YEOVIL NEWS: Fantastic £23m project to transform Octagon Theatre
AN AMAZING £23million-plus project to transform the award-winning Octagon Theatre in Yeovil is set to be discussed by councillors early in the New Year.
Members of South Somerset District Council will meet in January to debate whether to agree in principle to progress the development that will give a major facelift to the Octagon and see facilities improved.
The project, set to cost in the region of £23million excluding VAT, would see the theatre add a fly tower and circle that would take the seating from 622 people to 900 - this would mean big advances in productions that could attend the venue including touring plays and musicals.
PHOTO - TOP: How the "circle" would look at the newly-revamped Octagon Theatre auditorium.
A circle – in theatrical terms – means an upper tier of seating above the auditorium, so in essence the Octagon Theatre will be adding another floor to its current two-storey premises.
A fly tower – in theatrical terms – is a large volume of space above the stage which allows the backstage crew to hoist (fly) in quickly, quietly and safely various things such as curtains, lights, scenery, stage effects and, even, people!
Work would also see the venue become fully accessible throughout, add two additional boutique spaces which could potentially be a cinema/studio plus and additional cinema. The venue would also see purpose-built studios created with an improved community Café Hub and separate restaurants areas.
PHOTO - RIGHT: An artist's impression of how the new-look auditorium at the Octagon Theatre in Yeovil would look.
A report on the project is being presented to the council’s District Executive committee on Thursday, January 7, 2021, whereby councillors will decide whether to agree in principle to progress the development of the project and the underwriting of the total net project costs, up to £23.01m.
If councillors decide to agree in principle to progressing the development, subject to a further report being bought to Executive Committee once the full financial implications including VAT are confirmed, it would enable Octagon Theatre staff to apply to funders that would reduce the amount required from the council.
The Octagon Theatre has been entertaining audiences since 1974 and attracts many visitors from far and wide with a diverse range of artists and events from big name comedians, classical music and opera to rock and folk music, the very best in variety alongside superb plays and ballet, and not forgetting the blockbuster pantomime.
The theatre is also the home to many local community groups where local talent is regularly celebrated.
PHOTO - RIGHT: How the new-look entrance to the Octagon Theatre would look following the revamp.
Last year 125,000 people bought a ticket for an event at the Octagon Theatre whilst thousands more took part in one of the weekly classes as part of the Octagon Academy participatory programme.
The council’s health and well-being spokesman, Cllr Mike Best, said: “Potentially, this could be a massive investment within South Somerset, making this premier venue even more attractive to visitors and also performers; so we really could open up the market for attracting bigger and better performances here in the South West.
“This is a key decision for my fellow councillors to make because of the large investment, but a project plan and the finances involved have been scrutinised by everyone so far involved in the project. The project has the potential to pay for itself over time and not cost the taxpayer a penny. This really could mark a major investment for the local area, with wide reaching benefits for our communities across the region.”
PHOTO - RIGHT: Seating at the Octagon Theatre would increase from 622 people to 900 under the revamp plans.
The council’s finance spokesman, Cllr Peter Seib, added: “The Octagon is a fantastic draw, bringing visitors in from across the region whilst delivering huge social value by supporting many local performance groups. However, the theatre urgently needs a significant amount of money spending on repairs just to stay open and it is reliant on council taxpayer subsidy.
“What is proposed is a step-change investment to transform the offer, bringing national touring shows and competing with major centres like Bristol whilst still keeping its local arts scene focus. An enlarged Octagon would be highly sustainable and would operate free of council subsidy even at pricing appropriate to local residents and user groups.
“We are fighting town centre decline across the district caused by the collapse of shop-based retail, and the long-term effects of Covid-19.
“A new, distinctive and defining cultural offer would counter that, bringing more visitors in, and enhancing the area's attractiveness to inward investors looking to re-locate their business, and their family, to South Somerset.
“In many ways, this type of investment defines the place-making role of a District Council, responding creatively to local economic needs."
The report going to the council’s District Executive committee can be seen via the authority’s website at www.southsomerset.gov.uk .