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The sun is not about to set on the Empire

The Sunderland Empire is preparing to celebrate its 100th birthday in spectacular style.

The Sunderland Empire is preparing to celebrate its 100th birthday in spectacular style.

Tomorrow sees the start of a week of festivities aimed at marking the landmark birthday for the theatre, and will see a special Centenary kite flown high at the Sunderland International Friendship Festival (formerly the International Kite Festival).

As usual proceedings are taking place on the Northern Area Playing Fields in Washington and will feature kites (obviously), music and street theatre. The Centenary kites will be flown at around 4pm.

There will also be a ceremony held at Sunderland Minster tomorrow from 6pm to 8.30pm. The service will be followed by refreshments and a concert. Proceeds from the event will be split between the Minster and the Variety Club.

During the rest of the week's celebrations, theatre lovers will be treated to a performance of Much Ado About Nothing at Herrington Park at 6.30pm on Tuesday, and can expect a host of other events taking a nostalgic look at the history of the Sunderland Empire.

There will be opportunities to participate in arts activities and behind the scenes tours, to learn more about the theatre's long and fascinating history and to enjoy music and theatre performances in city parks.

Social historian Norman Kelly is heading just one such event - a talk with slides at Washington Town Centre Library on Wednesday at 1.30pm - while former theatre manager Stuart Anderson will do the same at the Dun Cow Public House (next door to the Empire) on Friday at 1pm.

The talks will illustrate the Sunderland Empire's long and fascinating history from its opening in 1907 by acclaimed music hall star Vesta Tilley, to the theatre's recent transformation as a North-East home for major West End shows such as The Producers which has just finished a successful three-week run.

On Thursday, tours will be offered (booking is required) to give visitors a chance to see the parts of the Empire which are usually hidden behind the curtain as well as getting the lowdown on the 100 years so far.

And on Saturday, Sunderland Youth Orchestra will be setting up camp in Mowbray Park's bandstand and performing songs from the shows throughout the afternoon from 2pm to 4pm.

As well as the events this week, the Centenary Community Arts programme will be running throughout the year, allowing community groups to work with professional artists and develop skills in photography, creative writing and drama.

And of course, there's the ongoing programme of theatrical delights to look forward to as well.

Highlights of the summer and autumn seasons include Russell Brand, who is performing at the venue on July 11; The Tweenies Live on August 18 and 19; The Glenn Miller Orchestra on September 5; Ellen Kent International who will be bringing Carmen and Nabucco to the venue between October 11 and 13; Godspell, starring Stephen Gately on Octover 22-27; Frank Skinner on November 11; and pantomime Cinderella, starring the unlikely pairing of Mickey Rooney and Michelle Heaton between December 8 and January 6.

General Manager Paul Ryan said: "Sunderland Empire is one of the best venues I have had the pleasure of managing. This birthday marks a new era for us and we are only going to get bigger, stronger and better than ever before in bringing the best productions to the North-East.

"The Centenary festival is an opportunity for people of all ages throughout the region to join in the celebrations and join us in celebrating the Sunderland Empire's 100th birthday."

To buy tickets for any of the upcoming productions, call 0870 602-1130 or visit www.SunderlandEmpire.org.uk.


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