As the busy season of producing winter shows limits the number of rehearsal rooms available, Lita Doolan looks at six alternative venues increasingly being used to rehearse by theatremakers
Converted churches bring rehearsal spaces to unexpected places, like the 18th-century Union Chapel in Islington, which opened for use by creatives in 1991. Jumping on the bandwagon, the Space arts centre in the Isle of Dogs began in a converted 19th-century Presbyterian Church and Ark T Centre in Oxford launched in a Baptist Church.
Educational institutions with empty teaching rooms increasingly offer spaces for hire. RADA has lead this movement with its RADA Studios development. Following this idea, Young Actors Theatre in Islington offers its drama school space for rehearsals and the agency Education Champs organises bookings for school halls in London.
Venues that present visual art exhibitions alongside rehearsal spaces are increasing in number. Jerwood Space began this trend in 1998 and its director, Peter Wilkinson, says: “The free gallery across the front of the building runs a series of programmed shows through the year with partner organisations to attempt to stimulate discussions across multi-disciplinary art forms.” Copying this format, the Mill Arts Centre in Banbury, and London’s Brixton Pound, hold art exhibitions while creating a community of artists from different disciplines.
Buildings with a history of community partnerships are on the rise as rehearsal venues. Old Diorama Arts Centre in London has operated as a collective since the 1970s and was one of the first creative spaces to offer a focal point for local organisations. Charting the same pathway, the Edge Theatre in Manchester works with people who are homeless, and Acta community theatre in Bristol supports teachers who use drama to tutor citizenship; both theatres accommodate professional theatremakers alongside their charitable projects.
Rehearsal spaces owned by theatremakers are increasingly in demand, such as Out of Joint, the company which first hired out in-house facilities in 1998. “We definitely attract a lot of new work, but not exclusively,” says Thomas Ryalls, assistant producer at Out of Joint, who adds: “A team can rehearse scenes in the room, while the writer works in another. Rehearsing here is like having a second home as we have a big kitchen, lounge areas and the only other people around are the Out of Joint team.” Other companies, such as English Touring Theatre and Graeae, are replicating this method of offering a space which has already been successful in setting up a safe, productive, creative environment, and sharing their rehearsal spaces with fellow creatives.
Pubs are increasingly chosen as an option for rehearsals by producers working on a tight budget. London’s Rosemary Branch Theatre has been hiring their space above a busy pub since 1996. Trailing the venue’s success, day-time rehearsals are scheduled at the King’s Arms in Salford, Etcetera Theatre above the Oxford Arms in Camden and the Vaulty Towers in Waterloo.