New theatre group to take over The New Wolsey Studio in 2020
PUBLISHED: 18:30 20 November 2019 | UPDATED: 11:09 21 November 2019
The New Wolsey Studio theatre sitting unassumingly in St George's Street in Ipswich, nestled quietly behind Ipswich Museum, will have a new identity from next year.
With the New Wolsey Theatre building its new workshops, rehearsal spaces and community hub on the spiral car park site off Civic Drive, they will be handing back the studio building to Ipswich Council and from the spring next the Grade 2 listed building will be run by leading amateur company The Gallery Players.
The group have performed in the town for the past 30 years at both the New Wolsey and the Sir John Mills Theatre. Steve Taplin, son of founder Pat Taplin and steering committee member, said that they had long wanted a 'home of their own' - a space where they could rehearse and perform, as well as store costumes, props and sets.
Gallery Players have recently performed Lady in the Van at the New Wolsey and staged the world premiere of Galileo, written by former Wolsey Theatre musical director Martin Waddington, as well as staging smaller shows such as Lucky Stiff and Spelling Bee at the Sir John Mills Theatre in Gateacre Road.
Steve said: "As you can imagine we are all extremely excited to be taking over the lease on The Studio, it almost seems to good to be true!
"The New Wolsey will be a hard act to follow and it'll be a steep learning curve for us, but we're determined to keep it as an intimate performance space and to offer challenging, quality theatre. We shall cherish its past and, hopefully, guide it into a successful future as a shining beacon of quality community theatre."
The building itself was originally the Salem Chapel built in the early 1800's. It was first converted to a theatre in the early 1990's by the then Wolsey Theatre, under the leadership of Dick Tuckey, having been used as a store by Ipswich Museum.
The opening ceremony was performed by the Wolsey Theatre's patron and former Ipswich schoolboy Sir Trevor Nunn.
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The Gallery Players was formed in 1985 by the late Pat Taplin, since then it has produced almost 100 plays and musicals. Since Pat's death in 2012, it is now run by a small steering group: Wade Ablitt, Dave Borthwick, Helen Clarke, Steve Taplin and Steve Wooldridge.
Steve said that the search for a home for a performance base had been going on for at least ten years.
"Since the current steering group took over running Gallery, I have held onto a dream of having our own theatre. We've been lucky to perform in some of this area's best professional theatres including The New Wolsey and The Sir John Mills Theatre, and have been made to feel very welcome, but somethings always nagged at me 'what if ….?' The dream took on more substance about five years ago when I started actively looking at empty buildings/units that we could convert into a performance space. We looked at several along the way and discounted all eventually, too far from our core audience, too small, too large, too expensive to convert etc.
"In fact I'd almost given up hope when I had an alert pop up on my phone from a property search engine … The New Wolsey Studio was being being vacated and was available to lease. It almost seemed too good to be true and having had meetings with both IBC and NWT, we have now agreed terms to take it over. We're all slightly in shock, I can't remember the last time a working theatre came up for lease let alone in this area."
Gallery have said they will be rehearsing and presenting all their shows in the space, 3 or 4 a year, starting with a musical The Mystery of Edwin Drood next summer.
"Other uses are up for discussion but will probably involve hiring out the space for other local groups to present shows to help balance the books, possible single night hires and possibly run classes.
"The Studio gives us the amazing opportunity to expand our offering, include more young/new performers and technicians, and to stretch ourselves technically and artistically, but it is so early we are currently brain storming ideas - we don't even have a name for the space yet."
Gallery Players be 'bowing out' of the Sir John Mills Theatre this spring with Macbeth, their first Shakespeare and the first with professional director Brian Theodore Ralph, who was working at the Wolsey Theatre as an actor when the Studio was originally opened in 1992.
"We'll be sad to leave the SJM and thank Jon and the whole team there for putting up with us for almost 30 years!"
The Gallery Players will be taking over the lease for what is currently The New Wolsey Studio in the spring 2020.