The big reveal: Polka Theatre to open its doors after £8.5m renovation project

After a year of uncertainty, Polka Theatre can finally say it is reopening its doors later this year with a brand new renovation project.

It has been a rocky road for theatres, with government coronavirus restrictions causing severe damage.

Now it has been given the green light to get performances back up and running, it’s full steam ahead for Polka Theatre as it shifts its sights towards reopening.

The Wimbledon theatre has undergone a major modernisation project after 40 years of being open.

CEO and artistic director, Peter Glanville, said: “After 40 years, it was just getting a bit old around the theatre, especially with 100,000 kids running and jumping around.

“The new redevelopment that we have is just outstanding.

“It’s completely new so we can’t wait to bring audiences back as it is an extraordinary place around the borough.”

Before the coronavirus pandemic hit, Polka Theatre closed its doors in February 2019 to start the major re-development programme, which has involved an £8.5million refurbishment.

The new renovation is an ‘outstanding’ project that Polka Theatre has taken on board.

With new rehearsal rooms, play areas, studios and much more, the theatre expressed how thrilled they are to get back up and running.

Polka Theatre was granted a generous amount of funding from the Mayor of London’s Good Growth Fund, Arts Council England, London Borough of Merton and many other vital funders.

Glanville, 58, said: “It’s been incredibly difficult for theatres across the country.

“We have all been rescheduling and replanning every three months because of restrictions constantly changing but we are in the position where we feel the most positive.

“Everyone just has their fingers crossed.

“Our biggest concern has been for our audiences because we put on productions, creative learning activities and a range of community events every year reaching hundreds of thousands of children in schools and families.

“It’s more than just the quality of a production, it’s the experience the children get.

“Polka Theatre helps to support children’s well-being, confidence, their language and emotional development and social interaction as it’s a major part of their development.”

Having been closed for so long, Polka Theatre turned to online programmes to continue engaging with children in schools or at home.

ENTERTAIN: Children enjoying Jan Blake’s In the Winter Wood performance at Polka Theatre

Glanville added: “We had a literacy programme, a free falling group for children for those in difficult situations at home or at schools and an amazing choir of all mixed ages.

“The online programme has allowed children to still have the opportunity to be part of a group with other children.

“We have learnt how to carry on running a business remotely to provide creative activities digitally.

“Some of our remote activities have reached people in France and Bath so it is something we really hope to continue even when we’re open.”

Polka opened its doors in 1979 as the first theatre dedicated exclusively to children.

Having been opened over four decades, the theatre has inspired and entertained 3.5 million visitors and continues to be the place where the theatre begins.

As part of the new redevelopment, the theatre created the ‘FUTURE Polka appeal’ to help give a final push to open the doors in spring.

Glanville added: “We needed to raise a lot of money to move forward with the redevelopment that we have created.

“We created the FUTURE Polka programme to reach out to families.

“It has been really successful, lot’s of families have come forward to donate and support it.”

Glanville explained how the theatre industry has been affected in terms of future planning for productions as well as staffing issues during the pandemic.

He said: “I think some of the people who have been most affected are the artists. 70% of people who work in the theatre are freelance and all the work suddenly just dried up.

“It’s not just for the actors on stage but it’s the designers, the stage management team, the technical and costume departments that all support the production as well.

“It has just been extremely tough for the people who work at Polka.

“It is great now we are in the position to get back in the rehearsal room as there has just been no work.”

Featured images supplied by Polka Theatre

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