It’s a building many who live in the Potteries either walk or drive past each and every day, giving it little more than perhaps a glance or passing thought of ‘ooh! I must visit there’ or ‘we should go see a show there.’
So where is this place which tends to go unnoticed against the wider backdrop? Well, it’s The Mitchell Arts Centre, Broad Street, Hanley.
Opened in 1957 as a tribute to one of the City’s most loved heroes – Spitfire designer Reginald Mitchell. It was paid for by the public following an appeal in The Sentinel .
Over the years I have visited as a theatregoer, for awards events and for work, but I too still feel like I rarely visit.
Upon opening the theatre quickly became the main venue for amateur dramatic societies and a home for theatrical youth groups. It also offered performance training including dance, drama workshops and acting classes.
Recently I was contacted by playwright, actor and all round stage stalwart Tim Churchill who began his theatre career several decades ago in the Potteries.
“The Mitchell Arts Centre is important to me as I feel that I learnt most of my craft here as a young actor.
“I came here as a, youngish, amateur actor in about the early 90s and got involved in a group called Studio One, which was run by a guy called Gordon Alcock.
“We would put on plays and musicals along with many other community groups who would also put their shows on. And that was initially what the place was for all those years ago, community theatre.
“It has since then moved on to become a venue which houses professional theatre, concerts, bands and even the possibility of holding a conference here.”
In 2007 with the building in much need of repair, a bid to the BIG FUND was successful in securing the money for the venue to be restored to its former glory and more.
This constant evolution of the building has also seen an ongoing battle to keep it open as a going concern. But that fact that it is still entertaining the residents of the Potteries and acting as a platform for local talent is one reason Tim believes ‘The MAC’ is so important to the area.
“One of the reasons I believe the Mitchell is important to the area is that it has always been a venue capable of hosting many different aspects of ‘the arts.’
“Unfortunately I think that one of the problems it suffers from is that not many people know that this place exists.
“Of course people might drive past, they know the building is here, but they don’t necessarily know what happens in it.
“I also think with a name like the Mitchell Arts Centre, people don’t often know what an ‘arts centre’ is or what it does.
“This place is primarily a theatre and more recently a cinema. It’s got more professional as time has moved on. For example, each year there is a professional pantomime, but there is also still a lot of community theatre which is performed here too.
“What we want to do now is try to make more people aware that it is still here, that it still exists as a theatre and that it offers so much more. And it’s right here in the heart of the Cultural Quarter –and there’s also free parking through the agreement we’ve got with Tesco.”
Now having morphed into a multifunctional venue that’s open all day, those popping in can have a cuppa in the ‘wing’ of a Spitfire – a tribute to Reginald Mitchell.
TIm said: “It’s a good place for community, for me it’s given me the chance to ‘cut my teeth’ in theatre and has a big place in my heart. I want to see it succeed and believe more people deserve to be able to experience this wonderful little theatre which has loads to offer.”
Considerable improvements to the MAC have made it a modern, light and airy cultural venue on three floors with rehearsal areas, several dressing rooms with full facilities including showers, a modern, rubber-floored dance studio, a 317-seat auditorium and two meeting rooms that can be used for a variety of functions.
There is air conditioning in key parts of the building, a lift, full disabled access and CCTV for added safety.
‘The Mitch’ has a rich history under its belt which has seen it play host to, among many others, the Hanley Babes. Despite its continued struggle for funding, it is a place with its own personality as a theatre and community venue – a community which it continues to support by working with the local area, something which hasn’t changed since its birth 63-years ago.
- What memories do you have of ‘The Mitch’? Have you seen shows there, performed on stage or worked there? Let Adam Gratton at The Way We Were know your story. Get in touch at The Way We Were, Sentinel House, Bethesda Street, Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, ST1 3GN or call 01782 864255 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org