Arcola appeal: please give what you can

CHOOSE ARCOLA T-shirts by Katharine Hamnett. Photo by Simon Annand 006

Arcola Theatre is using some unusual methods to fund its planned relocation early next year.

Founded on shoestring a decade ago by Mehmet Ergen, together with current executive producer Leyla Nazli, the award-winning theatre has established a reputation for avantgarde theatrical productions from its base in Arcola Street on the Stoke Newington-Dalston borders.

As reported in the Citizen last month, Arcola is to move to the Colourworks building in Ashwin Street, opposite Dalston Junction Station, following a decision by its landlord to convert its current address into luxury flats.

Hence an emergency fundraising appeal, which kicked off last month with the active involvement of artist Antony Gormley and the fashion designer Katharine Hamnett.

The appeal, which has so far raised around £25,000 of the necessary £150,000, has now turned from celebrities to local residents to help out.

Dr Ben Todd, executive director at Arcola, is eager to stress the significance of the theatre’s relationship with its community.

He said: “If you were to look at this project in any kind of normal way, you would spend a couple of years raising one or two million pounds but we don’t have the luxury of doing that.”

Dr Todd recognises that a financial donation may not be feasible for some in Hackney, and he emphasises that there are many other ways to help. “Any skills that anybody’s got, or any hours, can be made useful. What we get done depends upon what manpower we bring in.”

“We have turned to volunteers and recovering recycled materials. There are green pastures ahead but we need a hand up. We know it’s tight, we know it’s a little bit crazy but if you get us through this sticky point now, then we’re in this lovely new location, more space, brilliant transport links.”

Opportunities to participate in the project are already available. With the Photographers’ Gallery currently in the process of being refurbished, Arcola have been invited to salvage materials for their new site. “We recently had about 20 volunteers join us and we took two truckloads of materials,” said Dr Todd. “We took fire doors, toilets, fire alarms, flooring, lights, door handles, everything!”

Arcola is well-known for its commitment to environmental sustainability, and the theatre is proud of its mission to become the world’s first carbon neutral theatre (through the use of recycling, hydrogen fuel cells, and other measures). It has also been at the forefront of promoting carbon-reduction measures by means of its series of Green Sundays once a month, where cultural events foregrounding environmental topics stake centre stage.

True to form, the Arcola team has taken advantage of the move to enhance their green status. Their new building integrates a variety of energy-saving measures, reflecting the theatre’s commitment to regeneration and sustainability.

Dr Todd’s Arcola Energy project also extends energy-saving opportunities to others. The Arcola Energy store offers products from potential Christmas gifts, including hydrogen-powered toys such as the H-Racer, to the portable solar charger for mobile phones, iPods and MP3 players, the Sunbox USB.

Dr Todd is also eager to emphasise that community support can mean simply taking advantage of the theatre and all that it has to offer. “We know there are a lot of people in Stoke Newington who really love to go to the theatre. If we sell out our shows then those box office takings go towards the new building.”

Artistic director Mehmet Ergen is directing two shows back-to-back to see the theatre out of its old address. The last production to be shown at the Arcola Street venue is The Cradle Will Rock, a musical about workers rebelling against the consequences of the Great Depression.

“It has a huge cast of 15-20 actors,” says Dr Todd. “This shows Mehmet’s ability to bring in big, strong casts which include people who are in the West End now, in Les Miserables for example. In a 150-seat theatre you will find yourself sitting next to someone who, if you wanted to see them in the West End, you would normally pay £40-50 and you’d sit 50 metres away.”

Arcola’s first production at Ashwin Street will be a new offering from highly regarded playwright Rebecca Lenkiewicz, who has had a long relationship with the theatre.

“We have commissioned a new play by Rebecca Lenkiewicz, who was the first woman to ever have a play performed on the main stage of the National Theatre. She’s gone from her early days at Arcola to become one of the UK’s most prominent playwrights.”

Dr Todd revealed that some exciting events have already been scheduled to bid a fond farewell to the theatre’s Arcola Street incarnation. He would also like to offer the theatre’s bar to local producers, DJs and musicians for benefit nights in addition to their own upcoming events.

“We’re going to do three gala events. We’re hoping that some people will pay more [to attend] and that there will be opportunities for some people to pay less. Everybody’s name goes on the wall. Anyone who puts their hand in their pocket and supports Arcola, to the best that they feel able at a given time, then credit to them.

“If you’re taking some friends out for a drink, come and have a drink at the bar here. We have lovely wine and beer on tap.

If you want to go for lunch, come here. We’ve got nice homemade soup and cakes. “If you can’t come to the gala then come and see The Cradle Will Rock in the first week. If you’re local, even if you come on our Pay What You Can nights, just fill the house.”

Donate online at, by phone on 020 7503 1646
Or post a cheque to:
Arcola Appeal
Arcola Theatre
27 Arcola Street
London E8 2DJ

Related story:
Gormley and Hamnett give art to Arcola appeal