The Mission Theatre is a 200 year-old 'Grade 2 listed' building originally built as a Catholic Chapel.
In the nineteenth century it was a Protestant place of worship. During World War 2 it was used by Air Raid Wardens and others, and was then taken over by The People's Mission until 1998.
It then became derelict until 2004.
It is now owned by the Bath & North East Somerset Council, which has granted Next Stage Theatre Company a lease to occupy and use the building as a theatre, arts centre and multi-purpose facility for community activities.
The Mission Theatre comprises a large well-equipped Main Auditorium suitable for end-on, thrust or in-the-round productions for up to 150 audience members.
At the rear of the theatre is a two-storey structure called The Capsule which houses dressing room and backstage space.
On the first floor of the main building there is a small theatre (The Theatre Upstairs) and a fully licensed bar.
The bar is open 45 minutes before any event or show at The Theatre and audiences can enjoy a wide selection of drinks, snacks, cakes and ice creams.
On January 24th 2005, The Mission Theatre opened its doors to Bath audiences for the first time. Now, The Mission has become a highly popular and well-loved part of the Bath cultural scene.
The attractive Grade II listed building that Ann and Andrew Ellison, founders of Next Stage, first saw in 2002 had been derelict since The People’s Mission had ceased to worship there in 1998. The potential for the building to become a versatile arts venue was apparent from the outset, particularly to a theatre company specialising in theatre-in-the-round performances.
For over two years, Next Stage negotiated with the Council for possession of The Mission, fighting off rival bids from local businesses wishing to purchase the building. Finally, in February 2004, the battle was won when Next Stage was awarded a ten year lease -extended in 2010 to a 30 year lease - on the dilapidated ex-chapel. Further protracted discussions in 2004 regarding the conditions of the lease meant it took until November that year before the company was granted full access to the building.
Immediately Next Stage was involved in an intensive 6 week refurbishment process to transform the building into a working theatre.
Since all the alterations were being made to a Grade II listed building, detailed plans had to be submitted to architects and planners as well as the Council. The work included total electrical rewiring, installing a new block of toilets (including disabled facilities), complete redecoration, creating the bar/bistro in the 50 seater upstairs theatre and fitting purpose-made theatre
curtains installing lights, a sound system, seating, staging, rostra and the creation of a dressing room and green room.
The period leading up to our opening in January 2005 was certainly interesting, with the conversion of the chapel into a theatre taking place over the Christmas period. At various points there were 13 contractors on site, a cement mixer running in the Main Auditorium, no heating and, at times, no water or light. The building needed to be licensed, risk assessed, checked by the fire officers, signed off by the planners and had to meet all health and safety requirements before a Public Entertainment Licence could be granted.
From October 2004, Next Stage had been rehearsing the inaugural shows that would launch The Mission: Comic Potential by patron Alan Ayckbourn to run for a week in the Main Auditorium at the end of January 2005, and A Visit From Miss Protheroe to launch Next Stage’s Theatre Upstairs in February 2005.
In January 2005, with the final hurdles overcome, Comic Potential was performed to full audiences and local actor and friend Chris Harris (now sadly deceased) officially opened The Mission Theatre. Next Stagers believed they were acquiring an ideal venue for their productions and a meeting place for Next Stage Youth.
Within months, it became apparent that The Mission Theatre was going to be very much more than merely a home for the company. The Mission has given local amateur performers an affordable home in the heart of Bath to put on a huge variety of events.
Visiting small-scale professional drama companies love the versatility of the stage and performance area, and the theatre’s existence has allowed the creation of new non-professional theatre companies who find our reasonable hire charges within their means.
The range of musical events performed at the theatre has soared because of our excellent acoustics. From internationally acclaimed solo performers, to prestigious opera companies, all have enjoyed producing work at The Mission.
The Mission has hosted events for a variety of Festivals over the years including the Bath Comedy Festival, the Bath International Music Festival, the Mid-Somerset Drama Festival, The Jane Austen Festival and The Telegraph Bath Children's Literature Festival.
Most recently, both the Main Auditorium and The Theatre Upstairs have proved ideal spaces in which local artists and photographers can display their works.
Over the years, The Mission Theatre has also played host to workshops, conferences and a wide range of international speakers. It is now hard to imagine the cultural scene in Bath without this jewel of a theatre in its heart.
Next Stage Youth, created in 1994, has expanded from a handful of members to over forty 11-18 year olds today. The Mission provides them and the resident Next Stage Theatre Company with not only a performance space but also a perfect meeting place for socials, events and rehearsals.
The Mission has provided Next Stage Theatre Company with the ability to rehearse in its own space, and to attempt productions that would not have been possible back in the days when the company just hired a venue for a week. In 2014 Next Stage celebrated its 20th birthday with patron Alan Ayckbourn’s fiendishly difficult House & Garden - two plays performed simultaneously with one cast and using both the Mission’s Main Auditorium and The Theatre Upstairs. Sir Alan and Lady Ayckbourn came from Scarborough to The Mission to see the final performances.
The Mission Theatre receives no public funding, but we are blessed with support from many sponsors, benefactors, funders and patrons. We have been extremely fortunate to attract funding from, amongst others, Arts&Business SW, The Brownsword Charitable Foundation, The Roper Family Charitable Trust, The Medlock Charitable Trust and The Joyce Fletcher Charitable Foundation. The Theatre has also attracted sponsorship from countless audience members and friends. Their generous donations have provided a sound roof and state of the art lighting system.
Many local businesses have supported and subsidised The Mission’s growth and in particular thanks are due to: Avonvale Carpets, Enlightened Lighting, Thomas Firbank Removals Ltd, First Office Equipment Ltd, Minuteman Press, Bristol Costume Services and UES Engineering.
Ann Ellison, Artistic Director of Next Stage and Director of The Mission Theatre says: “I think trying to start your own theatre is probably not the most sensible or safest project upon which to embark. However, in the last years Andrew Ellison (Director, Next Stage) and I have learnt useful skills in fundraising, accounting, health and safety, marketing and time management - we’ve even found time to get married! We are constantly buoyed up by the talented people who seek to perform here, and audiences and members of the public who appreciate and celebrate the existence of The Mission Theatre and repay with friendship, warmth and constant encouragement all the work and effort that goes into the day-to-day running of this very special place.”
In 2015, Ann Ellison was awarded the British Empire Medal for services to Theatre.