Built in 1902 as part of the historic town hall, the theatre was originally known as the Liverpool Opera House. Its stage hosted touring and local shows until 1917, when silent films were introduced. In 1930, talking pictures were shown for the first time. The first “talkie” shown in the theatre was “Love in the Rough,” a comedy on golf. At the same time the name was changed to the Astor Theatre by Seth Bartling Sr. after his favourite theatre in New York.
During World War II the cinema featured regular war documentaries; news reels about the war in Europe became a staple of the Astor’s presentations. Shortly after the war the theatre was renovated to accommodate more people in the balcony as cinema presentations grew in popularity. A new screen format was installed to allow cinemascope pictures in the late 50’s. A larger screen was installed and the proscenium arch was widened to allow for the larger pictures. As well, the tin ceiling was plastered over to compensate for amplified sound.
For a time, there were few live presentations. In 1979, with increased interest in live presentation, the Astor began presenting local talent through the Winds of Change Dramatic Society. With the installation of a new thrust stage, the stage area was increased to accommodate larger and larger performing acts. In June 1987 The Astor Theatre Society was incorporated as a non-profit, charitable organization.
The Astor has played host to many touring artists including Matt Andersen, George Canyon, Barra MacNeils, Jill Barber, Rufus Wainright, Stewart MacLean, Ron James, Rita MacNeil, Natalie MacMaster, Tommy Hunter, Carroll Baker, George Fox, Mr. Dressup, Symphony Nova Scotia, Debut Atlantic and the Royal Shakespeare Company to name a few. A particularly interesting feature is the tin ceiling. The entire theatre used to have a similar ceiling, but changes were made to enhance the sound quality as its usage changed. However, the change in the main ceiling did not affect the acoustics which are some of the best in the province. The high rounded ceilings and the plaster walls make the Astor a wonderful place to enjoy entertainment of all kinds.