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Greenock’s £9.5m Beacon Theatre opens

The new Beacon foyer
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The new Beacon Arts Centre building has opened in Greenock to replace the old Arts Guild Theatre, a 500-seat space which was deemed no longer fit for purpose.

The new £9.5 million building houses a 500-seat main stage and 128-seat studio, together with three rehearsal spaces. The public spaces, rehearsal rooms and a cafe overlooking the Clyde opened today, the theatres open in the first week of February and a Gala opening is due for the summer.

Artistic director Julie Ellen told The Stage: “The Arts Guild was very much seen as being the territory of those who lived in the West End of Greenock. It wasn’t part of the wider provision for Inverclyde.

“Where we are now is the centre of Greenock town, by the water, very visible and very much a building that has been designed – in its positioning and its architectural design – to welcome everybody.”

The Beacon’s main stage includes a full height fly tower with counterweight system, two trap doors, retractable orchestra pit and generous wing space. The studio uses retractable bleacher seating and is adaptable as a black box space which can be used end stage, in the round or in cabaret configuration.

The studio will open on February 1 with In An Alien Landscape, a co-production with Birds of Paradise directed by Ellen. Vox Motus are currently rehearsing at the Beacon and will open the new tour of its 2008 production Slick on February 7 in the main house.

The old Arts Guild was converted from public baths in the 1950s after being bought by a group of local amdram enthusiasts. It served local amateur companies as well as attracting some touring theatre productions and light entertainment.

Ellen added: “The artistic programme is looking to grow, both increasing the top-end stuff and being able to welcome more of the touring productions that go round Scotland. Simple things like not having showers restricted us from having dance companies, while not being accessible precluded companies such as Birds of Paradise from using the Arts Guild.”

Ellen took over the post of artistic director 18 months ago to move the organisation up to its new business model. She says the object is not to become a major producer, but to provide facilities for smaller companies which are looking to move into mid-scale touring.

She said: “We have the most stunning mid-scale theatre here now and my experience as a producer on that larger scale as well in the development of talent – for want of a better phrase – will help support emerging artists. Those things as well as the practical resources we have to offer are things that we can really use to help companies that are about to go out on the road around Scotland.”