Over 100 years of history.
Designed by local architect J McHardy Young, the Gaiety Theatre first opened on Oct 1 1902. The original interior had two tiers, could accommodate 1,200 and cost £9,500. Less than a year later the theatre was devastated by fire – and met the same fate in 1955. On both occasions rebuilding meant the Gaiety rose from the ashes, although each time in a changed layout.
For nearly half its lifetime, from 1925–73, the theatre was run by the Popplewell Family who built up much of the affection the Gaiety still retains today. In later years, while owned and run by South Ayrshire Council, it remained the premier theatre in South West Scotland. As the largest performing venue between Glasgow and England it saw annual audiences of over 80,000 for more than 220 shows each year.
Over its long life the stage has seen performances from comedians, singers, variety acts and icons such as Sir Harry Lauder, Ken Dodd, Dave Willis, Jack Milroy and Gaiety legend Johnny Beattie. But financial pressures and an operating model that no longer worked saw the Gaiety bow out on Jan 31 2009.
Now, after almost four years of hard work, fund-raising, lobbying and refurbishing, the Gaiety reopened its doors and raised the curtain on Dec 11 2012.
When the theatre closed, it was much loved, but in decline. So simply rolling back the clock was not going to be the answer. Instead we have a new vision to redevelop the Gaiety as a centre for theatre and the arts – providing a destination venue and much more.
New facilities, including a studio theatre and an expanded cafe/bar/restaurant, are part of a re-imagined focus for social and cultural life in Ayr. The original auditorium has some unique qualities and in the near future we will be bringing it back to its former glory – as well as modernising ‘behind the scenes’ working.
We aim to offer something for the whole community. The new ‘Stage Door’ cafe/bar/restaurant will be open seven days a week, offering a meeting place and anything from a coffee to a full evening meal. We’ll have youth theatre activities from the start, along with other themed events. And we are developing plans to take the Gaiety into the community, with opportunities for involvement in all sorts of ways. Our partnership with the University of the West of Scotland (UWS) will create an innovative ‘learning theatre’ connecting Ayr’s growing student population with the life of the town in a centre for education, training and research.
Who’s running the show?
In Oct 2012, Ayr Gaiety Partnership Limited took on a 99-year lease of the Gaiety for a ‘peppercorn’ rent from South Ayrshire Council. AGP was set up in 2009 by two local residents, who were joined by three more to make up the current board. All are volunteers and have led an effort of another 20 or so local volunteers to work on fund-raising, cleaning up the theatre, overseeing capital works and a whole lot more. The company is a social enterprise – so it exists to serve the local community, not to make profit. It’s a charity too so it has to meet all sorts of external scrutiny. But most of all, it is community owned and membership of the company will grow over the next few years – to include hundreds of local people of all ages and interests.
Of course it’s not possible to run a theatre with a busy programme and even more ambitions for the future entirely on voluntary effort. So we also have a small but incredibly talented and dedicated group of employees. Combining local knowledge with a strong track record from further afield, our staff team are at the core of our operation. They develop the programme, manage the business, oversee the technical side, promote our activities and provide essential back up to our volunteers.
Text supplied by third party.
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