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Play Your Part: €100,000 fundraiser launched for community Warehouse theatre
Brussels thespians and community groups have launched the fundraising campaign Play Your Part to save a much-loved city theatre from closure.
For more than 30 years, the Warehouse and Studio Theatre in Schaerbeek has played an integral part in the rich cultural melting pot of English-language amateur dramatics thanks to the dedication of its members. From theatre and music to impro and pantomime, from Tennessee Williams’ tortured Blanche Dubois to Cinderella’s favourite confidante, Buttons, the theatre has staged hundreds of popular productions for international audiences.
But over the years, wear and tear on the building and its infrastructure has finally taken its toll. Money is urgently needed to meet the imposed hefty costs for improvement works in a bid to stop the final curtain falling. A whopping €100,000 is needed to foot the maintenance bills for work to the theatre’s roof and the outdated lighting equipment.
A hard-working volunteer campaign team behind Play Your Part, has been assembled to address the funding headaches. The group has been largely drawn from the three main performing troupes of actors, writers, performers, directors and crew who share the stage in Rue Waelhem.
They have already helped steer the figure to an impressive €25,000, thus successfully securing a newly-installed ventilation system in the 65-seat intimate theatre, a necessity in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
Members of the American Theatre Company (ATC), Irish Theatre Group (ITG) and English Comedy Club (ECC), together with the theatre’s smaller community and youth group ensemble, gathered recently for a special fundraiser at Irish Ambassador to Belgium, Kevin Conmy’s residence in Uccle (deputy British ambassador Chloe Louter, ambassador Conmy, deputy US ambassador Timothy Richardson pictured above).
The event helped the campaign achieve a quarter of the total target figure. The official launch (also supported by British ambassador to Belgium Martin Shearman and his US counterpart Michael Adler) included performances and speeches aimed at spreading the message that everyone could, if they wish, play their own part in the goal to keep the theatre alive.
Tanya Arler, Play Your Part campaign group stalwart and a director/performer with the American Theatre Company (ATC), told The Bulletin that the show must and definitely will go on. “This is about so much more than bricks and mortar. Belonging to this theatre has changed my life, it has given myself and many others a sense of belonging.”
She added: “People have met life-long friends here and partners, this community is steeped in over 100 years of legacy and has been a vibrant part of the Brussels international community for many years.”
Jeremy Zeegers, president of the ATC, said: “The joy of theatre is that it brings together lots of different people with a range of skills. The warehouse gives us the space to deliver in style, it is a great resource for the Brussels community.”It’s a sentiment shared by the chair of the ECC, Kerry Lydon: “The work done in the Warehouse has entertained generations and many of us have spent most of our adult life as members of the theatre groups. We really hope the community will get behind this amazing creative group of people.”
Speaking on behalf of the ITG, William Mulhern said: “If you haven’t yet been to a show at the Warehouse, you might not be aware of just how much this place has meant to so many people who have passed through this city of ours. It is an important part of both settling into and being involved with Brussels life for those who came for just a few months or even who have lived here for decades. By helping save the Warehouse you are playing your part in ensuring it is there for generations to come.”
As well as the auditorium, the Warehouse and Studio Theatre includes a set design and props workshop, a club room and two rehearsal spaces. In 1994, Irene Fletcher, Philip Deeks and Tony Knott, formed a collective team representing the already firmly established theatre groups. Although they had been renting the theatre since 1987, resources were pooled to buy the Warehouse. In the intervening years the upkeep has been largely down to the good will of generous donors and local businesses. However, the cost of the repairs now means that fundraising from the wider public is hugely essential and work will be ongoing to ensure the campaign gathers momentum.
Theatre goers can play their own part in the campaign by attending upcoming autumn performances, which include Our Man in Havana (pictured above) by the ETCetera company, Queers, courtesy of the ECC and Almost Maine, performed by the ATC. There’s also regular fundraising events lined up at the Warehouse, including a quiz night on 7 October.