Plans for the future of Margate’s Theater Royal include marketing it with neighboring 19 Hawley Square so that food and drink facilities can be created and joining the proposed Cliftonville cultural space in the former building of the synagogue to form a “performing arts center” for the city.
The proposals, which form part of the £22.2m Margate town deal, are being discussed by members of Thanet Council’s Cabinet later this month.
The Theater Royal and Margate Winter Gardens are closed while the future of the venue is considered. The Theater Royal closed on April 28 and the Winter Gardens followed suit last month.
The historic Theater Royal has received £2million from the Margate Town Deal fund to help with renovations.
A report to Cabinet members says a quantified survey of the condition by Lee Evans Partnership carried out in 2021 finds the theater needs £2m of improvements needed to bring it up to modern standards, including £370,000 identified as urgent.
Margate Town Deal’s commitment of £2million will mean the work can be completed, but will also be used as a matching funding requirement for a bid to the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
The report states: ‘This is seen as a five year project where the commitment of the Town Fund and 19 Hawley Square Council forms the basis of the activity which will ultimately allow us to secure a long term future and commercially viable for quality theatrical production in Margate. .”
The theater was purchased by Thanet Council as an “owner of last resort” in 2007. The building was closed for a six-month refurbishment program and all staff were made redundant. It was then let to the Margate Theater Royal Trust on peppercorn rent until 2012 when the Trust went into administration.
Your Leisure took over the site in what was meant to be a stopgap measure, but had it running until closure last month. All staff were laid off and they formed Phoenix Community Events. The group had offered to keep the theater open while the project was being prepared, but Thanet’s board said that was neither viable nor possible.
Thanet Council bought 19 Hawley Square from Orbit Housing in 2011 to expand the theater facilities.
In 2014 Thanet Council offered a long lease or freehold interest in the theater and buildings at 16a and 19 Hawley Square and there was an expression of interest from Soho Theatres.
Soho Theaters has developed an offer to the National Lottery Heritage Fund to provide enhanced theater alongside community, catering and hotel space at 19 Hawley Square. However, this offer fell through due to the end of the funding period, although there was enough support for the idea.
Now, Thanet’s board aims to relaunch part of that proposal with the goal of making the theater commercially viable.
The report states: “The Theater Royal is underperforming commercially, the lack of food and drink, lack of rehearsal and green room facilities, and seating capacity are significant impediments to the continued operation of the theater. ‘space.
“It is the second oldest operating theater in the country and has been identified as having significant historical and heritage value. With 465 seats, it is a medium-sized presentation theatre. It has a strong local following and there is a strong affinity for the building and the productions that take place there. “The building is currently on the register of theaters at risk, and the improvements identified will be fundamental to safeguarding its long-term operation and allowing it to remain in service.”
He adds: “Margate needs to focus on a theatrical center for performance and production rather than a higher performance theatre.
“There is a need to provide extensive facilities in order to support the financial viability of the Theater Royal, and this is the basis on which the proposed Margate Town Deal and business case have been developed, which have been submitted to central government. “
Thanet Council said an expression of interest had been submitted to Arts Council England with the Cliftonville Cultural Space.
The objective is for the Royal Theater to serve as a base for a larger center of theatrical production.
The funding offer would help ensure that food and drink could be offered at 19 Hawley Square, which would generate revenue.
It would also help to provide rehearsal space in the former Cliftonville Synagogue to allow for the development of local productions as well as longer runs by touring companies.
There would also be a studio at the Cliftonville Cultural Space. The funding would help provide a green room and improved locker rooms; residencies for artists and performers and increased community engagement with theater and performance from Margate’s most deprived communities.
If the expression of interest is accepted, the full application phase runs from September 19 to November 18.
An offer will also be made to the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
The Théâtre Royal project will be carried out in phases.
The first stage includes using Margate Town Deal funds to complete the urgent works costing £370,000 for minor roof repairs, removal of the asbestos stage curtain, fire protection measures and the provision of an appropriate ventilation system.
Once the urgent works are completed, the next step will be to complete the other structural works, including; window repairs and decorations, whitewashing where plaster has failed and ceiling repairs worth £400,000.
A creative director will be hired, with external funding, to oversee the project.
The Theater Royal and 19 Hawley Square will be marketed as a package to find an operator/business partner.
Cabinet members of Thanet council are expected to agree to the plans at a meeting on September 22.