It has been three decades in the making, but in a short few months, a derelict piece of land next to Wakefield’s historic Frank Matcham theatre will be transformed into a state of the art studio space - proof, the theatre’s director says, that the city’s art scene is both ambitious and here to stay.
Theatre Royal Wakefield’s long-awaited Centre for Creativity will be the latest arts venue to open in the city, joining the nationally renowned Hepworth Wakefield, which opened in 2011, and the Art House, across from the Theatre on Drury Lane, in 2008, as well as numerous smaller, independent arts offerings.
But all is not completely well in Wakefield’s arts community. Just last month, Unity Works, which opened to great fanfare three years ago after a £4m regeneration project of the Grade II-listed Unity Hall, which is opposite the Theatre, was put into administration.
“It’s very sad what has happened over the road at Unity but it doesn’t effect the buoyancy of the cultural landscape in Wakefield,” the Theatre’s executive director, Katie Town said. “We have the Museum of the Year in the Hepworth, a past museum of the year in Yorkshire Sculpture Park and the National Coal Mining Museum - and of course, we have a great theatre. All have future plans that are coming together now.”
For the theatre, that is the Centre of Creativity. With a total build and fit out price hitting just short of £1m, it’s no small feat.
Inside will be a new cafe bar which will double up as an extra box office, and mean the theatre will be accessible to the public outside of showtimes, and a new studio theatre space, named after the theatre’s Life President, Sir Rodney Walker, in recognition of he and his wife Ann’s generous donations over the past 30 years.
Miss Town said: “The foresighted people who raised money to re-open the theatre in the 1980s bought the plot, but didn’t have the money or energy to do anything with it. Until now, it wasn’t possible to get the right idea for the space, alongside raising the significant amount of money to make it happen. Now we’re just delighted that shortly after celebrating 30 years of being open, we’re finally making it a reality.
“What we’re building is a glass and steel palace. It will look very different to anything else on Westgate, but the idea of the corten steel is that it will rust down over time, to the same colour as the existing Matcham brick. It will look very modern in contrast, but similar in style to the existing building.
“We’re very limited in terms of facilities at the moment and the new Centre will enable us to expand our audience experience.”
The flexibility of the studio space will mean the theatre can move rehearsals for in-house productions from “dusty old church halls”, to on site. Outreach community work and children’s theatre will also be held at the Centre, and there is scope for a whole new programme of theatre, which is already being built.
“We’re bringing a lot of what we already do into the theatre space so it will feel much more rooted in what we are doing, and make it more visible to the public,” Miss Town said.
Funding for the build has come from a variety of sources, including Wakefield Council, which gave £200,000, Key Fund and Power to Change, which gave a joint £200,000, and the Arts Council, which gave £70,000.
The £900,000 build target is already met, but the theatre is currently raising £60,000 to fit it out, and is selling stars on its ‘Wall of Fame’ to contributors. Among those who have already donated are playwright John Godber, Australian actor and singer Jason Donovan, and Wakefield panto dame and star of CBeebies’ Topsy and Tim, Chris Hannon.
Miss Town said: “What’s been fantastic is that parents of children in our Performance Academy have been building stars for the children, so their names - future, rising stars - will be up there with established stars like Jason Donovan. It’s really chimed a chord.”
The Centre for Creativity will open next spring.