Produced by R. J. Vincent in the Methodist Hall, Cnr. Mowbray Road and Pacific Highway, on Saturday, Monday, Wednesday, 14th, 16th, 18th June, 1952, at 8 p.m.Admission 3/-. Children 1/6. Seats may be reserved at Johnston’s Pharmacy, Artarmon; Reids’ Grocery, 585 Pacific Highway..

The following snippet appeared in  The Sun:  “Chatswood South Dramatic Society. — Tonight. Mon. to Sat., at Methodist Hall, Chatswood. 8.0. Charitv Begins”. Reports about the Society ceased in 1954. Then there is a report that the Chatswood South Dramatic Society reformed in 1959 and presented their first effort “Maiden Ladies”

The Sun The Methodist (Sydney, NSW : 1892 – 1954) Saturday 14 June 1952 p 6
(Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954) Saturday 3 April 1954 p 5
Clarion 13 March 1959



The band was formed in 1959 under the guidance and direction of Reg Bishop in 1961 the name was changed to the Willoughby Band

WILLOUGHBY MUNICIPAL BAND (1961 – 1989)WilloughbyMunicipalBand

In 1961 Councilor R. Dougherty of Willoughby Council secured funding for the
band through Willoughby Council and the Band changed its name to the Willoughby Municipal Band. In 1971 Peter Walmsley OAM took over as musical director of Willoughby Municipal Band.

WILLOUGHBY CITY BAND (1989 –  ???? )

Willoughby City Band was the leading Senior and Junior A Grade combination in NSW for over 25 years. In the NSW contesting field, the Senior Band has won the Championship 19 times and been second on four occasions, and the Juniors have been victors at 23 contests and runners up thrice. At a national level, the Senior Band has won four titles with numerous second places, while the Juniors have won 22 times. In 1989, Willoughby was declared a city. Then in 1992 Willoughby City Band travelled to Tokyo, Japan, on a highly successful concert tour as part of the Willoughby Council ‘Sister City’ cultural exchange.

WILLOUGHBY BAND (     –       )

At some stage the band’s name was changed to the Willoughby Band since 1973, the Willoughby Band has had a successful concert series, and performs regularly at civic functions and corporate events. The band has also recorded on numerous occasions and has been featured often on ABC radio.

Willoughby Band prides itself on its musical excellence. A feature of the band’s history has been the success of its players in solo competitions and the very high rate of players who now perform in professional orchestras in Australia and overseas.


Formed in 1963 by 60 persons from a number of North Shore Methodist Choirs. In 1967 it joined with the Willoughby Municipal Symphony for their first concert together. The two organisations merged in 1973 to form the Willoughby Symphony Orchestra and Choir. As such, it can be taken that the Northside Choral Society was the forerunner to the ‘Choir’.


This appears to have been the name of the Symphony, probably from its formation in 1965 until 1973 when it became the Willoughby Symphony and Choir (after merging with the Northside Choral Society. In 1966, their first concert was performed at the Artarmon Public School. The inaugural Musical Director and Conductor was Albert Keats.


In 1972 the Willoughby Municipal Symphony Orchestra proposed to form a Willoughby Young People’s Orchestra. There is a list of Office Bearers of the orchestra. In 1973 the orchestra was formed with Albert Keats as Musical Director.

Willoughby Council Records 414 October 1972



Formed in 1973 with the merger of the Willoughby Municipal Symphony and the Northside Choral Society

In more recent years, as well as performing together the Symphony and Choir have performed separately as the Willoughby Symphony and the Willoughby Choir.


The award-winning Willoughby Symphony Orchestra and Choir (WSOC) is widely recognised as Australia’s finest community orchestra and choir. The orchestra was founded in 1965 and combined with the Northside Choral Society in 1973 to form WSOC. The resulting instrumental/vocal versatility has enabled WSOC to showcase many of classical music’s best-known works to happy audiences and critical acclaim ever since. Along with performances throughout Metropolitan Sydney, regular regional tours have reinforced the organisation’s reputation for providing performers and audiences with a high-quality musical experience.

THE LITTLE THEATRE GROUP  (1960s)TheLittleTheatreGroup

The Little Theatre Group performed at the Presbyterian Hall, Anderson St, Chatswood. The Mayoress of Willoughby was the patron.



Operates out of the Zenith Theatre in Chatswood.

A small theater group that likes to perform a diverse range of material, usually from the catalogue of Broadway Classics and Musicals, The company currently performs in a small 30-seat theatre in Chatswood. It formerly performed in the 250-seat Zenith Theatre in Chatswood.


The Phoenix Theatre was formed in 1969 as the Lane Cove Little Theatre. In 1973 they hosted the Central West Drama Festival in Chatswood.

PLAY READING GROUP/DRAMA GROUP  (1969 – early 1970s)

A Play Reading Group was formed on the 24 June 1969 by members of the Willoughby Recreation Centre.

North Shore Times 2 July 1969

Then  it was revealed that a Drama Group was planned for Willoughby. The Play Reading Group was working under the auspices of Willoughby Council’s Recreation Officer but then formed their own Committee. It appears that the Play Reading Group then changed their name to the Drama Group.

Clarion 23 April 1969

By 1970 the Drama Group was meeting at the Willoughby Youth Centre  (in Victor St cnr. Albert Ave). and was casting their first production, a performance of ‘Postal Orders’ planned for later in the year. It appears that later in 1970 the Drama Group changed its name to the Centre Players

* Clarion 15 July 1970
** Clarion 11 March 1970

CENTRE PLAYERS (1970 – 1998)

The Centre Players (formerly the Drama Club) were established in 1970 in the kindergarten room at the Chowne Hall, in Willoughby Park. Then they were attached to the Willoughby Youth Centre. and were planning for their first play in July 1970.

