Assembly Rooms Theatre to undergo £2.4 million renovation

By Tania Chakraborti

It has been announced that extensive refurbishments are set to take place at Durham’s Assembly Rooms Theatre (AR) in August 2018.

The 220-seat proscenium arch theatre, located on the North Bailey, will undergo essential repairs to the building including; restoration of the theatre’s historic ceiling, improvement to the workshop, stage, dressing rooms and toilets as well as preservation of the fabric of the building.

In an email sent out today to Durham students, Kate Barton, Head of Student Theatre stated:

“I am thrilled to say that the University is planning to invest £2.4m in an extensive refurbishment which is set to start this August. With arts funding being cut around the country and no formal theatre degree, the intended refurbishment is part of the continued strategy to improve student experience at the university and further encourage participation in the arts.”

Ms Barton also stated the intention to “raise a further £300,000 from supportive donors, partners and parents to make additional changes to the building so that students get to experience first-hand a modern, professional theatre.”

The money raised is hoped to fund the creation of a licensed bar and cafe area as well as improvements to the audience’s auditorium and renewing the current lighting rig.

“the intended refurbishment is part of the continued strategy to improve student experience”

The Assembly Rooms Theatre operates under Durham University as its student theatre and was built in 1869. It is available for the 26 Durham Student Theatre (DST) companies to showcase their productions, whilst outside term time the building houses community groups, touring shows and other events.

DST members have responded to the news of renovations, with positive remarks as well as reservations about the upcoming building work:

Matt Lloyd, a third-year Criminology student who recently performed at the venue for The LGBT+ showcase, stated: “I think it’s a great move. Student theatre is a huge part of the Durham experience, whether that is through being an audience member, on the stage or behind the scenes, and it deserves a modern, state-of-the-art theatre.”

Finola Southgate, a third year Modern Languages student and a familiar performer on the stage said: “Considering how big the drama scene is at Durham, I’d be interested to know what this means for the Assembly Rooms usage next year. With this more professional environment, as promised, comes a better experience for those involved and equally provides both DST and the University itself with an incentive for future students.”

Caroline Mosimann, another DST member, stated positively of the upcoming work: “I think it’s definitely time the AR was renovated and some serious money was invested in Durham’s fantastic theatre scene.”

Florence Russell, a second year DST performer said that she was “really pleased that the University is recognising the importance of theatre, and encouraging the drama scene to thrive. However, the Assembly Rooms is a functional building, and perhaps the University would be better to invest in some decent rehearsal spaces, or alternative black box venues.”

Durham University’s Director of Experience Durham, Quentin Sloper, stated: “The Assembly Rooms is a beacon of creativity and performance – not just for Durham students and staff, but for people across the city, county, region, and beyond.

“I’m delighted to announce this investment, which will make this popular and iconic local venue even better. This £2.4 million investment shows just how serious we are about ensuring that Durham University is market leading in student theatre.

“We want to see the Assembly Rooms become an even better venue but we can’t do it all alone. That’s why we’re calling on local residents and generous supporters to give what they can so, together, we can maintain and improve this beautiful and historic venue.”

Photograph: mgarethm via Flickr 

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