Civic Theatre at Night
Civic Theatre by Day
In September 2014 the much loved Civic Theatre celebrated its 107th birthday. It was formally opened as the New Hippodrome and Palace of Varieties on Monday 2 September 1907 by the Mayor who declared ‘Everyone would agree that the building was a credit not only to those who designed it but to the town of Darlington’. Signor Rino Pepi, the enigmatic managing director of the theatre presented a programme headed by Marie Loftus, ‘the greatest of all comediennes’. Over the years many stars have trodden the boards here, including Anna Pavlova, Tommy Cooper, Dame Margot Fonteyn, Rex Harrison, Dame Vera Lynn, Sir Anthony Sher, Janet Suzman and more recently Hollywood stars Mickey Rooney, Linda Grey and Dirk Benedict.
Today the Civic Theatre remains a credit to the town of Darlington and is a treasured landmark, a well-respected and sought after venue for national touring companies and is firmly rooted in our local community, supporting many local amateur arts groups to bring their work to packed houses. In many ways the theatre is unchanged, I often feel myself to be walking in Signor Pepi’s footsteps and we continue to cherish and celebrate the theatre's fascinating history and to encourage everyone to come along and experience the special magic of live theatre.
However our challenge is to ensure your theatre is preserved in all its Edwardian splendour, to equip it to receive the biggest and best shows on tour and to ensure that audiences have a wonderful experience from the moment they enter the theatre. To do this, the time has come to try to extend the footprint of the theatre, to give us some breathing space, to provide better facilities and access for audiences and to create improved technical facilities back stage, which will allow us to bring in bigger shows and make the theatre more successful than ever before. You may be surprised to find out that that the theatre has no less than 24 sets of stairs back stage and is a warren of narrow corridors, with no lift.
In the summer of 2013 we set out on an ambitious journey to raise enough money to carry out a major restoration of the theatre to take us forward into the next era of our history. We are seeking funding from a variety of sources; however one of our first crucial decisions was to follow the example of other theatres and to introduce a restoration levy of £1 on all our tickets, with the exception of work which is specifically for children. As of June 2016, the levy had raised £288,592.30, every penny of which goes directly and exclusively towards restoring the theatre. We very much value your support as always and hope that you will recognise the importance of this contribution to our plans for the future of the theatre.
In March 2016 it was announced that Darlington Civic Theatre has received a confirmed £4.5m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to transform and regenerate the Grade II Listed building to its former glory.
The grant forms a key part of the ambitious £11.7m project that will deliver a restored Edwardian theatre with 21stcentury facilities and expanded artistic programme. The theatre will now close at the end of May to allow work to begin and will reopen in the autumn of 2017 with a new name – Darlington Hippodrome.
The project will include the restoration of the distinctive exterior of the Theatre and the beautiful Edwardian auditorium; a modern new entrance and promenade gallery, celebrating its heritage; the creation of a stunning vaulted function room in the former water tower, as well as improved seating with more leg room and disabled access; including two lifts, providing access to all levels both front and back of house.
There will also be an increase in seats to 1,000, which together with improved back stage facilities for touring companies, will enable larger shows to be accommodated. A new education centre and improved public spaces will support a vibrant new range of daytime learning and engagement activities.
The remaining money needed for the project will be raised through a restoration ticket levy and a programme of fundraising, which includes applications to trusts and foundations, corporate sponsorship opportunities, as well as a seat naming campaign and other fundraising initiatives.
Work on the campaign to restore the Darlington Civic Theatre to its original glory is progressing well, with the creation of a Civic Theatre Foundation fund in March 2014 following the appointment of a new Director of Fundraising and Development.
The Civic Theatre has set up a fund with the County Durham Community Foundation, who will manage the fund under the name of ‘The Darlington Civic Theatre Foundation’. The fund will be chaired by Charles Tompkins. Charles is a highly respected leader in his sector who helped create the region’s world-leading subsea industry and has been at the forefront of underwater engineering for the past thirty years. Charles is also a regular theatre goer with a passion for the town’s heritage.
The Civic Theatre has also appointed a new Director of Fundraising and Development. Heather Walkington will be responsible for overseeing the delivery of the fundraising total and will work with Charles on the campaign.
Charles Tompkins said: “I’m delighted to be a part of a project that plays a key role in the cultural life of the town and the region as a whole. Alongside ambitious plans for growth in jobs and business, we are enhancing our reputation as the place to live, learn and play.”
Councillor Nick Wallis, Darlington Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for Leisure and Local Environment said: “It’s an exciting time for the arts in Darlington. The Civic Theatre is a well-loved part of Darlington’s heritage and we’re well on our way to restoring it to its former Edwardian glory.”
Work is expected to begin on the theatre in June 2016. The theatre will reopen in Autumn 2017.
News of the HLF grant comes hot on the heels of a £1.5m grant awarded by Arts Council England (ACE) to Theatre Hullabaloo, in partnership with Darlington Borough Council, to support its £2.9m project to create a new flagship children’s theatre venue, The Hullaballoon, adjacent to the Civic.The new venue, has been made possible in part by a commitment of £800,000 by Darlington Borough Council, and will include a 150 seat studio theatre, family café, creative play spaces plus rehearsal and office space for Theatre Hullabaloo. The Hullaballoon will deliver creative play installations, a wide range of creative opportunities and classes for families and it will be a focal point for creative education.
On opening in late autumn 2017, it will be managed through an extension of the Civic Theatre’s operations and will be available to community arts users when not serving its primary audience. Theatre Hullabaloo will also be carrying out fundraising activities to support its project.
If you would like to find out more about making a donation to the restoration appeal, please contact Heather Walkington, Director of Fundraising and Development email@example.com
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