Theatricals have a long history in New Ross going back to medieval times. Many performed on our site while it was the Norman Church of St. Michael. The present building was built in 1806, eight years after the Insurrection of 1798, and served as the Parish church until 1902 when the new parish church, St. Mary’s & Michael’s, was opened.
Over the next half century the building had many uses, as a town hall and also as a cinema.
By 1957 the Savoy Cinema (as it then was) was in a sad state of neglect and there was some debate amongst townspeople as to whether it should it be bulldozed or money spent to refurbish it. The people rallied round, after all they wanted their theatre back and work commenced on refurbishment. On 28th February 1960 The Abbey Players opened the next phase of the theatres life with “The Country Boy”. St Michael’s then entered a renewal period with the old Pantomime Society being revived, a Musical & Choral Society set up and the town boasted of two Drama groups who were very active over the years. The New Ross Drama Festival and John Player Tops played to enthusiastic audiences down the years. The AIMS Choral Festival moved to New Ross during the 1980’s.
After some 35 years of constant use the theatre was again showing signs of wear and tear. Again there was talk of the bulldozers, again the townspeople rallied round. Public meetings were called, a committee set up (later to become the theatre management committee Feachtas Ealaion Teoranta), and a capital grant from the Dept of Arts was secured. The theatre closed in May 1997 and work commenced on the building. Volunteers worked side by side with the contractors and the refurbishment began.
The theatre re-opened on 3rd May 1999 with the Abbey Theatre’s production of “Love in the Title” by Hugh Leonard. The Minister for Arts Sile de Velara performed the official opening. Welcoming people to the newly renovated theatre, Chair of the Board Mary Lou O’Kennedy said ‘our vision for St. Michael’s is that it will become a vibrant centre for the Community and Performing Arts in New Ross and the South East’. So commenced Feachtas Ealaion Teoranta ‘A journey into the Arts’.
The theatre had its first manager during the refurbishment stage of the theatre. Helen Lewis oversaw the development work and stayed at the helm for a further year.
In January 2001 St. Michael’s became part of a new third sector funding initiative, the Social Economy Programme. A Business Plan was formulated with the aim of realizing the vision of those who had worked so hard to get the theatre to its present stage. Professional staff were engaged and the Board appointed Tomás Kavanagh as its Theatre Director. Thus began the transition from an amateur to a professional theatre.
In September of 2002 a significant expansion of the theatre took place with the opening of the Visual Art Gallery St Michaels .The gallery was designed by Annie Designs and was funded by a capital grant from FAS. The aim of the gallery is to provide an outlet for the presentation of visual art with a special focus on local artists.
In March 2003 a cinema was added to further expand the range of services and currently movies are screened on a weekly basis.
In the six years since the theatre re-opened many memorable Productions have graced its stage and there are in the region of 100 performances per year.
So where is St. Michael’s today?
The theatre boasts a 298-seat theatre, a 50-seat studio venue, an art gallery, a cinema, a coffee shop and a bar. Now a fully fledged arts centre, St. Michael’s has a staff of 12 who bring a year round arts programme unrivalled in the south east to the people of New Ross. The theatre continues to constantly improve its service to the community and in December 2004 was awarded the ‘Excellence through People’ quality mark, the first theatre in Ireland to do so, for the excellence of its customer care and staff development.
2006 will mark the bi-centenary of the theatre and all of in St. Michael’s; Board members, management, staff and volunteers, invite you to join in the ongoing ‘Journey into the Arts’.