'We are really, really important': Campaign to pay the debt of town's theatre
PUBLISHED: 09:07 13 April 2019
Archant © 2018
From films and operas, weddings to wakes - the Fisher’s Theatre is undoubtedly integral part of the local community.
But the building, which is run by the Bungay Arts and Theatre Society, is harbouring large debt and has until the end of the year to pay it off.
The historic theatre on Broad Street was built in the 1800s by David Fisher and is one the last of his 13 Georgian theatres.
It is the only one still used for its original purpose, while the other buildings have been made into restaurants and housing or have vanished completely. It is believed to be the fourth oldest theatre still used in the UK.
Mr Fisher started out as a carpenter and joiner, but indulged in singing and acting on the side.
As his passion for theatre grew, he turned to building a theatrical empire and later hand-built and repurposed venues across East Anglia.
He became actor-manager of a whole circuit of theatres around the region which connected Beccles, Sudbury, Eye, Woodbridge, Newmarket, East Dereham, Swaffham, Halesworth, Lowestoft, Thetford, Wells-Next-The-Sea and Bungay.
To create a seamless performance, he designed the buildings so he could use his same hand-built and painted sets, traps and of the time special effects in each theatre.
In 1996, a group of local residents known as the ‘famous five’ came together and bought the theatre. They later created the Bungay Arts and Theatre Society Charity, which over saw the renovation and purchase of the building from the Architectural Heritage Fund (AHF).
To keep the theatre running for generations, the society has to pay £150,000 by the end of 2019 to be freed from the long-standing loan.
A statement from the AHF read: “In order to make funds immediately available to support at-risk historic places in other communities, the AHF has generously offered The Fisher Theatre the opportunity to own the building outright. For this the theatre needs to raise £150,000 by December.”
The money has to be raised by community fundraising, so the theatre has launched a national crowd funding campaign.
Ruth Selwyn-Crome, who is one of the trustees running the campaign, said: “Our six week online campaign will be phase one of a ten month marathon.
“This really is an incredible chance for the town to finally own the building. It’s such a wonderful asset to the community.
“We employ three members of staff and rely on an of army volunteers for everything from costume to tech. We really hope that the theatre’s story, as well as that of Mr David Fisher, will attract nationwide attention.
“We are the last Fisher Theatre, we are rural and we are little, but we are really, really important.”
Well-known people within the theatre world have backed the campaign to “future-proof” the building.
The chief executive of the Norwich Theatre Royal Stephen Crocker said: “The Fisher Theatre is a fantastic place with an incredible heritage.
“It epitomises for me what theatre buildings are all about – it is committed to providing wide-ranging performances and opportunities to participate, it is driven by people who are passionate about the place and the magic of performance and it is rooted at the heart of its communities.”
Alex Beard, chief executive of the Royal Opera House, said: “What makes theatre so unique is its ability to bring people together. The Fisher Theatre does this in abundance.”
Emily Elvin-Poole, who hails from Bungay, is a solicitor practising family law in London and attributes her “confidence” and “resilience” to the Fisher Youth Theatre Group. The 27-year-old said: “One of my fondest memories was playing Marlene in Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls at the age of 16. This was the first play I had performed which tackled adult subject matter.”
An event will be held to launch the campaign this Sunday (April 14) from 4pm to 6pm at the Fisher Theatre.