Alexandra Palace’s East Wing Restoration Project

We occupy a really, really special place in
world history because we track how people have enjoyed their leisure time since the
very first people had leisure time. Right from the early days of Victorian theatre and
music hall up to the invention of television and now in the modern day – exhibitions,
festivals, events and music concerts. So when people come here to enjoy the park, they come
to events, they go to the areas of the Palace that are open and accessible to them. What
they’re not seeing is the derelict areas that they can’t access and one of those areas is
particularly special to us and that’s the Victorian Theatre and that’s not been accessed
properly the public for the last 80 years. It’s been a hidden space and what we’re trying
to do is bring that back in to use. So in 1875 the Theatre was built to really bring
spectacle and wonder through performance to the Victorian audience and up to 3000 people
could be in this auditorium enjoying a pantomime where the performers would shoot through the
stage because of the extraordinary stage machinery that is still there today under the stage
floor. The success of this project will retaining that “wow” factor. I was here early on in
the project and there was a tour going on and every person that came through the door
was a ripple effect of “wow”. So the Theatre floor is one of the most significant interventions
in the space. We actually lifted all the floorboards and then we flattened the floor by putting
in a concrete floor slab. Each of the floorboards that we have lifted up were numbered and that
will be replaced in exactly the location it was lifted from. When you walk into the space
you really notice the bare brick of the walls as well as the original plasterwork from the
time it was first built in the Victorian era. So to ensure that the plasterwork doesn’t
decay any further we’ve actually had to put a translucent sealant over the plasterwork
to ensure that it stays in place for generations to come. The Theatre ceiling is a plasterwork
decorative ceiling, what you won’t see is that actually a significant amount of work
has been undertaken both below and above the ceiling. The idea is to hang a lot of the
lighting equipment to get the Theatre to work as a modern performance space. 15 small family
cars, that’s how much weight is going to be up there and as part of that we had to make
sure that the roof structure could take that load. We really wanted to bring the audience
into the performance as it was happening in the Theatre. By having a modern theatre system
that allows us to present work in the traverse, in the round, also in thrust and end-on productions –
as a black box environment but within this authentic Victorian decaying setting. So the East Court is going to provide a unique space for Alexandra Palace. Somewhere where our
public are going to be able to come in and enjoy the space, by simply being in it.
The actual construction in the space has been very much about making sure that it has comfort
for the audience and the public and those visiting when they come in and hopefully to
enjoy a coffee or come to storytelling in the evening. The East Court is really an opportunity
for us to bring to life the story of Alexandra Palace and one of the ways that we are doing
this is by the introduction of a Creative Learning Zone which will be introducing people
of all ages in different ways to our eclectic and extraordinary history and heritage. The space in the East Court will be the shop window for what we do. So when you come through the
newly opened East Court the first you will see is a purpose built Learning Zone and our
intention is to fill it with exciting activities that reach all of the people of Haringey but
will be able to deliver things that you can’t get necessarily in a classroom situation. Our Charitable purposes is to maintain, restore and repair this amazing building and parkland
for the enjoyment and recreation of the public forever and that means we need to raise money. Because we are a charity every £1 we make gets reinvested back into the building, back
into the park. We’re the People’s Palace and we really the people to be part of this project.

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