ACT in Action Issue 17

New Mills theatre breathes new life into historic building

Announced early in January. 2019, New Mills Art Theatre was one of three chosen venues to be gifted the iconic comfy golden seats from Andrew Lloyd Webber's Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. To mark this occasion and to celebrate 60 years of managing and wholly funding the building, the Directors of New Mills Art Theatre Ltd embarked on a project to transform the auditorium into a warm and welcoming public building for all of New Mills and District to enjoy. The restoration delivered largely by volunteers includes the installation of London's famous West End, Theatre Royal, Drury Lane seats. More than 1800 volunteer hours were calculated over a 11-week programme including 100 rolls of wallpaper and 80 litres of paint . In addition to this, the fitting of new carpet featuring the Art Theatre logo (360 m2), new safety flooring (200 m2), new skirting and dado rails (120 m2) and a new heating system.

aspirations. The following year the Bury Art Picture Theatre would follow suit, adopting a similar name and perhaps as importantly the same architect, Albert Winstanley. The construction of a new cinema and variety theatre in New Mills demonstrates that the show-business entrepreneurs of the day saw an opportunity to make money from an expanding community in a place making the transition from a market town to an industrial town. Cinema and theatre activity has always been driven by commercial enterprise. New Mills was no exception to this rule and the location of the building shows a fascinating insight into the perceived potential for further expansion in the town. Today the theatre is managed

and wholly funded by the New Mills Art Theatre Trust. The building was purchased from New Mills Cinema (Sheffield) Ltd. in 1959 and has continued since that time to be operated with a mixed programme of both amateur and professional touring product. It was therefore one of the pioneers organisations who saw an future in owning an historic theatre for both the use and enjoyment of their surrounding community Theatres in the 19th Century

Italian Marble Fireplace in the Main Foyer [photo: New Art Theatre]

It is important to understand that there were several kinds of theatre in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Theatres were designed specifically to fulfil a certain artistic brief. Depending upon the aspirations of the proprietor, a theatre could be designed to accommodate various activities e.g. circus, drama, opera, or music hall. Unlike today, proprietors seldom fell into the ‘multi-purpose trap’ by attempting to create a performing space suitable for every kind of entertainment which ultimately compromised the overall design. The Art Theatre has a number of important elements that collectively define it as an excellent theatre: • A tiered auditorium capable of providing comfortable and accessible seating • An auditorium of great architectural and artistic quality, nationally recognised if not listed • An intimate architectural rendering with excellent actor-audience relationships • A modest but workable stage house with opportunities for further development • A site which could allow further expansion in a sensitive and creative manner should there be an aspiration to do so.

Beverley Eaves, Director of New Mills Art Theatre, said: “It puts a whole new outlook on getting bums on seats. It’s all about team work and making the Art Theatre accessible to a future generation for another 60 years”. She added, “The theatre is loved and run entirely by volunteers. This kind of asset delivers high public worth and deserves to be supported wherever and how ever possible”. The first theatre to be built on the site was the New Mills Hippodrome, which opened in June 1911. The theatre closed in April 1921 and reopened in August 1921 as the 'Art Picture Pla yhouse'. It was commissioned by local theatrical entrepreneurs Messrs. Walters and Law, who had been granted planning permission for their ambitious proposals which had been drawn up by the northern theatre specialist, Albert Winstanley [1876-1943]. The choice of the new name was significant and of the moment. The reconstruction took place whilst cinema was still 'silent' but aspiring to bigger and better artistic aspirations. Today, New Mills Art Theatre continues to promote a variety of programmes serving local community groups and semi-professional acts. The theatre provides a public service at no cost to the public purse. Audiences were delighted to see a programme of events throughout the year including clairvoyant David Holt, Freedom! '19’ (a George Michael tribute concert), Pinked Floyd (Pink Floyd tribute act, a week's run of performances by New Mills AODS with the Musical "The Sound of Music" and a one night performance from comedian and actor Dave Spikey. The New Mills Art Theatre opened on August 29th 1921 as the Art Picture Playhouse. It was commissioned by local theatrical entrepreneurs Messrs. Walters and Law. The choice of the new name is significant and of the moment. The reconstruction took place whilst cinema was still ‘silent’ but aspiring to bigger and better artistic

Volunteers unloading the new seating

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