Buxton Opera House chairman steps down

michaelARTSBEAT NEWS: One of the key figures behind the restoration of Buxton Opera House is standing down as its chairman.

Michael Williams MBE was one of a small group of local people who got together to save the theatre when it was threatened by closure in 1979.

The building, designed by the famous theatre architect Frank Matcham, was in a poor state of repair by the late 1970s.

Operating as a cinema, with only occasional live performances, it was facing closure. Rain was seeping in through the roof, paint peeling off the walls and the building was permanently cold.

Fears that, once closed, the theatre would never re-open, prompted the launch of a major appeal to save it.

“The greatest difficulty we had to overcome was the thought that it would be impossible to raise the money,’’ said Michael.

‘’But we knew if we could keep the running costs to a minimum, we would be able to recruit volunteers locally to help us get the theatre open again.’’

With the support of the local council, more than half a million pounds was raised. Carpets and linoleum were taken up as a forest of scaffolding filled the auditorium.

Ageing electric wiring was replaced, the Edwardian ventilation system was re-instated and a gas-fired sunburner in the dome of the theatre was modified to work using North Sea Gas.

The High Peak Theatre Trust was set up to run the Opera House as a charity, and Michael has been its chairman since 2005.

Today the theatre puts on more than 450 performances – including opera, drama, music, comedy and even circus. Its sister theatre, the Pavilion Arts Centre, is a thriving recent addition.

Michael steps down from the board in May and the trust is inviting applications for a new chairman and directors.  Details can be found at http://www.odgers.com/40061

“I’m thrilled to bits at how the Opera House has developed,’’ added Michael.

“I never dreamt when we started out in 1979 that we’d have the kind of the programme we have now. The Opera House draws people in from all over the country, and it’s something of which I’m immensely proud.’’