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a brief history of theatre in bristol

3 - twentieth century

Coopers Hall entrance to Theatre Royal, Bristol 
During the early twentieth century theatre many small theatre groups were established including the Rapier Players and an early agit-prop company, the Bristol Unity Theatre. The Little Theatre was created in the space above the entrance foyer to the Colston Hall and this became the home of the Rapier Players. The Theatre Royal was sold at auction to CEMA (the fore-runner of the Arts Council) in 1943, and in 1946 it became the home of the Bristol Old Vic Company, originally a spin off of the London Old Vic. The Bristol Old Vic Theatre School was established at the same time above a wholesale fruit merchants in Queen Charlotte Street, opposite the theatre stage door. In 1956 they moved to their current premises on the Downs. Their acting graduates include Peter O'Toole, June Barrie, Julian Slade, Stephanie Cole, Ian Lavender, Patricia Routledge, Jack Klaff and Samantha Bond, as well as many excellent stage managers, technicians and designers.
Hope Centre in Hotwells 
In 1947 Bristol University became the first in the country to offer drama courses and they built a theatre in the former Van Dyck printing works on Park Row. Their Theatre Collection houses important records of many Bristol Theatres. In the late sixties an Arts Centre in King Square provided a new theatre space and this was eventually followed by Hope Centre in Hotwells and the Albany Centre in Montpelier, both housed in former chapels. New small theatre in education and touring companies such as Bush Telegraph, Crystal Theatre, Avon Touring, Public Parts, Travelling Light, Show of Strength and Desperate Men sprang up to perform in many venues in Bristol and surrounding counties. Circomedia, a training school for "new circus", clowning and physical theatre, was established in the late eighties and has since become a world recognised centre of excellence.
QEH Theatre, Jacobs Wells Road 
The Theatre Royal complex was extensively rebuilt in the early 1970s, providing a new studio space, the New Vic. For a while the Bristol Old Vic was using three spaces, including the Little Theatre. However, the latter space, much used by amateurs as well as professional, was lost when the City Council turned it into a bar in the 1990s. Both Clifton College and QEH School built new theatre spaces in the latter half of the 20th century and they have become important touring venues. Bristol Grammar School has built the Mackay Theatre and Bristol Cathedral School also has a new performance space, mostly used for in-house productions. Sadly, the Albany Centre and Hope Centre ceased to become regular touring venues in the latter part of the twentieth century. However, new theatre spaces were created and most recently a former Tobacco Factory in Bedminster has become the base for Show of Strength and Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory as well as in-house and visiting productions.
more history:
1 - beginnings : 3 - twentieth century