Dublin City Council may want to roll out a temporary venue, while it works up plans for a new 500-seat venue in the city, says a feasibility study drawn up by consultants. 

The study, which is based on interviews with 159 experts across artforms, and producers and venue operators, says the city does need a flexible multi-use venue.

“It isn’t just a theatre provision that we need to provide for in the city,” said John Davison, a director at the consultants Turley, to councillors on the arts committee on Monday. 

The city needs two kinds of performance spaces within the two canals, the report says. A black-box space, which can be reconfigured depending on the event, and a more traditional theatre with seating and a stage.

Both could be developed together, Davison said. “That has some benefit in terms of co-location.”

An undertaking of this nature would take at least five years, City Arts Officer Ray Yeates said at a meeting of the Arts and Culture Advisory Group – a subcommittee of councillors and experts – on 3 July.

Also, Yeates doesn’t yet know where there is a brownfield site with room for a 500-person venue within the canals, he told the Advisory Group.

Davison told the committee on Monday that if a site could be found, it could begin as a temporary black-box venue – and later become a performance centre with a traditional theatre space, and rehearsal and dance halls.


The feasibility study, undertaken by Turley and Arrow, a Danish architecture firm, with film producer Arthur Lappin, set out to assess the demand for a new mid-sized venue in Dublin city.

In their survey of 159 people –  which includes promoters, venue operators and practitioners across various artforms – 83 percent agreed that there was a need for the 500-seat theatre, framed as the “City Theatre of Tomorrow”.

As to which kinds of performances the venue should be home to, 54 people said modern dance, 53 said theatre, and 48 said classical music.

There is no theatre in Dublin regularly available for production companies and festivals that seats between 180 and 1,100 people, the report says.

A flexible black-box space and a proscenium stage were the two configurations favoured by the most respondents, Davison said. “And I suppose that has driven our conceptual response.”

There is an argument that the two separate spaces could be delivered as two separate spaces on a single site, he said. “One as a black box, one with a proscenium stage.”

When it comes to selecting a site, one possibility would be to develop a theatre in a pre-existing building, he said. “It could be from a found space and developing a temporary space into that kind of delivery.”

The plan is to address needs within the sector in the short-term and long-term, he said.

This could be achieved by beginning with a temporary space, before expanding the site to include a black box and a more traditional theatre, with rehearsal, dance and music halls, he said.

A performance centre with a theatre, a black box space, and rehearsal halls could cost between €25 million and €35 million, he said. 

A press spokesperson from Dublin City Council said that, given how ambitious the project is, it could require a mixture of private, local and national funding.

Sooner rather than later

As far back as September 2018, Willie White had pointed out to Dublin City Council’s Arts Office that the city needed a large, multipurpose performance space with room for 500 people.

On Tuesday morning, White, the director of the Dublin Theatre Festival, said he felt positive about the presentation.

But, he said, the solutions are expensive and will take time. “Even the temporary solutions. And what I had proposed was more modest and could be delivered more quickly.”

“The need is immediate and it is dispiriting that the solution is far away,” he said.

Where this may be built centrally is also an outstanding question. They don’t yet know of a suitable brownfield site, said Arts Officer Ray Yeates at the Arts and Cultural Advisory Group on 3 July.

Nobody is currently tasked with finding one, and it’s unlikely that’ll happen in the next 12 months, he said, according to the minutes of the meeting.

White suggests the vacant Victorian fruit and veg market on Chancery Street. “Not much is happening with it at the moment. I understand that its current planning limits the number of events happening there.”

In 2019, Dublin City Council closed the market in the north inner-city, with plans to refurbish and relaunch it as a mixed retail and wholesale market.

The question now for the effort to get a new 500-seat venue is what next? White says. “Somebody needs to take the initiative, and it would be great, it seems like the city has embraced that we are deficient in some of our cultural infrastructure.”

Standing or seated

At the council arts committee meeting on Monday morning, Sunil Sharpe of the Give Us the Night campaign said that it was important to know what flexibility meant going forward. 

It had been highlighted during the consultation, he said. 

Calling the venue a 500-seat space seemed to run contrary to the idea of flexibility, he said. “It’s all in the title there: seat.” 

“What I see, especially in terms of feedback, is that this is a multi-use venue more than anything that leans more towards theatre,” he said.

Social Democrats Councillor Patricia Roe, while supportive of the report, says nobody on the committee had originally championed the idea of a seated theatre. “What we were looking for is spaces, and particularly music spaces, which have been lost,” she said.

Few venues have been created in partnership with city council that weren’t for seated performances, Sharpe said on Tuesday evening. 

“From the perspective of the campaign, we would like to think that there would be the ability here to have occasional events for standing audiences, for local dance communities,” he said.

“It would be a huge missed opportunity if the council went as far as building the new city venue, and didn’t include some flexibility in terms of seating, with retractable seating,” said Sharpe.

Leagues O’Toole, a music promoter with Foggy Notions who was one of those surveyed for the report, said the city lacks a small seated theatre. 

“Quite often I use the Pavilion in Dún Laoghaire, which is 300 capacity. But it’s quite weird that there isn’t a venue in the city of that size, or slightly bigger,” he said.

A venue that is flexible would be welcomed, he says. “But it’s got to be feasible for whoever is managing and funding the venue, because retractable seating can be expensive to operate.”

The ideal new venue would be an incubation space, with rehearsal rooms alongside any performance venue, O’Toole says. “I just think that’s a good idea. There are venues around Europe, in Brussels and London, that have multiple spaces like that.”

Actor and co-founder of the Chaos Factory theatre company Fionnuala Gygax says a new venue with access to rehearsal rooms would be a great addition.

Black box spaces are ideal for groups looking to experiment, while the demand for places to practise skyrockets around autumn, she says. “Younger companies tend to struggle to find rooms, because it’s when the Fringe and Theatre Festival are on.”

“It’s difficult to find rehearsal space, and you want a consistent space to make your home in for the duration of preparation,” she says. “You find yourself moving from week-to-week.”

Michael Lanigan is a freelance journalist who covers arts and culture for Dublin Inquirer. His work also appears in Vice, Totally Dublin, TheJournal.ie and the Business Post. You can reach him at michael@dublininquirer.com.

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