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Arts at the Old Fire Station, 40 George Street, Oxford

Formerly - The Fire Station and Corn Exchange / The Old Fire Station Arts Centre / OFS Studio

Oxford Theatres

A Google Streetview image of the former OFS Studio, Oxford, now the Arts at the Old Fires Sation - Click to Interact

Above - A Google Streetview image of the former OFS Studio, Oxford, now the Arts at the Old Fires Sation - Click to Interact

The Arts at the Old Fire Station is situated at 40 George Street, Oxford, and was originally opened by the Oxford Area Arts Council in 1973 as the Old Fire Station Arts Centre. It was not, strictly speaking, a Theatre in those days, although one of the larger rooms was hired out occasionally by theatre groups for rehearsals and performances. The place was run for a few years from a small office at street level with one member of staff, Dian Brooks.

The building itself was formerly the Fire Station and Corn Exchange of 1894, built in the Gothic style by H.W.Moore. In 1971 the Fire station's operations moved to Rewley Road, and the Oxford Playhouse company, Meadows Players, then leased the building as offices, wardrobe, properties storage and scene painting facilities for their operations. In 1973 the Meadows Players Company closed and the Oxford Area Arts Council was then formed to take over the building to operate it as a centre for performance, dance, drama, and musical performances together with lectures and recitals. The building was used by a variety of artists, musicians, poets, craftsmen and actors.

The building was refurbished in the early 1990's by Cameron Mackintosh and reopened as the OFS Studio with a production of 'Moby Dick', a musical which was quite a success in Oxford. This led Cameron Mackintosh to mount a larger production of the musical for a West End run. However it did not catch on with the London theatre audiences and the show closed early.

The Theatre was a small studio space seating 170 people and having a cosy feeling, as the audience were closer to the stage, which for many allowed them to become involved and almost lost in the performance. Prices ranged from £10 to £14 with student discounts offered.

The OFS Studio presented a mixed programme of about 20 Student production per year, together with other performances by professionals, semi professionals, and local community productions.

Previous successes have included musicals such as 'Assassins', and 'Kiss of the Spider Woman', and plays such as 'Entertaining Mr. Sloane' and 'What the Butler Saw' both by Joe Orton, together with Shakespeare’s 'Twelfth Night' and 'Macbeth'.

The OFS Studio was operated by the Ambassador Theatre Group, who latterly were in negotiations with Oxford City Council, who own the building's freehold, for the handing over of the building ( which has now taken place) so that redevelopment could commence. The estimated cost of the refurbishment and redevelopment was £3.44 million pounds, of which a grant of £2.8 million pounds capital funding was being given by the Homes and Communities Agency through it's Places of Change programme, which aims to improve the services available to the homeless.

The new venue opened on the 5th of November 2011 as The Arts at the Old Fire Station, and features a gallery, shop, a new Theatre and Studio with a flexible auditorium of 141 seats, interlinked creative working spaces and a café. The building is shared with Crisis Skylight, a new charity, who 'offer opportunities for the homeless and other vulnerable people to develop skills and confidence through artistic expression.'

You may like to visit the Theatre's own website here.

The above article was written for this site by David Garratt and kindly sent in for inclusion in 2011, and was updated in February 2012. The article is © David Garratt 2011.

If you have any more information or images for this Theatre that you are willing to share please Contact me.

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