The Head of Performance at the North East’s newest cultural venue is on a mission to put the city on the map for theatre and dance companies looking for a mid-scale venue.

Helen Green is programmes theatre, dance and comedy at Sunderland’s new £12m venue, The Fire Station Auditorium, which opened last year.

The venue was designed by Jason Flanagan, design director at well-respected Flanagan Lawrence Architects, who was also behind the iconic Sage building in nearby Gateshead.

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The auditorium can seat nearly 500, or host 800 standing, has a stage that can flex from six to 12 metres deep and its state-of-the-art acoustics were designed by industry experts Idibri.

The opening of the auditorium is the latest step in a journey to transform Sunderland’s cultural offering and ambitions.

Leading the drive is Sunderland Culture, an organisation created in 2016 to bring together the cultural programmes of Sunderland City Council, University of Sunderland and the charity Sunderland Music, Arts and Culture (MAC) Trust into a single, independent delivery model.

Sunderland Culture, which runs The Fire Station on behalf of the MAC Trust, is now an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation with the aim to "improve life for everyone in Sunderland through culture".

Helen said: “We’re proud of our new venue, it’s incredibly flexible with superb sound and LED lighting capabilities. It’s the perfect size for the city and our ambitions, and now we need to make people aware of what a great venue we have here.

The Northern Echo: An interior view of The Fire StationAn interior view of The Fire Station

“In the past theatre and dance companies have sped past us on their way to Newcastle or Edinburgh, but now we have a top quality, modern performance space – and we’re open for business.

“For too long Sunderland audiences have missed out on a huge raft of theatre and dance companies – and musicians. But now we have the perfect venue for mid-scale performances and the music programme at The Fire Station is busy until well into next year. The people of Sunderland are getting a new cultural offer and it’s so exciting.”

Helen was director at Arts Centre Washington for eight years where she continues to programme a smaller-scale theatre and where she learned what Wearside and North East audiences like and don’t like.

She added: “The Fire Station is literally next door to the Sunderland Empire, a grand old Edwardian theatre which can host audiences of 2,000 and stages full-scale West End shows.

"Our programme will complement that of the Empire’s, and what we’re looking for is high-quality shows and performances that have broad appeal – relevant and enjoyable. What people in Sunderland want is a good night out and that’s what they’ll get at The Fire Station.”

Helen has already forged a key relationship with National Theatre - The Fire Station is a partner in this year’s Odyssey project - and is also an NT Connections partner, hosting shows written by writers to be specifically performed by youth groups and schools. She’s also working with Shakespeare’s Globe, with Julius Caesar programmed for June.

Helen is keen, however, to talk to a wide range of theatre and dance companies.

“We have a brilliant offering, a first-class venue and we also have a reach across the wider North East, into County Durham, Northumberland and Teesside.”

The auditorium is part of a wider, £18m development of a vacant 1907 Fire Station that has become a hub for arts and culture and incorporates a bar and bistro and rehearsal studios for dance and the spoken word.

Work has now started on a new outside performance space, The Parade Ground, at the rear of The Fire Station.

* If you’re interested in speaking to Helen about dance or theatre at The Fire Station, email

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