Boss of historic London theatre Above the Stag vows to find ‘new home’ after venue’s shock closure
Boss of historic London LGBTQ+ theatre and bar Above the Stag has renewed hope the venue can be saved after announcing its immediate closure.
The shock news came on Sunday (7 August) when Above the Stag announced it had “ceased trading and permanently closed”.
The venue’s operations director and producer Andy Hill has since explained in a statement on Tuesday (9 August): “The past five years, in our beautiful Vauxhall home, have been extremely happy and successful but financially very challenging.
“Regretfully, it has not been possible to come up with a feasible business plan for the next five years in our existing venue. Our landlord, The Arch Company, has been very understanding and supportive.
“Another contributing factor in the decision to close is that Network Rail, as a priority, have to carry out a full back to brick safety inspection and repairs to the arches within the next six months. The arches have to be closed, emptied, stripped back and then all reinstated after the repairs are completed.
“The show is not over yet… Above the Stag is still very much alive and kicking.
“All furniture, fixtures, fittings and equipment are being transferred into storage in readiness for a reopening elsewhere at a later date.”
“Our benefactors have committed to donating £2 million over the next five years subject to us finding a fit for purpose new venue and coming up with a feasible five year business plan. The search for our new home begins now!”
Although there are hopes to open in a new location in the future, the closure of Above the Stag in Vauxhall is the latest blow to the London LGBTQ+ community as queer-friendly spaces have continued to decrease or temporarily shut down.
It follows a similar pattern to the popular G-A-Y and Heaven club who recently had to temporarily close as it assesses its future post-pandemic.
As queer culture comes under threat, performers and groups whose work was impacted by Above the Stag have shared their memories of the venue.
Conleth Kane, 38, who ran a monthly queer open mic night at Above the Stag reminisced on how it started. After performing two sold out shows in Above the Stag before the country went back into lockdown in 2021, Conleth realised he wanted to do something for emerging queer artists.
“So many of us had opportunities ripped from underneath us,” he explains, “I wanted to create a safe-space and a community for all of these artists. I approached Above the Stag and they were very welcoming and supportive of the idea. This city is over-flowing with LGBTQ+ singer-songwriting talent and I wanted to play a small role in getting it showcased.”
For both Conleth and Above the Stag it was important for artists to be paid, often a rarity at these kinds of events. “There is nothing quite like it in London and I certainly intend to pursue new venues this week and beyond to try and secure a new home for ‘Conleth’s Queer Mic’,” he concludes, hoping it could one day return to its original home.
Thinking back to a stand-out memory over his time with Above the Stag, he says: “A real stand-out memory was filming my music video for my song ‘Proud’ with The London Gay Men’s Chorus at ‘Conleth’s Queer Mic’ and I met one of my best friends there – John Fletcher and his partner Richard. John called Above the Stag his ‘spiritual home’. They are both hard-working nurses and loved nothing more than to attend the Stag.”
Kane hopes that the sudden closure of the Stag will be “a wake up call to the wider community in London that venues like these are still struggling” and need all the support they can get.
The Stag regularly hosted emerging and indie LGBTQ+ ventures and gave them the step up and space they needed to thrive. For Lisa Goodrum, non-fiction editor at Inkandescent Publishers, this was exactly the case.
The Stag first supported Inkandescent Publishers after providing the venue for their ‘bold poetry soiree’ in Autumn 2020.
Goodrum explains: “[They] have provided a welcoming space for numerous Inkandescent events, helped us to promote to the press and celebrate queer literature. Quite simply, we could not have run these events without them.”
For companies like Goodrums she says it provides “yet another blow for the community and deprives it of a safe space that allows members to come together to enjoy a variety of live performances and showcase new creative talent. Above the Stag nourished LGBTQ+ talent.”
Goodrum was clear that something needed to be done on a government level to help protect LGBTQ+ venues. PinkNews reached out to the Night Czar, Amy Lamé, who works on keeping the capital safe, vibrant and diverse at night.
Lamé said: “Our beloved LGBTQI+ venues are at the heart of life in the capital, entertaining and welcoming the community, and also employing thousands of Londoners.
“We’ve been working hard to protect venues, which suffered the impact of the pandemic restrictions, as well as ongoing issues of insecure leases, staff shortages and the spiralling cost of doing business. I was hugely concerned that Above The Stag theatre and bar suddenly closed over the weekend and have been in touch to offer our full support.”
During the height of the pandemic restrictions, the mayor of London created a Culture at Risk Business Support Fund, of which £225,000 was allocated to specifically support LGBTQ+ venues.
Co-hosts of the podcast Queer Talk, Spencer Cooper and Musfeen Miah, have also benefitted from Above the Stag.
Cooper said: “Our first show was a huge success and the venue offered us a residency and a permanent spot in their Cabaret Lounge. Over the past year we have hosted a variety of acts, artists and talent over eight shows and sold hundreds of tickets which is something we never dreamed of achieving.
“Queer Talk LIVE! was something very different. It was a space for those who don’t always get a platform to showcase their talent to a venue filled with love, a space where they didn’t have to explain themselves. They could just do what they do best and unapologetically so.
“The closure means one less platform for queer talent and that is incredibly sad. This will impact so many performers but also audiences that came from far and wide to enjoy the space.”
But they remain optimistic in the light of continued closures: “We only need take a look at the incredible group Friends of the Joiners Arms (FOTJA) who are an award-winning campaign group which came into existence in 2014 to fight against the closure of the Joiners Arms, a queer pub, on Hackney Road in East London.
“We see that the community are very capable of rallying together to rescue queer venues and reclaim these spaces.”
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