The Palace Theatre, Kilmarnock

The imposing Corn Exchange, whose red-sandstone Italianate tower, by James Ingram, dominates the cross at London Road and Green Street, was opened on 16 September 1863 as a multi-use concert hall.
One of the first performances features the Kilmarnock Philharmonic Society with Handel's Judas Maccabeas. It became the Palace Theatre in 1903, when it was taken over by John Cummings. A stage was built, but like many such conversions from public halls, it suffered as the balcony faced the proscenium squarely and was isolated from the action on stage by blank side walls. The Grand Agricultural Hall was added to the Palace complex in 1927, and was one of the last commissions for James Miller, a prolific Glasgow architect. This was also fitted with a stage in 1929 and was used as a concert room while the Palace found success as a theatre. 

In the 1920s and 1930s, the Palace alternated between cinema and theatre, run by William Cummings, John's son, sometimes showing documentary films like The Sinking of the Lusitania. In 1947 a gift of £5,000 meant that the Palace could be converted to Kilmarnock's civic theatre. After £30,000 of work, it opened in 1951 as the Exchange Theatre, but there was not enough money left to pay its running costs and shortly it closed again. On 3 September 1956 the recently formed Kilmarnock Arts Guild, headed by Fred D. Neilson, an amateur actor and one-time tour manager for Duncan Macrae, moved in. While some locals regarded the old Palace as a lost cause, the enthusiastic newcomers began a repertory season there. The council slashed the rent by two-thirds, and the theatre became well established with an annual pantomime and touring shows to supplement the amateur dramatics. 

Sadly, the interior was destroyed by fire in 1979. It lay unused for a time, but eventually the council decided that Kilmarnock should once again have it's own theatre, and having spent £190,000 on the first stage of refurbishment, the Palace opened it's doors again on 31 August 1982. Exactly three years later, and with more spent to improve the foyers and backstage facilities, Billy Connolly came to declare the theatre open. He told the audience, which included Provost Tom Ferguson who had supported it's reinstatement, 'I love the way you change the theatre every time I come here. I've never seen this place the same twice.' The comfortable modern auditorium of the Palace today may be relatively small and undistinguished for a theatre of Victorian origin, but it continues to be a great asset for Kilmarnock folk, who support it well. 
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