All about the Westovian Theatre Society - Pier Pavilion South Shields

The Pier Pavilion

The then South Shields Corporation, at the instigation of Alderman Gompertz, converted the old Sea Side Shelter in Pier Parade into a small community theatre in 1948, to mitigate the loss of the Queens, which had been destroyed by bombing, in 1941. THE PIER PAVILION was opened on Whit. Monday 1949 and for the next few years presented seasons of Repertory and Concert Shows. In later years after The Denville Players left it was used mainly by amateur groups under the auspices of the Corporation Entertainment Committee. In 1972 the South Shields Amateur Stage Council was given the lease and for a year or two local societies used the facilities, sparse as they were, but it was mainly the Westovians who hired the theatre. The Amateur Stage Council gave back the lease to the Council in 1975 and there were problems obtaining a theatre license in 1976, as much work was needed to conform to new theatre regulations, most important a fire curtain at a cost of £7000 was needed. During this time Westovian productions had to be in Westovian House or in hired premises such as the Boys Grammar School. In January 1977 the Westovians took a 21 years lease and installed a fire curtain, a license was granted and it was nearly! business as usual.

Westovians were back in The Pier Pavilion in time for the by now annual pantomime but productions were presented under difficult conditions and the other alterations stilt had to be made. Mention can be made of the heating system prevailing from the 1948 conversion, gas heaters fitted to the tops of the pillars in the auditorium which gave heat at the expense of hearing the play. You either froze in winter and watched the action, hearing every word or you were warm trying to hear over the noise of those heaters. With the help of `The Job Creation Scheme’ and aid from Tyne-Wear M. C. and by our own fund raising efforts, after the July show the theatre was gutted, and all the work was done by the November deadline. John Ironside acted as Clerk of Works and Barry Ogle through his firm paying the wages. A new ‘theatrical’ heating and ventilation system was installed, which worked effectively, if you could stand the explosion every time it cut in during a production, but only if it worked! In winter it often couldn’t light due to the mists or icing of the igniters. The deadline for the official Re-opening of Pier Pavilion Theatre with a production of ’ Who Saw Him Die?’ and took place in November 1977, was just met by the cast and a few stalwarts, spending the day before the show, clearing up and finishing off, the painting of the set. Still the show went on and the theatre now had a raked auditorium, fire curtain, and a new foyer with bar and coffee bar and very importantly a lighting and sound box. The theatre now had an efficient and safe Light Dimmer replacing the old on stage `Lethal Contraption’. The Westovians were now settling into their new accommodation, as well as Westovian House, Though it was generally agreed that we might not be able to keep two establishments. In 1981 it was decided to start stage 2 of the refurbishment, that is to renovate back stage facilities with new dressing rooms, and an upper room as extra dressing room space for pantomimes etc. To assist with this cost, the house in Beach Road had to be sold, with the exception of the garage at the back of the House. This was used for storage of large props and sets. At the time this phase was finished it was thought the facilities were the best! (How ideas change)

At this time, to reflect the change in the name of the society, and the fact that we were now hiring it out to other societies and organisations the theatre was renamed ‘The Westovian Theatre’ with Pier Pavilion as the first line of the address to remind patrons that we were still active. In between extensions and building work much was done on a yearly basis, improving decor, new carpets, lights, sound systems galore!, props stores and costume cupboards the list is endless and of course always will be as long as the Westovians exist which presupposes that new members are forthcoming.

1996 saw the garage cleared and sold to help pay for the latest additions at the theatre. These were a studio cum rehearsal room with adjacent workshop, new entrance and box office. The current theatre regulations had made disabled access a priority, so a new outer ramp together with a ramped vestibule from the box office to the foyer was built and a toilet large enough for wheelchairs included. This toilet which had to be built to legal specifications, ‘shrunk’ after plastering and guess what? a wheel chair would not negotiate the door when the surrounds were fitted, and it had to be re-built. If you think that the problems with the toilet should not have happened, read on. Ken Allen walking round the building site one day and admiring the roof, which was being fitted noticed that it was too low according to the specifications! The roof had to come down the walls built higher and the roof refitted. To cap it all a lorry carrying the special metal roof cladding was stuck at the bottom of a steep hill for a number of days, due to bad weather. In the end it was finished after nearly a year instead of the three or four months expected. There was never an official opening due to the need to keep productions going to increase the finances, which had been severely depleted.

2001 saw a new bar in the foyer which was a long time arriving and over budget but opinion appears to agree it is an asset to the Theatre.

2005 saw a new Digital Lighting System with new board and Stage Packs and to complement this a new Sound Board and resited Speakers! New Curtains, Legs and Flats were bought with a new ventilation system going through installation processing.

2007 was the year we installed a new air circulation system with no moving fans and operated by the wind and electronic heat sensors.

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