Express & Star

Stone theatre nearing completion

Work on a bespoke theatre for Stone is now nearing completion.

Crown Wharf Theatre

The venue could be open as early as spring 2023.

In recent weeks the theatre’s tiered seating has been installed, and contractors have begun installing a sprung floor as well as handrails and balustrades for the balconies.

The theatre still needs specialised air conditioning and heating units to be installed and then work on the final bits of furnishing can begin.

Backstage, there is more work needed to get the space ready – with electrical wiring and various units needing to be installed.

The idea is that the theatre space will be multi-functional and it will be provided at affordable rates for as many groups as possible to bring as wide a benefit as possible to the community.

It will host amateur dramatic groups, schools, live music events, comedy, pop-up cinema, theatre, community events, conferences and exhibitions.

The structure of the building that will host the theatre was provided by pub company Joule’s Brewery as part of their Crown Wharf development.

Along with the new theatre and pub, this will also bring a new heritage centre to Stone.

Joule’s agreed to build the outer-shell of the theatre as well as restoring some existing heritage buildings on the site which will provide a backstage area for the Crown Wharf Theatre Charity.

The pub and theatre are interconnected so audiences will be able to access the bar during intervals.

The theatre charity was set up to raise the funds needed to turn the empty shell Joule’s provided into a functional, practical and habitable theatre venue.

Leo Capernaros, one of the trustees of the charity, said since the Covid-19 pandemic it has become more important than ever that the dream is brought to life.

He said: “I had a moment during the pandemic where it felt like building a new theatre felt a bit excessive, not the kind of bare essentials we were all talking about at the time – about care and surviving a pandemic.

“But actually as we moved out of the pandemic we realised that having a space like this – owned by the people of the town and run by the people – where we can come together, share stories, connect, enjoy the arts, learn something new, participate and volunteer was more important than it could ever have been.

“We learned the true value of those activities when they were really curtailed for a few years.”

Crown Wharf Theatre

County councillor Jill Hood is also passionate about the theatre project, and agreed with Leo about its importance for the town.

She said: “It’s essential. We’ve got a large community in Stone who absolutely need this kind of facility – it encompasses every age, every genre.

“I just think how exciting it is that they know now, when they have a production, Crown Wharf Theatre will be the place.”

Councillor Hood has also been part of the volunteer workforce that has been painting, decorating and carrying out basic DIY tasks at the theatre – but was modest about her contribution.

She said: “I haven’t done as much as many people, but I’ve painted, I’ve held the shovel and the brush.

“I’ve watched it grow – every day there’s more excitement and enthusiasm, seeing exactly what we’ve got.

“It’s coming into fruition now. It’s real, it’s no longer just paper plans.”

She also agreed there was a greater need for the theatre now than there was when it was first conceived.

Crown Wharf Theatre

She said: “It was black days – and I know that sounds dramatic – during the pandemic, and not being able to work or come here, thinking: will this ever be built?

“And now here we are, and it’s so important to people. They’ve got somewhere to focus on – and I think when people talk about Stone they’ll say that’s where the theatre is.

“I think everyone is eager to come on that first night when we open our doors.

“There’s been challenges along the way – but the council has been fully supportive.

“Now we have this fantastic design which is almost built.”

Leo also explained how the project had a personal significance to him.

He said: “The arts has given me my whole life. When I moved to Stone in 2005, I didn’t know anyone and I got involved in a local theatre company.

“I met lots of people, I made friends, I met my wife and my best man. It’s given me everything.

“It’s given me an ability to connect with people of different ages and different backgrounds and become part of a community.

“I think having this facility kind of cements that opportunity here in Stone for people to become part of something, learn something and create as well.”

The town’s local theatre group, Stone Revellers, has been operating since 1978 and currently uses a community hall.

The group felt the hall had some limitations, and since it wasn’t purpose-built it didn’t fully meet their requirements.

They started looking around for other possible spaces – and came across the old fire station, coincidentally at the same time Joule’s Brewery were looking at the site for their new venue.

The two agreed to work together and the brewery agreed to build the shell of the theatre which the company is now fitting out to their requirements.

A number of local groups currently use venues in Stafford or Stoke-on-Trent for productions, but the benefit of having a dedicated theatre in Stone is that many audience members and local performers will be able to walk home afterwards.

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