By Niamh Ferguson
Yesterday saw the opening of the MAC theatre in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter. The Metropolitan Arts Centre, or MAC, contains two theatres and three art galleries as well as a rehearsal space and dance studio. This new complex will bring a lot to the area but will it enhance or detract from the smaller clubs and performance spaces within this tightly knit and long-established artistic pocket of the city?
I spoke to Graeme Watson, founder of Big Laughs, Belfast. He said: “I think the MAC, and particularly the incredible plaza around it, St Anne’s Square, will make the Cathedral Quarter one of the most exciting and hopefully buzzing parts of Belfast.”
With so many state of the art facilities in one building at the heart of the artistic Cathedral Quarter, some have concerns that it may push out smaller independent venues in the area, or turn out to be a flop itself. However, with a wide range of events scheduled until the end of the year, the MAC looks set to bring a diverse selection of art and entertainment to Belfast, some hoping that it will benefit all the surrounding bars, venues, and restaurants.
Graeme runs comedy nights in and around the area, particularly in the Black Box. I asked him whether he thought the MAC would detract from the smaller performance spaces in the area but he said: “The MAC feels like a much more formal venue, a very middle class arts space, while I think the Black Box has its roots in a more bohemian, alternative and counter-culture kind of arts scene. I think they can both co-exist happily.”
Some famous faces have already been booked to perform in the MAC. Diarmuid Corr (BBC’s Sketchy) is set to appear in June under the Big Laughs’ name. Graeme hopes this will be great for his company as well as the theatre. “I’m excited that the Diarmuid Corr show will be the first stand-up comedy gig in the MAC as well. That feels special, especially as I’m sure the MAC will probably be a hot tourist attraction for the next 30 years.”