The Theatres Trust, the primary advisory body for theatre building Sustainability talk to Theatrefullstop about The Buildings at Risk Register.

TheatresTrust_logo-160x160What’s great about the UK in terms of theatre is that there is a wealth of shows to watch, and in a range of settings. We celebrate theatre, and support a range of venues, whether it be fringe theatre or larger scale theatres. The Theatre’s Trust is a leading advisory body for the sustainability of theatre in the UK, priding itself on the protection and preservation of UK theatres. The trust are also responsible for publishing the Theatre Buildings at Risk Register, informing the public of buildings that are deemed as being under threat from closure. Theatrefullstop were able to speak to the Theatre’s Trust to find out more about the trust.

The Theatres Trust is the primary advisory body for sustaining theatrical buildings in the UK. Could you explain how this process works?

We promote the better protection of theatre buildings to protect the future of live theatre. We promote the quality and design of existing and new theatres and protect important historic theatres so that they can continue to be used as theatres now and in the future. We make sure theatre buildings meet the needs and demands of the theatre industry and audiences. We do this because we believe that the experience of live theatre in people’s lives contributes to our well-being and leads to a fairer, informed, more generous, and understanding society.

As an advisory body we provide advice on planning and development. We supply resources and advice to make theatres sustainable and offer financial assistance through grants. We also help people discover more about theatres and campaign for theatres at risk.

We provide advice to local authorities when a planning application is submitted for any site on which there is or has been a theatre. We also work to ensure that cultural facilities are protected in planning policy. We provide advice on the sustainable development of theatres to groups and individuals, and run workshops and an annual conference looking at relevant issues.

Each year, The Theatres Trust releases the Theatre Buildings at Risk Register, and this document is made accessible to the public. Could you explain the process from initial concerns, to a building being placed on the register?

For a building to be placed on the register there needs to be actual risk identified. This could be either risk to the building structure (for example risk of demolition, or threat to the historic building fabric) or risk to operating the building as a theatre, either now or in the future (for example difficulties in obtaining capital or revenue funding, threat through sale, alteration to another use, or local development adversely affecting the theatre). We make an initial assessment of this risk. We also make a qualitative judgement on the importance of the theatrical qualities of a theatre – the building’s ‘star rating’.  Finally we review the community value – the public demand for the retention and protection of the building as a theatre. These three risk factors are added together to give an overall risk rating. Any theatre with a score above a set baseline level is added to the register. We continually monitor buildings on the Register throughout the year so buildings can be removed or added to the Register at any point.

The role of a theatre building is crucial, however it’s a component taken for granted. What could be done to raise awareness of the importance of theatre buildings?

Theatres are certainly valued buildings, but more can always be done to raise awareness of their importance. Public engagement is key. With historic theatre buildings, initiatives such as Visit Theatres encourages people to visit theatres and understand their architecture, design, and history. Our involvement in this is to work with historic British theatres, and publicise their building tours and other events relating to their history and architecture. Raising awareness of what good theatre design looks like is also important, and this can be done through print and social media and publications. The more we can tell the story of theatre buildings, the more people become aware of their unique qualities. Liverpool Everyman’s re-design won the Stirling Prize, perhaps the premiere architectural design prize, and the publicity that garnered must have significantly raised awareness of what a new (and non-traditional theatre) can look like. In 2015, the sympathetic restoration of Wilton’s Music Hall also attracted press coverage from non-theatre press.

There are various listings of theatre buildings, can you explain what they are?

Buildings can have a statutory designation (Grade I, Grade II* or Grade II listings) as determined by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. Grade I buildings are of exceptional interest. Just 2.5% of listed buildings are Grade I. Grade II* buildings are particularly important buildings of more than special interest. Grade II buildings are of special interest warranting every effort to preserve them. 92% of all listed buildings are in this class. Buildings can also be an Asset of Community Value (ACV) – a building that is of importance to a local community and which is then subject to some additional protection from development – or lie within a Conservation Area. The Theatres Trust Theatre Buildings at Risk Register considers all buildings, whether they fall into the above categories or not. We also provide advice on listing and on registering buildings as an ACV.

The UK has a rich history in regards to its theatrical architecture, ranging back to over 400 years. Is there a particular formula for theatrical success?

The theatres which endure are the ones that are good theatres for audiences and performers alike, and at the core of that is a good spatial relationship between audience and performer, which enhances the experience for both. Therefore the design of the auditorium and its relationship with the stage are paramount. Theatres also have to be viable, so their design has to increasingly consider how income can be generated not just from ticket income but from sales in the bar, hire of hospitality spaces, and how VIP packages can be catered for.

However, theatre architects also need to be aware of, and respond to, changes in performance styles, as well as audience expectations and changes in society. For example, stages may now need to be much more flexible, so that work can be staged in different ways, and also have much more provision for projection and automation. Audience expectations now include adequate toilet provision for women (not a feature of 19th century theatres, for example) and space for food and drink, and theatres need to address accessibility for people with disabilities as audience, performers and staff.

What is The Theatres Trust’s role in helping buildings to secure potential investors and funding?

We provide advice to theatre operators or groups of theatre supporters. This advice is free, and can include exchange of emails, conversations and meetings in person. It can also include provision of Advice Notes, links to other relevant documents such as our annual conference reports, identification of comparator projects, identification of potential funders or reviews/evaluation of funding applications and business plans. This all assists theatres in making a better case for securing funding.  We also run a workshop programme (for which there is a fee) which includes a workshop on Fundraising for a Capital Project which many find useful in terms of improving their fundraising capacity.

The Theatre Buildings at Risk Register considers buildings in England, Scotland and Wales, contributing positively to the theatre building landscape within the UK. How is the trust able to cover a wide range of theatres?

We are a small dedicated team of Advisers. Though we are based in London, we travel the country to talk to theatres who need our help. Local community groups are an important link in the chain. We are made aware of many of the buildings that need our help by members of the public or by the theatre operators themselves. We also liaise with other statutory bodies and heritage groups such as Historic England, Historic Environment Scotland, The Princes Regeneration Trust and the Cinema Theatre Association. Our trustees are also a resource through which we can reach out and serve a wide range of theatres.

To anyone looking to pursue a career in theatre sustainability or running a theatre building, what advice would you give them?

There are very few companies at present actually providing environmental sustainability advice to the theatre sector and other cultural industries (such as Julie’s Bicycle). A few other theatres (mainly very large ones) might have employees in sustainability roles. If you were interested in environmental sustainability our advice would be to try and locate those companies and talk to them about opportunities for getting involved.

If you want to run a theatre building, the traditional route is to start working front of house (say as an usher), become a front of house manager, and then move from there to roles which involve more responsibility for the building, its systems and its equipment. Different buildings have different names for that role – it might be a theatre manager, or a General Manager. Other routes to that might be through doing an arts administration course and then going to work in theatre administration and progressing upwards. Or starting to work backstage as a theatre technician or stage manager, then becoming a technical manager, and then moving across into a Theatre Manager or General Manager role. If you are interested in a role where there is responsibility for the building and its equipment also try to keep abreast of legislative and other changes, and continue to take on relevant training. Become a Friend of The Theatres Trust and look at membership of either UK Theatre or the Association of British Theatre Technicians (ABTT).

Questions by Lucy Basaba.

To find out more about the Theatre Trust, and what they do, visit here…

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