Colchester’s Mercury Theatre has been awarded £500,000 funding to pay for major reburbishment of the Essex venue.
Arts Council England today confirmed a grant of £400,000 from their Small Scale Capital Funding Programme.
Colchester Borough Council is contributing with a grant of £80,000 and a donation of solar panels; the J Paul Getty Jnr Trust and the Fowler Smith and Jones Trust have each committed £25,000; and the Mercury has allocated £50,000 from its own reserves to make the work possible.
The seating capacity of its Studio Theatre will be increased from the current 65 seats up to a new maximum of 103, in a fully retractable unit of tiered rows.
Sound-proofing will be installed so that sound from the Main Stage no longer ‘bleeds’ into the Studio Theatre, meaning that both spaces can run side-by-side all year round for the first time.
Air conditioning and digital filming equipment will be installed and technical equipment will be upgraded, making the performance space more flexible.
In the main house a new heating and cooling system will be installed and facilities for the disabled are to be improved in both theatre spaces.
Green improvements will see new LED lighting installed powered by solar panels.
Artistic director, Daniel Buckroyd, said: “This work will transform our ability to create new smaller-scale theatre ourselves, and support new writers and emerging theatre companies across Essex and further afield.
“Our vision is to share untold stories, and the new Studio will increase the choice we offer to audiences, boosting our efforts to attract more people to theatre for the first time.
“Temperature in both of our spaces has been the most persistent audience complaint for some years now. We are very hopeful that the installation of new heating and cooling equipment will make visiting the Mercury a more comfortable experience for all of our audiences.
“No-one should feel they have to keep their coat on when coming to the theatre!
“We’re continually improving access for customers with disabilities.”
Mercury Theatre executive director Steve Mannix added: “The Mercury is a key part of the creative economy in the East of England – people look to us to provide space where new work can be nurtured and given space to breathe.
“If you look at most of the shows in the West End at the moment, you can trace their origins back to an early life in regional subsidised theatres like the Mercury working in partnership with others. The new Studio will provide vital support to the big names of tomorrow.
“We hope this fantastic news will help us to unlock more opportunities in the coming years.”
Hedley Swain, area director, south east, Arts Council England, said: “We are pleased to be able to support the Mercury Theatre Colchester through our small scale capital programme.
“The work will help the Mercury to build on its role as an innovative producing theatre and create a more sustainable future, whilst also improving audience experience and access.
“Colchester is an important place for Arts Council investment and we are pleased to be able to help improve the offer for audiences in this way.”
Building and installation work will take place throughout 2015.