The imposing granite and slate building which houses the Dragon Theatre and Barmouth Community Centre was constructed in the 1890’s as an English congregational chapel.
In the years following the Second World War the local amateur dramatics society, Bermo Arts Club, had more than 300 members and a busy programme of performances throughout the year, taking place in other buildings in the town. In response to the need for a permanent venue a committee was formed in the 1950’s to find funding for the conversion of the old chapel to a theatre. Eventually the money was found and the theatre was created, including a relatively ‘deep’ stage to accommodate the light opera and ballet performances which were popular at the time. The theatre was officially opened with a gala concert on the 30th October 1959. The following words were printed in the souvenir programme:
This little theatre is an experiment. An experiment because the sponsors believe there is a need in North Wales for a small theatre properly equipped with a large stage, cyclorama, modern stage lighting and sound effects, where amateur drama, operatic and ballet groups may have the opportunity of exercising their art under proper conditions…. …it is hoped to give help and encouragement to deserving amateur dramatic talent, as well as playwrights and producers. The theatre will also be available for the use of professional companies and Arts Council productions.
In the 1970’s an extension was added to the rear of the building to become Barmouth Community Centre, providing meeting rooms for local groups and other organisations. In the decades since there have been improvements and changes, including two major phases of redevelopment involving the construction of a new foyer on the side of the building, the complete refurbishment of the building and the creation of a second performance/rehearsal/meeting area in the old chapel basement.
The second phase, funded by the Welsh European Funding Office and Gwynedd Council’s Regeneration Fund through the Cwlwm Gwledig Scheme, included funding for the post of a manager for two years from 2003. Since then, with the assistance of some small grants from Gwynedd Council and the Barmouth Town Council, the building has been self-funding. Around 50 local groups and organisations use the theatre and community centre and approximately 100 events take place each year, of which three quarters are arts related performances, film screenings or exhibitions.