DINA are proud to announce we are housing a new project which transforms a rather neglected part of our building into Sheffield’s newest fringe theatre. Joey Winson spoke to Miriam Schechter, one of the team behind The Cellar at DINA, about how the idea came about and their plans for the space’s launch.
The four spaces we have at DINA all have a little quirk about them or a particular backstory. The Café, the home of DINA Diner, was part of The Cutler pub. Next to that is the long bar on the we know as The Spoon Factory, as its guise before being part of a pub was entwined with Sheffield’s steel history as… yes you guessed it.
Upstairs is mainly taken up by what was the 70s in the 90s Stardust nightclub, complete with its once revolving dancefloor spinning revellers round, whilst its adjacent room had a previous life as a Sunday School in Victorian times, educating the city’s disadvantaged youngsters. We named it the Jara room after the Chilean arts polymath and social activist Victor Jara, as when it comes to Chilean history, the connotations of the name DINA are hardly what you would call favourable.
So, when announcing that our venue is to accommodate a fifth space, waxing lyrical about this new spot’s quite frankly nondescript previous life becomes pretty damn difficult.
It was the old pub’s cellar. That’s it.
It stored the Smith and Jones’ chain bar’s fizzy lager, alcopops and probably an overspill stock of crisps and nuts. When we took charge of the building, it contained various leftover tat, cut off pipes sticking through walls and a hulking and knackered refrigeration unit. It was cluttered, cold and condemned to being nothing more than an afterthought in the grand scheme of renovating the venue we have today.
No-one could possibly want to use this for anything, could they? Well, at the back end of last year, Miriam Schechter and Dear Hunter Theatre poked their heads into this unloved void and found it absolutely perfect for what they had planned. A performance.
Miriam co-wrote the production of Club Bazaar alongside Ben Price and Emily Compton, a show set in a dystopian future where resources are thin on the ground and art is completely banned. Driven underground, artists perform in speakeasy style surroundings away from potential prying peepers, and in the case of Club Bazaar’s location, a cellar. Now things begin to piece together.
One of DINA’s head honchos, Malcolm Camp, suggested they take a look and they quickly became sold on the idea, despite the dilapidation.
What The Cellar looked like before its planned transformation.
“Although it was full of crap, as soon as we saw it we decided ‘this is where we will do the play, no question.’ said Miriam.
“Malcolm and ourselves all stuck in to help clear up so we could turn it into somewhere to rehearse and perform.”
Club Bazaar saw six sell-out shows of music, dance and general merriment, and would prove the catalyst for the project to start.
“After we did Club Bazaar we didn’t think we’d get to use the space again, but it naturally became ours as DINA were happy for us to take it on.”
Because Sheffield is a hive of creativity and has a plethora of theatrical talent, naturally ears pricked up and eyes widened when the team behind The Cellar got the word out.
Miriam said: “Within four days of setting up a Facebook page and launching the website we had about 15 to 20 artists and groups wanting to find out more about using it.”
Ben Price works on production props as The Cellar begins to take shape as a working space.
The Cellar’s programming will aim to focus on new and experimental performance as a priority, putting on performances that may not get shown elsewhere, fitting in perfectly with DINA’s ethos.
Miriam said: “We have taken a lot of inspiration from the Off-Off Broadway movement in the 1950s to the 1970s, which were a complete rejection of commercial theatre at the time, putting theatre on in cafes and attics.
“Our main priority is new and experimental theatre, creating work that doesn’t have to rely on commercial backing.”
The Cellar’s capacity will be 32, which although it may seem small, is seen as something which can potentially enhance the performances they wish to be programmed.
“We don’t see this as a hindrance at all, the capacity adds to the intimacy of performance.
“We’re trying to test boundaries and play with them and create a real up-close and personal feel between audience and performers, and that you are both there with each other, which is something you simply cannot replicate in a large theatre well away from the stage.”
To get The Cellar at DINA up and running, a crowdfunding campaign has been set up to raise fund to refurbish and kit it out as it aims to open this Spring. People can pledge money to the renovation at crowdfunder.co.uk/thecellar
There is no doubt this place has potential. Speaking to Miriam, it’s blatantly evident to see the absolute undoubted passion is there to make this vision a reality. However, a fair bit of elbow grease is going to be needed over the next few of months, and that refrigeration unit which was referred to earlier? That needs shifting as well.
Miriam said: “We want it to be a comfortable and safe place for people to perform and watch.”
“As well as the crowdfunder, we are also looking for volunteers and those with DIY knowledge who can help us, and also we will be using a timebanking system, so if you want to use the space, the hours you put into helping us get The Cellar up and running, we give back to you in lieu of using it.”
Also, in order to get a feel for what Sheffield’s creative community wants, the crew behind the Cellar have put together a survey, as in their words, “The Cellar is being created for YOU – the artistic underdog, the lone typist in the small hours, the cast-less director, the rejected designer, the young, the inexperienced, the ambitious, those trapped underground, waiting to come out.”
Blog written by Joey Winson, Press and PR Officer at DINA. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org