Theatr Gwaun in Fishguard is a real gift to the people of North Pembrokeshire. But this interesting old building has had many incarnations since the land was first donated by local land owner John James.
According to Paul Williams who has been working at the Theatre since 2001, the theatre started life as a Temperance Hall.
“John James was born in 1814”, Paul explains “He was a very devout man, celebrating all festivals according to the old calendar. He is well-known in the area as someone who used his wealth to serve the community, becoming a Justice of the Peace and having responsibility for the local workhouse. It was a temperance hall for a long time.”
A play-bill from the theatr’s early life shows an Exhibition from the United States on ‘electrical therapentics’ by Mr Carl Herman M.D. who also offered medical advice to his audience, for free. It also included, hypnosis, and several dancers, including one described as eccentric. There were also comedy conjurors and a girl whistler,
The evenings concluded with ‘a cinematographic display’, which was described at the time, as excellent.
So this respectable old building has seen some huge changes.
Paul says, “The building was a school for a while. In the 1920’s it became The Palace Cinema. The name changed in the 70’s to ‘The Studio’. The Preseli District council ran it as a cinema for a number of years and then Pembrokeshire District council took it on. Eventually it was closed but thanks to enterprising local people, it was open again within 4 months.”
Now after long planning and dedication from supporters of the Theatre , it has undergone a community Asset Transfer. Theatr Gwaun now belongs to the community and is on the threshold of a whole new incarnation.
Paul explained that this now means that they can access funding that was not available to them in the past. I ask Paul what the funding will be used for.
“We are keen to re-engage with the original vision for the hall. It’s essential that it remains a place for people to gather and to enjoy shared experiences. We want something for everyone. We would like a café/restaurant, a more flexible theatre space and rehearsal space and we want more live music events. We want to increase capacity from 180 people at present to 350. We have engaged an architect and have a vision of expanding the space, even possibly bringing back the balcony.”
I asked Karel Mujica who also works at the Theatre what events are currently happening.
“We have reintroduced the kids club on a Saturday morning from 11.30 which costs just £3. We have a family screening on a Sunday afternoon which costs £5 for adults and £3 for children. Teens have their session on a Monday from 4.30.”
So the young people are catered for. What about the older ones?
“There is our normal busy programme of films and events, but we have also been having dementia friendly screenings. More of those are planned in the near future. We want to be fully inclusive, so we will also have programmes that are aware of sensory or mental health issues and we will create a quieter more restful experience for people who have sensory challenges. ”
Karel also described the Film Education Programme that is being planned now. Funding is being sought for equipment that will allow young people to develop film making skills.
With International Women’s day fast approaching I spoke to Jana Davidson about the plans for a women’s celebration.
“We are starting on Friday 8th”, she tells me, “With our celebration of Women in the Arts. There will be some films from local film makers and then we will be showing the film Collette. On the 9th there will be talks of interest to local women. There will be an opportunity for people to get involved with a stitching project with Ruth Jones. There will also be a chance to take part in an acoustic workshop which will be informal and friendly, and we are delighted that we will have music from Holly Robinson and Jessie Ward. The evening will be a treat of Celtic music and a 30-minute presentation by Best Foot Forward, by women, and about women. There is also Scary Little Girls Theatre Company.”
Jana explains that young mums are particularly welcome, during the day but booking is essential as places are limited.
Knowing Jana’s commitment to the well-being of young people of the area, I want to know what is happening with the youth theatre.
“We have grown to 44 young people regularly coming to learn acting and theatre skills, so we now have two youth theatre groups, a 6 to 11 age group and a 12 to 18. Some of the older ones are actually in the Best Foot Forward Women’s day performance.”
It seems that Theatr Gwaun is thriving and with so many plans in the pipeline, while also keeping a full programme of film and theatre running we lucky people have so much to look forward to.
For more information and to check out the International Women’s Day events :
Theatr Gwaun West Street, Fishguard SA65 9AD Tel. 01348 873421