Opus: A new venue for Hastings
With the widely-anticipated Opus Theatre on the verge of opening in Hastings, HIP interviews British-Argentinian composer Polo Piatti, the driving force behind the venture, about how the project came about and why it’s all so exciting.
Piatti is well known in Hastings for founding the Hastings Sinfonia and the International Composers festival, as well as for being an internationally renowned composer and pianist.
When looking for a venue for a specific event, a friend introduced him to His Place Community Church. This church was built in 1855 as a congressional church for a community style of worship, where it is important for the congregation to be able to hear themselves and feel a part of the whole. ‘I visited and noticed the acoustics,’ says Piatti. ‘When the church was designed each aspect of the architecture and furnishings were made to maximize the acoustics, the ceiling, the pews, the altar were all designed around this’. Reportedly a whisper from the pulpit can be heard clearly from the back of the balcony.
‘I asked the trustees, what do they do with this space during the week?’. Not much, as it turns out, furthermore, the listed building is on the UKs heritage risk list and in urgent need of repair. The organ, which provides an elaborate wooden focal point within the church, also required attention.
‘We have a shortage of medium or large performance venues in Hastings so I suggested setting one up here on the condition we could have absolute autonomy, and the Church agreed. We are not part of the church at all, we even use a different entrance. The church holds services only on Sunday and in return we will raise money for the building and bring people in.’
And what will audiences be able to expect from this new venue? ‘All kinds of performance, and everything will be acoustic, or very low amplified’ he continues ‘not rock and roll music, that is very well catered for in Hastings’. Two events in the upcoming programme for Opus have been announced to date, Tenors Unlimited, a classical crossover quartet, are booked for a Christmas concert and in August, a new theatre company from Mersyside will perform The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists – an adaptation by Tom McLennan of the famous book about Hastings by Robert Tressell. ‘Its very relevant to today, what they are doing’ comments Piatti.
‘This is not going to run on a commercial basis,’ Piatti explains, ‘it will be run on an artistic basis and especially in the first year it’s most important to protect the reputation of the place. It’s important that people know that when something is here you’re going to get good quality. This is the best way to make enemies, but I don’t care, I’m too old for that’.
And what is quality? For Piatti this is clear, ‘We accept any art form but it has to have meaning. Create beauty, speak truth, do good, as Plato says in his Republic’ .
Piatti has been overwhelmed by the support the project has garnered. As well as a ready team of volunteers, the Troxy in Limehouse has donated lighting and rigging for the Opus, and – cherry on the cake for this new venture – an anonymous benefactor has donated a one of a kind concert grand piano which is being specially made for the Opus. ‘It has its own model name, the Phoenix Opus. It combines the case of a Blüthner from the 1920s – which has the best acoustics – and a state of the art sound board, which is light and more stable.’
With a purpose-built piano for this purpose-built space, anticipation is growing for the Opus. Articles on its founding have appeared in theatre industry magazine The Stage (‘I don’t know how they found us’ muses Piatti) and performers have been getting in touch in large numbers. The project seems well on its way: AsPiatti comments‘All we need now is an audience.’
The Opus opens in July, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists will be performed twice on 26th August, Tenors Unlimited will perform on 8th December.
Book tickets and keep up to date with the programme at www.opustheatre.co.uk