The Passionfruit Theatre, one of Athlone's leading drama and music venues, will reopen its doors to the public later this month after its organisers signed a new lease on the venue at 9 Northgate Street.
The completion of the ten-year lease brought to an end a period of anxiety and uncertainty for the theatre group, which was without the use of its own venue since being told on Easter Sunday last that the previous lease had ended.
Passionfruit secretary Fiona Ducke signed the new contract on Tuesday of last week. Two days later she turned the key and entered the building for the first time since April.
Performances at the venue will resume on Friday, September 25, when 'Promises Promises' a comedy play by Athlone woman Margaret McKenna Mullan is staged. This will be a benefit night for Passionfruit, with all proceeds going to the theatre company.
"We had 'Promises Promises' on here before and it went down a bomb, so it's back by popular demand," Ms Ducke told the Westmeath Independent. "It's great to have something by a local person to start us off again."
While relieved to be returning to the venue, Ms Ducke acknowledged that it had been a difficult few months. However, she said that the backing of local people - over 150 of whom attended a meeting in support of the theatre after it closed - was heartening.
"It was definitely a very stressful and busy time," she said. "The public support is what kept us going. At the public meeting we had in the Bounty the turnout was unbelievable and that support really helped us through the whole thing."
"Our new lease is basically the same (as the last one). People will notice small changes, like the fact that we'll have no alcohol at the theatre, but hopefully all that's all they are - just small changes," said Ms Ducke. "We're delighted to have signed the lease and we would like to thank Anthony Barry and Owen Carty for all their help in making it possible."
She added that the type of performances staged at the venue will include "music gigs, drama, workshops... basically we'll have an open door policy for anybody within the arts who wants to use it."
Ms Ducke stated that Passionfruit is hoping to develop and strengthen links with local schools. To this end, it will host a free workshop on Thursday October 15 for fifth and sixth year students. The workshop, organised by Ger Colleran, will focus on completing CAO forms, study skills and applying for college courses that suit students' future career paths.
In addition, a night of music at the Palace Loft has been organised by the Passionfruit company for October 9, with appearances by Renegades of Funk, Bloody Mary, Eadain Casby & Twisted Logic.
When asked about the theatre company's longer-term plans, Ms Ducke said: "We'd love for more travelling groups to put on performances here, and hopefully as we get more well known that will happen. Obviously we're hoping to keep up with our own performances too. We're trying to offer something for everyone."
Does she think the venue will be appreciated and supported more as a result of its recent absence?
"I think people did appreciate it from the start," she replied. "Obviously everyone's busy, but given the support we've had over the last few months it would be great to see more people here."