BROADWAY THEATRE WORKING PARTY. Class Open Date 1 September 2015

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1 BROADWAY THEATRE WORKING PARTY Report Title Broadway Theatre Introductory Paper Key Decision No Item No. Ward Contributors Rushey Green Executive Director for Community Services Class Open Date 1 September Purpose of Report 1.1 This report seeks to provide background information about the Broadway Theatre as an introduction to the work of this committee. 2. Brief History 2.1 The Broadway Theatre is a Grade II listed building in the heart of Catford. It was built in 1932 and is an outstanding example of Art Deco design. The magnificent curve of the building frontage, fascinating gargoyles, imposing, grand main auditorium and rare Compton theatre organ give the Broadway it s unique charm. 2.2 The architects were Bradshaw, Gass and Hope; the gothic features were intended to reflect the adjacent gothic revival town hall which has since been demolished. The Broadway was originally built as a multi-purpose civic hall for activities including dancing and wrestling. The Broadway Theatre now has a main auditorium with a capacity of 800 seats and an 80 seat studio theatre. 2.3 The Borough was once blessed with an array of theatres including Matcham s wonderful Lewisham Hippodrome (demolished 1958) and the equally grand New Cross Empire (demolished 1954). In addition the borough used to boast several cinemas all of which have long closed and most of the buildings have also been demolished. The Broadway Theatre is the only of these imposing buildings that remains and is very important to the cultural heritage of the borough. 2.4 In 1999 the theatre underwent a 2million refurbishment but 75% of the investment was needed for major remedial works including a full rewiring and new roof. The only structural alterations were the creation of the Broadway Bar and a new box office. In addition new carpets were installed, the foyers

2 redecorated and bars and toilets refurbished. Funding was not available to tackle the challenging and complex needs surrounding the backstage area or the interiors of the two auditoria. 3. The Building 3.1 Since the 1999 refurbishment there has been no significant investment in the building. The combination of the 1930s design of the building not meeting modern standards and the deterioration of some aspects of the building mean that the Broadway needs investment in a number of areas detailed below. 3.2 Ceiling the suspended plaster ceiling has suffered some damage from water penetration. Repairs to the roof have been completed to prevent further leaks and remedial repairs to the damaged ceiling. Full repair of the ceiling is now required to prevent further plaster from falling. 3.3 Working at heights rescue plan the theatre requires some investment in additional equipment to enable the working at heights rescue plan which allows for staff and contractors to be able to work in the rigging focussing lights etc and undertaking maintenance of the chandeliers. The current tallescope is not sufficient and adaptations to it or replacement with more modern alternatives are being investigated. 3.4 Safety Curtain tests on the safety curtain have revealed asbestos which needs to be encapsulated or a new curtain installed. 3.5 Water Penetration in the basement the theatre has suffered repeated flooding in the basement and lower foyers which has caused damage to those areas leaving them unattractive and below the decorative standard that you would expect in a public facility. A solution to this repeat flooding is needed and the areas to be brought back to an acceptable standard. Investigations that have been undertaken into this issue previously demonstrate that the problem does not emanate from the theatre itself. 3.6 Get in the Broadway was not designed with the needs of modern productions in mind. All equipment and sets have to be manually lifted from the street up a flight of steep steps and then further manual lifting is required to bring items to stage level. This is not an acceptable system for frequent use and needs to be addressed in order for the venue to continue to attract hirers. 3.7 Seating the auditoria seating is very uncomfortable and falls well short of current theatre seating standards. Today s building standards recommends a minimum row spacing of 86cm whereas the circle seating is only 68cm. Seating widths are also well below minimum standards. As an historic

