QSE was established in 2001 by a small group of theatre artists united by their desire to perform and present Shakespeare’s plays in an accessible and engaging manner. The Core Ensemble was established in 2003 as a way of making manifest QSE’s commitment to ensemble principles and to ongoing training, and in order to make it possible for the artists themselves to retain control of the organisation as it grew. The QSE Apprentice Program began in 2007 as a way of extending the company’s methodologies to developing artists, combining QSE training programs with hands-on experience in the running of an independent theatre company.
The Ensemble first appeared in public with several staged readings, followed by a few adventurous full productions, at the historic Avalon Theatre in St Lucia. After the Avalon closed at the end of 2004, the company trained out of Metro Arts in the Brisbane CBD and performed in a variety of venues around the city. It was during this period, in 2007, that QSE first began its celebrated outdoor performances in Roma Street Parkland, which have since been an annual fixture of Brisbane’s spring season.
In 2006, QSE seized the energy of the World Shakespeare Congress, hosted in Brisbane, by performing well over a dozen Shakespeare’s Shorts (Half-Hour Hamlet, Instant Romeo & Juliet, and Pyramus & Thisby) for festivals, libraries and schools and Shakespeare’s Briefs -or- Let’s Kill All the Lawyers! (presided over by actual judges) in the Banco Court. The Congress also made it possible for QSE to commence its renowned Shakespeare Prison Program. This was the year that first saw QSE artists paid for a significant proportion of their work. Actors were paid for performing in Shakespeare’s Shorts and received a share of profits for other performances. Facilitators were paid for leading workshops, including the Shakespeare Prison Project. These practices continue today.
In 2010, QSE once again found a permanent physical base, at the Geoffrey Rush Drama Studio at the University of Queensland, maintaining an office and training/meeting space there. This has also allowed the company to produce more experimental works, billed as Workshop Productions, which allow us to explore new scripts, styles, and/or techniques.
QSE maintains strong links with international artists including Shakespeare & Company (USA), Kristin Linklater (UK), Shakespeare Behind Bars (USA), and Second Thought Theatre (USA). In 2011 and 2015, the Founding Director of Shakespeare Behind Bars, Curt Tofteland, came to Brisbane to direct QSE productions.