Questions about the Playhouse Development Project answered

Alnwick Playhouse auditorium.
Alnwick Playhouse auditorium.

For years, the small team of Playhouse staff and volunteers have delivered the artistic programme while struggling with the state of the building. It has now deteriorated into a state which requires a large capital investment.

Now the theatre team has launched a fund-rasing campaign. Here, some questions about the planned redevelopment, which means the Playhouse will close for up to a year, are answered.

HOW MUCH IT WILL COST?

The whole project will cost an estimated £3.3million. The majority will be funded by Northumberland County Council, with the Playhouse Trust needing to raise £800,000 to ensure the renovation and refurbishment of key theatre areas that are in essential need of updating and reconfiguring.

WHY SHOULD THE PLAYHOUSE DO THIS?

Ensuring the building is here for another 25 years as a thriving arts venue is vital for the communities it serves.

It safeguards the Playhouse for 60,000 visitors who enjoy the venue’s events throughout the year and those who engage with the arts through its participation programme.

Living in a rural area with limited public transport, local people would have to travel for an hour to reach a comparable arts centre.

WHO WILL RUN THE PLAYHOUSE?

The Playhouse Trust, along with the existing staff, will remain totally in charge of the arts centre and programme, on a new long-term lease.

This is a one-off opportunity for the whole building to be renewed to one coherent vision, completely restoring the building, roof structure and essential electrical and heating services, and making it fit-for-purpose for the way the building is now used.

HOW AND WHEN THE WORK WILL BE DELIVERED?

The Playhouse building will close on August 2, 2018, to clear it and work will start in the autumn, with the plan to re-open in autumn 2019.

The Playhouse will gain substantial new space allowing new opportunities for artistic work and hospitality facilities, as well as an overall building renovation, including:

- Full re-modelling of the building to deliver the best configuration for council services and Playhouse;

- A new Playhouse restaurant and café area;

- A new technical get-in lift facility with back-stage improvements;

- New exclusive use of the studio theatre.

THE GROUND-FLOOR STUDIO THEATRE

This will provide a dedicated safe space for work with children and young people. It will enhance the current artistic programme with space for artists to research and develop work.

The studio programme will offer a new way of working in partnership with libraries, authors and illustrators, which shall be interactive, exciting and engaging.

The whole building will be re-designed to remove bottlenecks, improve the flow of traffic between facilities for families with children and buggies.

A new ground-level entrance to the Playhouse will give easier wheelchair and buggy access to the downstairs section of the building.

IF YOU COULD CHANGE ONE THING ABOUT THE PLAYHOUSE?

In the annual survey this year, 673 people responded to this question with more than 50 per cent of comments linked to improved auditorium seating and legroom.

A full auditorium re-rake and new seating

The Playhouse auditorium is in the original balcony of the music hall. The current seating was installed in 1988 and the legroom is very short compared to contemporary standards.

The current rows which offer the minimum contemporary legroom space are Rows E and F, which is only 42 adequate seats out of a possible 262.

As many performances are now longer, especially film and live streaming, this is becoming an issue for modern audiences.

The largest part of the Playhouse’s own investment in the project will be removing the seating, changing the layout to use the space differently so current seating numbers are kept but with a much greater legroom measurement.

Auditorium access improvements

Currently, the theatre can only offer Row C on floor-level access for patrons with mobility requirements. The rest of the auditorium is accessed by climbing stairs, which have uneven step heights and no hand rails. The changes will make it much easier for the volunteer stewards to look after customers with a variety of access needs. The Playhouse aims to double the amount of level access rows, allowing for patrons with mobility requirements. For those patrons climbing stairs, hand rails are being added throughout with new, even-height steps and emergency floor lighting to make access user-friendly.

ADDITIONAL AUDITORIUM IMPROVEMENTS

It is currently difficult for the Playhouse to achieve an even auditorium temperature, with customers at the back being uncomfortably hot and those at the front being too cold.

A new airflow and heating system will be installed to increase comfort throughout the year.

New soundproofed entrance doors and new fire exit doors will help to block sound pollution from the outside of the building leaking into the auditorium.

The current hearing-loop system is inadequate, with large areas of the auditorium providing no system at all. A new hearing-loop system will be installed, making every seat user-friendly to hearing impaired patrons.

For those who look upwards in the auditorium, there are visible cracks, water marks, crumbling paint and plasterwork, which are a cause for concern and require immediate attention.

Once the roof is completely watertight, the decoration will be repaired and refreshed throughout the auditorium, carefully preserving the elegance and theatricality of the existing décor.

A REDESIGNED UPSTAIRS BAR AREA

The Playhouse bar will be totally refurbished and redesigned in a contemporary style.

It will provide patrons with adequate seating areas and more open space to move around comfortably.

Currently, the toilets in the bar area are inadequate, especially on full houses and during the interval. The aim is to double the amount of toilets in the bar area, which will hopefully halve the time spent queuing during intervals.

FUND-RAISING CHALLENGE TO RAISE £800,000

This is going to be a huge target to reach but the Playhouse team is confident that it will be successful, with the goodwill of supporters and funders.

Applications are currently being made from national and local funders to support this campaign. This will be followed by a public appeal which will be launched later in the year. That will be the time when audiences and friends will be asked to help support this incredibly important development for the community’s Playhouse, and will cover donations of all sizes.

If you wish to help, then sign up to the Playhouse Public Appeal newsletter, which shall go live on the theatre’s website, www.alnwickplayhouse.co.uk, in August. Or leave your name and contact at the box office.