St Albans' Maltings cinema plan could threaten live theatre

PUBLISHED: 19:07 31 October 2009 | UPDATED: 14:36 06 May 2010

HEAVY use of film at a cash-strapped St Albans theatre has reawakened concerns that it is to be transformed into a cinema rather than a venue for live theatre. In last week s Herts Advertiser the council s culture portfolio holder, Cllr Melvyn Teare, pled

HEAVY use of film at a cash-strapped St Albans theatre has reawakened concerns that it is to be transformed into a cinema rather than a venue for live theatre.

In last week's Herts Advertiser the council's culture portfolio holder, Cllr Melvyn Teare, pledged that the Maltings Arts Theatre would not be converted into a cinema but a report to next Tuesday's meeting of St Albans council's cabinet recommends a £600,000 upgrade to turn the complex into an adaptable space to show "quality" films four or five days a week with up to four daily screenings.

The proposal is to keep theatre showings to one afternoon and one evening professional performance a week. The arts theatre is heavily-subsidised by council taxpayers and there are a lot of empty slots in its weekly programme which the council is looking to fill to boost revenue.

But the heavy emphasis on film is worrying regular theatregoer Marion Hammant.

She said: "I love the idea of a refurbishment. It's overdue but what I don't want to see is the marginalisation of live theatre and music. I fear that once The Maltings is set up as a cinema, we may find that the other stuff is pushed out."

She maintained that the variety on offer at The Maltings was what made it so special, catering as it did for professional theatre, music of all kinds, comedy and poetry nights and arts and drama programmes and classes for children. It's also available to hire for community-based events.

In response, Cllr Teare said: "The subsidy we pay The Maltings is around £150,000 a year and we know that we have to look at the programming and space to see what we can offer in there to make better use of it.

"The space could still be used for theatre and live music but also lends itself to exciting new developments which could include the screening of major cultural events live from all over the world.

"If Cabinet approved the plan, we would provide digital equipment which would enable us to screen opera live from the Metropolitan Opera House in New York."

He agreed that the mooted figure of £600,000 for the refurbishment was a conservative estimate and did not include money for a much-needed overhaul of the café bar area.

Cllr Teare said the cinema plan in no way detracted from the hopes expressed in the City Vision project of providing a multi-screen mainstream cinema for St Albans.

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