3 building the Broadway is legally allowed to continue to operate with these restrictions but should any alterations be made the council would be required to ensure that the current standards are met. When the venue was built the main auditorium did not have raked seating. A retractable rake was subsequently installed to improve audience sight lines but still allow the auditorium to be cleared for other functions. In practice the rake has become predominantly fixed as it is very labour intensive to move in and out and the workings are old and unreliable. 3.8 Catford Complex the Broadway Theatre is conjoined to Town Hall Chambers and the theatre rehearsal room is part of the chambers building. The theatre also shares some plant with the Civic Suite. These interdependencies need to be taken into consideration in planning for the building s future. 3.9 Facilities for theatrical productions the Broadway Theatre was not built as a theatre but a multi-purpose concert and dance hall. As a result the acoustics in the main auditoria although very good for live music are poor for theatre productions meaning that most spoken word requires amplification and the use of radio mics. The venue also lacks a number of facilities normally expected for theatre productions such as flying facilities, wing space and scene dock. These are fundamental limitations in terms of the type of live performance that the venue is suited to. These could be overcome with a large amount of investment that could reseat the auditorium to bring the audience closer to the stage, extend the stage and build an extension to provide sufficient wings and scenery docks Other considerations there are a couple of other areas that would benefit from improvements. The first is the Studio Theatre. With only 80 seats this auditoria is intimate and a good venue for small scale community based activity or more experimental work but the number of seats make it very difficult to break even on productions. A remodelling of the studio to increase the capacity would be beneficial. The studio currently does not have any projection equipment so is unable to show films which the auditorium size would be well suited to. The second limitation is the lack of kitchen facilities. The Broadway has no commercial kitchen and is therefore not able to prepare hot food on the premises limiting options for catering and the feasibility of the café. 4. Options for the main auditorium 4.1 As discussed above the main auditorium was never designed for theatrical productions. In order to move forward with plans to revive the venue a decision about what type of venue it will be is needed. There are two main options; a proscenium arch theatre or multi-purpose venue with a stage.

4 4.2 The first option of a proscenium arch theatre would require major adaptations to the venue and a significant amount of revenue subsidy in order to be able to promote theatre productions that would compete with central London and other regional venues. 4.3 The second option of the multi-purpose venue is more in keeping with the original intention for the Broadway and a modern functioning but adaptable venue could be achieved for a smaller capital outlay. This option is also likely to be less dependent on revenue subsidy as the type of events that would be promoted such as comedy, music, cabaret, variety and functions are more commercially viable. 5. Capital Plan 5.1 Phase 1 within 6 months. Funding has been earmarked by the council to address some of the urgent items that are preventing the main auditorium from being used. By April 2016 it is intended to make good the suspended plaster ceiling and safety curtain and to invest in the necessary equipment to enable the working at heights safety plan. 5.2 Phase 2 within 2 years. The next phase of the capital plan will be to ensure the fabric of the building is sound, deal with the water penetration issue and bring the damaged interiors up to an acceptable standard. If option two above was adopted then the intention would be to replace the retractable raked seating and make improvements to the get in which would allow the venue to continue to operate as a multi-purpose hall with better audience comfort and safer working environment that would be more attractive to hirers. If option one above was adopted then detailed feasibility for the necessary extension and the interdependencies with the wider Catford Redevelopment would be undertaken. 5.3 Phase 3 within 5 years. Potential improvements to the Studio Theatre seating to increase its capacity, reseating the circle in the main auditorium and taking advantage of any additional opportunities provided by the wider Catford Regeneration. For option one this would be the extension to allow for flying facilities, wing space and scene dock and for option two it might be further improvements to the get in by improving access to the rear on Catford Broadway and integration of any new public spaces around the venue to provide opportunities for open air events or film screenings. 5.4 Whichever option is adopted the capital investment needed will require external funds to be secured. Potential sources include Heritage Lottery, Arts Council England, GLA regeneration funds and planning gain from Catford Regeneration as well as smaller capital sources such as the Green Theatre

5 Fund which provides grants to convert theatre lighting from Tungsten to LED format. It is likely that funding will be required from multiple sources as the project does not fit wholly within the criteria of any one funder. There are also likely to be costs that external funders will not meet and this will require council or planning gain investment. 6. Operational Plan 6.1 The theatre has just undergone a staff reorganisation which has reduced the staff team from five to 2 permanent posts. The theatre has an operating budget for salaries and any other operational costs of 104k per annum. Statutory maintenance of the building and cleaning costs are covered by Corporate Asset Services. Issues with the ceiling etc. currently limit the use of the main auditorium. Instead the reduced staff team are concentrating on using other parts of the venue including the studio theatre, bars and foyers. Once the phase one works described above are completed it will be possible to bring the main house back into use. 6.2 Even with the main house operational again the other limitations of the venue such as the get in will continue to restrict the types of events the venue can attract. The financial risk of the council promoting its own productions are too great in the current financial climate however, the theatre is still a significant asset and it s considerable charm as a venue can be used to attract creative partners. It is intended to seek meanwhile partners for the Broadway that can provide creative activities and events in return for low cost hire. A number of regional organisations have already approached us but an open process will be undertaken to select the right partnerships. 6.3 In the longer term once the necessary capital improvements have taken place to make the venue more competitive it will be possible to consider alternative options for the venue s management. These could include outsourcing to an existing venue operator either commercial such as Ambassadors Theatre Group or a charitable organisation like the Albany. Another option would be to transfer the theatre to a trust or to continue to operate the venue directly.

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