Willoughby City Council Press Release 10 March 1971.

Their early years were spent at St James Centre, Castlecrag, where they presented a wide variety of plays from thrillers and comedies to classic drama.  In 1977, the group began presenting plays of interest to schools attracting students from as far away as the Blue Mountains and the South Coast.  From the late 70s to mid 80s they ventured to a variety of venues in the municipality. Highlights included,“Look Back in Anger”  (Northbridge Scout Hall),”No Names No Pack Drill” (Mowbray Rd Uniting Church Hall) plus “The Heiress”, “The Sleeping Prince”  and Australian, Barbara Stellmark’s “From the 14 Floor You Can see the Harbour Bridge” (Bailey Hall).

In 1984 a delegation from the Centre Players met with Aldermen of Willoughby City Council to state their case for the retention of the hall in Tingha Street Chatswood, used by the Willoughby Youth Theatre and Outreach. However, the demolition of the hall proceeded.

In 1986 things began to look up with the leasing of a new home at the Uniting Church Hall in Artarmon. The opening show was “Gladbags”, by Patricia Johnson, directed by Norman Neeson, who has also written several plays performed by us. During this era the group became involved with radio plays, and with the assistance of the Film and Television School, broadcast over 2 SER FM.

We also staged Cabaret evenings with home-grown Melodramas and “Australia Fare Nights” where new actors and directors had a chance to demonstrate their potential under the guidance of more experienced colleagues.

Centre Players participated in the Willoughby Bi-Centennial Celebration Outdoor Concert presenting a scene from “Romeo and Juliet”and a skit about the opening of Chatswood Railway Station.  In 1988, Centre Players participated in the Willoughby’s Australian Bi-Centennial Celebration Outdoor Concert, presenting a scene from “Romeo and Juliet” and a skit about the opening of Chatswood Railway Station.

About this time a committee was formed with the object of finding a home for the various performing arts groups in the municipality, Willoughby Youth theatre, Outreach, Phoenix Theatre and Centre Players.  Pritpro offered an auditorium as part of its Zenith Tower development. The Zenith Theatre was to be leased and operated by Willoughby City Council.  Of the four Founding Groups, we are the only survivors.

Centre Players opened at Zenith Theatre in May 1988 with “Catherine” by Jill Shearer, It was the Bicentenary year and this story of one of Sydney’s early immigrants was directed by Louise Meek.  Since then the group has gone from strength to strength, choosing and producing more difficult and interesting programmes. In 1992, we began our ongoing venture into Shakespeare with a memorable production of “Hamlet” directed by Alan Dearth. Our technical skills have also grown with the theatre, and some of our members have gone on to careers in the industry.

EpicentreEPICENTRE THEATRE COMPANY (1998 –       )

After experiencing a change in direction towards more experimental, innovative theatre, in 1998 Centre Players decided it was the time to move forward and signify this change with a new name.

An exciting time for us. Epicentre carries on a long tradition of encouraging new and experienced theatre lovers to learn, create, and generally have fun!  We competed in One-Act play Festivals, such as Wagga Wagga, StageWest and Theatrefest (1988-1998) culminating with a win in the last Theatrefest with “Haiku” directed by Christine Greenhalgh. One of the most enjoyable and inspiring venues we have performed at (2008-2010) is The Haven Amphitheatre in Castlecrag, sadly currently closed. We continued to present three plays each year at the Zenith Theatre in Chatswood until rents made it uneconomic for our Not-For-Profit Community Theatre Company and in 2015 the company moved its season to the King Street Theatre in Newtown. In 2016, we secured a tenancy back on the North Shore, at the Ku-ring-gai Town Hall in Pymble.  In our first season there, we are presenting three plays:


 WILLOUGHBY YOUTH THEATRE (1984 – 1995)WilloughbyYouthTheatre

A 1973 report outlined that a youth theatre may be established in Willoughby. A
Constitution was formulated.

Willoughby Youth Theatre Local History LS VF/THEA
Advocate 20 September, 1973

Prior to 1984 the Willoughby Youth Theatre operated out of a hall in Tingha Street, Chatswood. The hall was later demolished. In 1985 the Willoughby Youth Theatre presented Gertrude Stein’s play ‘Look and Long’ at the Willoughby Family Fun Fair. In 1993 they presented ‘The Flies’ at the Zenith Theatre. It appears the troupe ceased operations in 1995.

North Shore Times 11 September 1985


Art-Reach was a Willoughby-based performing group for disabled people.

Advocate 19 September 1984


Assorted Nuts was a comedy variety group. In 1987 they were looking for new blood. They rehearsed in Chatswood.

North Shore Times 29 July 1987


ElanoraPlayersThere is a claim that Willoughby hosted the Elanora Players in 1988. The Elanora Players are a northern beaches theatre group formed in 1966. Maybe they were performing in Chatswood around this time

Northern Herald 17 March 1988.


SalvationArmy1The Salvation Army played at the Music for the People Concerts in

Timbrel Band

Chatswood Town Hall. This included performances by the Salvation Army Band, the Senior and Junior Choirs and the Senior and Junior Timbrel Bamds.

Performance Spaces

Compiled by Terry Fogarty. Last updated September 2016.