Theatrical neighbours meet for the first time

Published: 21 November 2021
Reporter: Peter Lathan

Tamsin Austin and Marie Nixon in front of Sunderland Empire, performance venue and pub The Dun Cow and the new Fire Station Auditorium

Marie Nixon, director of Sunderland Empire, the oldest theatrical venue in the city, has met with the director of the newest, Tamsin Austin, Director of The Fire Station, the newest venue, which opens next month.

Sunderland Empire opened in 1907 and is the largest theatre between Leeds and Edinburgh, with capacity to accommodate an audience of 2,200. It is owned by Sunderland City Council, but operated by Ambassador Theatre Group.

When The Fire Station Auditorium opens next month, the £18m Fire Station development will be complete. The auditorium will programme up to 300 events a year in music, theatre, comedy and dance. It can host up to 550 people seated or up to 800 people standing and will bring national and international artists to Sunderland, as well as showcasing emerging and established local performers. The Fire Station is operated by Sunderland Culture on behalf of Sunderland Music, Arts and Culture (MAC) Trust.

“I am thrilled to welcome The Fire Station and Tamsin as our new next-door neighbour,” Marie Nixon said. “As one of the longest standing and largest performing arts venues in the North East, it is a delight to welcome the newest; a fabulous addition to Sunderland’s vibrant live theatre, arts and cultural offering.

“With a plethora of live productions, events, and creative learning opportunities between us, Sunderland is fast becoming the premium destination for everything performing arts, from theatre to music from comedy to dance.

“Between the Sunderland Empire and The Fire Station, there truly is something to cater for everyone.

“I’m really looking forward to working with Tamsin, supporting emerging creative practitioners, generating pathways into our important industry through exciting new roles, developing audiences for performing arts across the city and region and bringing more people into our wonderful city.”

“The iconic Sunderland Empire has been the cornerstone of Sunderland’s cultural offering for generations,” Tamsin Austin added, “and we’re delighted to have moved next door. A few years ago Paul Callaghan and the Sunderland Music, Arts and Culture (MAC) Trust had the vision of a new cultural quarter in the city centre, with the Empire at its heart.

“With the opening of The Fire Station, that vision is now a reality. The quarter now incorporates a landmark theatre capable of hosting the biggest and best West End shows, a brand new mid-scale auditorium perfect for gigs, theatre, comedy, dance and spoken word performances, studios for dance and creative writing classes, as well as two completely revamped and renovated pubs which both have performing spaces. Within The Fire Station, we also have bars and restaurants and next summer we’ll also be opening the Parade Ground, a space for outdoor performances.

“Collaboration will be at our core and I’m delighted about the opportunity to work with our neighbours the Empire—and others—to create an exciting and enticing offer for audiences and artists across our performance spaces.”