The Cellar at DINA gets ready for launch

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Nine months ago, a group of our hearty band of volunteers at DINA, came up with an idea to turn the wrecked beer cellar here into a working theatre space.

It was met with many obstacles along the way, but nous and sheer graft have made that a reality as The Cellar at DINA tantalisingly awaits its launch night on Wednesday July 18.

Joey Winson spoke to Miriam Schechter, one of the new venue’s founders, about the journey of The Cellar, what’s in store for the launch night and its future.

We last chatted with Miriam in February as our venue’s old beer cellar, once a disorderly, unloved and forgotten relic in the grand scheme of DINA, was slowly but surely starting to see a dream being realised as a new space for fringe and experimental theatre in Sheffield.

Back then it still had some clutter that needed shifting. It also had the problems of huge and broken refrigeration unit full of noxious liquids which required a specialised technician to remove it, as well as an antiquated safe which mere muscle could not shift out of the venue.

Fast forward to now and the heavy lifting has been all but done, and as we talk, Miriam is applying more cosmetic touches to The Cellar by painting a drainpipe blue.

“We’ve worked out there was about 600 hours of work put into turning this into a safe and functioning theatre venue. It’s been tough but we’ve had a great amount of help from volunteers,” Miriam said.

For those who do not know, The Cellar’s beginnings came from a play which Miriam, Ben Price and Emily Compton of Dear Hunter Theatre were writing set in a dystopian future where all art was banned.

Malcolm Camp of DINA suggested they had a look in The Cellar as it could have a bit of a speak-easy location feel to it, and they instantly thought it would be the place to stage their work. The script was rewritten to suit its location, and the show Club Bazaar was born. Space was hastily made in the cellar for a stage and small auditorium, and the performance sold out six shows.

Miriam said: “We did not think we would use the cellar again, but it naturally became ours as DINA were happy for us to take it on as a project.”

Miriam with paintbrush

The Cellar is now a safe, functioning theatre venue, and from July to September they have programmed an eclectic series of performances from artists, all-ability workshops and discussions about the philosophy of art and theatre.

All performances are £5, discussions are free of charge and in keeping with The Cellar’s ethos of accessibility, no-one will be turned away for lack of funds.

The launch party on July 18 is free to attend, and will be in the form of a scratch night, an opportunity for artists to test out ten minutes of their work to an audience, whether it be performance, spoken word, dance or comedy.

The Cellar has garnered significant recognition before it has even officially opened its doors.

In June it earned a grant of £4,250 from the UnLtd Spaces 4 Change fund, which supports young social entrepreneurs with ideas to unlock the potential of unused and under-utilised spaces, to go towards continuing renovations, as well as light and sound equipment.

An exhibition by Sheffield artist Barbara Brookes has also been awarded funding by the Arts Council to go ahead in the venue later this summer.

Miriam added: “We’ve teamed up with DINA to expand on the venue’s existing programme of artists and makers working in a range of cultural disciplines, including writers, visual artists, filmmakers, theatre makers and musicians.”

It really fits in with DINA’s ethos of promoting emerging talent in the city.

Together, both venues are working on an artist development programme. This programme will create a framework for encouraging the work of people who may not normally consider themselves artists, or may have struggled to access the arts due to their economic, social, health or other circumstances.

Ben Price and Tom Williams had a bit of a problem on their hands with this old safe

You kind of get the feeling there’s been a degree of sheer bloody-mindedness to get this thing to work, and that’s tantamount to the effort which has gone in to overcome various stumbling blocks along the way.

The refrigeration unit which posed an issue would have costed £500 to remove, and money was tight. With the help of Sheffield’s toast-based-party-starters Sourdough, they teamed up to put on a fundraising club night. They smashed the target and then some to get it out of the way.

The safe that was taking up valuable space? Get the experts in with a crane to lift it out, another hurdle overcome.

Add those in with all the hard work and effort driven by a pure passion for performance arts and you would think that drive made them an unstoppable force. However, I had to ask Miriam I they ever had any doubts about this ambitious project and if it would ever be finished?

The look on her face when I asked this was almost enough to give me an answer in itself. A ‘come on, are you actually being serious?’ facial expression if ever there was one.

Miriam emphatically added to that glare by saying “I had absolute full confidence in our ability to pull this off. When you look at how DINA as a venue was created, and the efforts the Deborah, Malcolm and the team put in to turning around a whole building, that’s where the inspiration comes from. We knew we would get this done.”

And they bloody well did.

More information can be found about the opening launch and forthcoming programming by visiting facebook.com/thecellardina.