In January 2020, after 18 months of renovation and remodeling, the Chelsea Theatre hosted a re-launch event to invite the community into its new home. Creative Director Josh McTaggart speaks about his vision to make Chelsea Theatre a place where community and theatre come together -- as well as one where art, community, creativity, and education intersect.
Hi, I'm Joshua McTaggert, I'm the Chief Executive of the Chelsea Centre Limited, which runs the Chelsea Theatre, of which I am also the Artistic Director. Behind us we can see the community gathering on Saturday 18 January 2020, for the grand reopening of the building after an eighteen month capital project.
The building was built on the World's End Estate, in the south of the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea, in the late seventies. The estate was designed to be a "super community," built 700 houses and eight tower blocks, along with a church, a school, various shop outlets, and this community theatre space. It's one of the only purpose-built theatre spaces on a council housing estate in the country, so I think that makes it this area an incredibly special place to be. It's coming up to its fiftieth anniversary this decade, but with any building, any public building, that's used by lots of people for lots of things, over those four decades it's been around, and it had started to fall into disrepair. And when I arrived as chief executive 18 months ago, the building was not at its best. It was dark, it was dingy, and we weren't able to run at full capacity.
Through some very generous donations from the RBKC, Garfield Weston, and a significant, multi-million pound donation from the Eva Louise Rausing Memorial foundation, we were able to close the building for a period of time, and undergo a major capital refurbishment.
What you see behind you is the end product of almost twelve months of construction, as well as many years of planning. What we had in this building was community space, multiple studios, a bar upstairs, and a theatre space. What we've now built is, our studio spaces have fully sprung dance floors, and specific flooring enabling us to do educational projects as well in those rooms. We now have made our community space, our cafe behind us more open, more light, and put in a fully-functioning kitchen space. We've added more glass, more windows, so the space feels more open, and you can't see it but behind we've built the new staircase to enable us to better access the theatre upstairs.
We've also made the building fully accessible for the 21st century -- buildings in the seventies weren't built thinking about people with need, both physical and others. What we're able to do in the 21st century is think about who is using our building, not just those who are able, but anyone in any way, shape, or form.
Upstairs we now have a fully functioning state-of-the-art theatre space, which is fully flexible. Which means we have 135 seats in one orientation, but we can reorient to put it in multiple orientations. And we have now built a roof bar and terrace. We had an inaccessible roof, which overlooked the Estate. We now have accessed that roof with decking, and in the near future we'll put in planting, and we'll put in chairs and seating so people can enjoy that terrace space.
The whole point of this space is for the community -- the World's End Estate community and the wider community -- and what we've tried to do with this refurbishment is look at what the needs of our community are. In terms of projects, in terms of ideas, in terms of the cafe, in terms of space that's warm, that's welcoming - and everything that's done throughout the project is about trying to serve that.
There's huge inequality -- not just in this borough, but in the city and in this country -- and spaces like this were built to try and redress that many years ago. But the needs have changed, and we have to keep up with that change. What we're trying to do here at the Chelsea Theatre ... is to create space, both physically, but also how we see our space, as a place for everyone, wherever they live in the city, wherever they live in the borough, and what it would mean to do. Community is so vital - community means lots of things, but for me it about a space that is open. Your civic duty means being having open doors, and allowing everyone to come in. And it's about opportunity, often for those who don't often get it. Buildings can feel like the doors are closed, even when they're open. And what we've done is, hopefully, with a new physical structure and a new entrance space, but also a new ethos. Chelsea Theatre for the 21st century -- for the 2020s -- will be a building that will hopefully be accessible.
So many people think that community and theatre are separate -- but for me, the Venn diagram completely overlaps. The Chelsea Theatre is not just theatre, it's not just community space. It's a place where community and theatre come together. I think that theatre is community, and community is theatre, and that's been forgotten in so many places. And here, in this building, we have this opportunity where these things interact on a daily basis, with professional people creating professional shows, with local apprentices learning how to light design, to set design, to rig, to learn how to work in a professional theatre space. And that is unique, and unique to where we are, and where we're working.
And for me, my creative vision for the Chelsea Theatre for 2020 and beyond, is a place where art, community, creativity, and education all intersect. In our ground studios, and in our first-floor theatre. So that everyone feels that the space is for them. They may not love everything we do; they may not enjoy everything they see. But they want to step across that threshold, step inside that auditorium and see something new.