Bristol Old Vic: 'Tell us what you want your Old Vic to be'
WHEN Bristol Old Vic's Emma Stenning and Tom Morris launched the refurbishment of the theatre's auditorium in 2011, they said they hoped to follow it up with an ambitious second phase.
After the internationally acclaimed reopening of the theatre last year, that time has come, with plans to redevelop the theatre's front of house.
Bristol Old Vic is asking the people of Bristol what they want from the theatre's public spaces, as it prepares to improve and open up its front-of-house areas from the entrance and box office, to the restaurant, bar, meeting spaces and loos. They'll also tackle staff offices and the studio.
"We have made the Georgian auditorium and theatre space, as well as the back of house areas, amazing," says executive director Emma, "but that has made us even more aware that the box office area, the bar and the cafe aren't the most welcoming or comfortable and can be difficult to access.
"We really want the front of house of the Bristol Old Vic to be an amazing social space that allows people to come and get great food and drink and have a good time before, during and after a show.
"We also hope that people will use the theatre as a place to hang out – pop in with the family, grab a sofa, a coffee and a paper and just really enjoy the surroundings of the beautiful Georgian theatre."
Work on the initial designs are on the drawing board and the Bristol Old Vic team are keen to hear from the public at this important stage.
Visitors are being asked to fill in a short questionnaire to share their ideas, thoughts and dreams, which will then help to shape the theatre's future.
The six-point questionnaire can be picked up from Bristol Old Vic box office or completed online at www.bristololdvic.org.uk/redevelopment.
"We really want people to take a couple of minutes to give us their opinion," says Emma.
"What Tom and I have been saying from the start is that Bristol Old Vic belongs to Bristol and we are very privileged to be stewarding it for this period of time.
"We really want to open a dialogue with the people to whom it belongs, so it is vital to us that people say what they want."
Completed questionnaires need to be submitted by mid-September, and all of the opinions expressed will be passed to the design team before plans are submitted to Bristol City Council in the autumn.
Emma says: "This is absolutely a genuine process and people's opinions will matter – we are creating a public space and there is no point in doing that if we don't do it through a dialogue with the public."
The project will cost £12 million in total, of which £5 million has already been earmarked by Arts Council England, subject to the Stage 2 application.
The remaining £7 million will be raised from a range of sources, including trusts and foundations, business and individual donors.
A fundraising campaign will be launched later this year.
"We are very optimistic that we will raise the money," enthuses Emma. "Theoretically, we will start the work in early 2015 and complete it by the end of 2016, which is also the Theatre's 250th anniversary, so it feels like a very fitting birthday present."
The vision for the new-look Bristol Old Vic is that it will be a stylish and functional combination of the old and the new.
The aim is to make people aware that this is a historic building, full of ghosts and endless stories, but at the same time to make it a piece of iconic and modern architecture for the city with all the comfort and mod-cons of a 21st-century venue.
"We are working with Steve Tompkins of Haworth Tompkins, who is one of the most pre-eminent theatre architects of our generation," explains Emma. "He is responsible for some really extraordinary developments such as the Royal Court in London and the Egg theatre in Bath.
"He is particularly brilliant at celebrating historic architecture while also bringing a modern comfort to it. So that's perfect for us."
In addition to the interior, there are plans to give the building's facade a face-lift.
Emma says, "Bristol Old Vic is very much a hidden gem. There are still so many people who don't know it's there because it's set back from the street. If you wander down King Street, you could easy walk past it without knowing it's there.
"So one of the things we want to do is reveal this gem, so you couldn't help but notice this extraordinary building and be enticed inside.
"We want the people of Bristol to feel that this theatre is theirs, whether they are theatre-goers or not.
"We want people to come in, from breakfast through to supper, to enjoy top-quality meals, to relax with the family, to socialise. We also want it to increasingly be a place where people will come for events, for conferences, meetings and weddings.
"As we know, being a theatre business is a very fragile economy, so anything we can do to improve the opportunities for the theatre to earn money is a great, long-lasting legacy. It means the theatre becomes sustainable and self-supporting.
"This is a chance in a lifetime to solve a lot of problems."