The University of St Andrews has today proposed a “rescue package” for the Byre Theatre that would see the venue used for lectures and student rehearsals as well as public performances.
Under the proposal the University would run the Byre on a 25-year lease. During the day the main auditorium would be used for lectures in English, film studies, music and social anthropology, while in the evenings and at the weekends it would host “student and community-led music and drama”.
The Byre’s studio theatre would be used for teaching drama and script writing, as well as for orchestra rehearsals and “informal performances”.
In addition, the theatre would become host to St Andrews Opera and the University’s music centre, which are currently based in Younger Hall. The University says it feels the Byre would be a “more appropriate” venue for the lunchtime and evening concerts it organises, which often include performances by soloists from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and the University’s Orchestra in Residence.
The University has also promised a greater range of public performances; “significant” University spending on the acoustic upgrading of the main auditorium; a boost to visitor numbers; and the re-opening of the Byre cafe and box office. The University would fund the expenditure and would not seek a subsidy from Fife Council. Major festivals such as StAnza, St Andrews Voices, the Fife Jazz Festival and On the Rocks would continue to be supported.
To “ensure the correct balance between University and community usage”, the University would set up a Byre Advisory Board that would include representatives of Fife Council, Creative Scotland, the Fife Cultural Trust and the Friends of the Byre as well as members of “all main user groups”.
Professor Malcolm MacLeod, the University vice-principal for enterprise and engagement, said: “As one of the world’s top 50 arts and humanities universities, we have a vested interest in how the arts are valued in Scotland. It is part of our core mission to nurture and promote a wider appreciation and understanding of the arts. That is why we want to ensure the future of the Byre Theatre, and to re-open it up for educational and creative use.
“The Byre’s demise and subsequent long-term closure have been sorely felt in St Andrews and further afield, not just because the town lost a very important and much loved theatre, but because people lost their jobs and their livelihoods.
“With the support of Fife Council officials, we have given this proposal considerable thought and believe that our plans offer the Byre a fresh start, new life and a sustainable future founded on mixed use, at no cost to the local authority in Fife.”
The Byre has been closed since early 2013 when it went into liquidation. It had been struggling to make a profit for several years and lost its grant from the former Scottish Arts Council in 2011.
The University’s bid is expected to be considered by Fife Council on 15 April, along with competing proposals.