6 April 2019

Ethiopia: National Theater Moves Ahead With New HQs

A new 1.5 billion Br headquarters is set to replace the current National Theater, formerly known as Haile Selassie I Theatre.

The new 19-storey building will rest on 7,000Sqm of land located behind the headquarters of Awash Bank and Awash Insurance in Beherawi. Afro-Tsion Construction Plc, a two-decade-old firm that previously constructed Oromia Cultural Center and Addis Abeba Police Commission headquarters and is currently renovating the head office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, will be constructing the building.

Expected to take five years to complete, the construction was started under the supervision of Addis Mebratu Consulting Architects & Engineers, a 21-year-old firm that previously consulted and supervised the construction of Commercial Bank of Ethiopia's Megenagna branch.

Afro-Tsion won the bid to construct the new building six months ago and signed the contract two months ago. The city's Integrated Infrastructure & Construction Permit & Control Authority issued a building permit for the building on March 6, 2019.

The construction of the building will create jobs for 650 people, according to Tesfaye Misganaw, general manager of Afro-Tsion Construction.

"The current cinema will be preserved as a heritage building," said Befekadu Kefelegn, director of public and international relations at the National Theater, which was established in 1956 and currently employs 315 people.

The new building will have a flexible stage that can stretch up to eight additional metres. Upon completion, the building will have a state-of-the-art cinema that can accommodate up to 1,500 people and a museum.

The project concept was developed six years ago and was inaugurated by laying a foundation at a ceremony. But the project was delayed due to boundary issues and a failed bidding process, according to Befekadu.

"These led the project cost to rise from 530 million Br to 1.5 billion Br," Befekadu said.

Due to construction activity at the current premises, some of the offices have moved to a rented building in front of Yobek Building around Senga Tera three weeks ago. The theatre, music and production departments stayed at the current premises, while other offices of the ICT department, the director, deputy director and human resource departments moved to the new building.

National Theatre has two departments: Theatre and Music. The Theatre department has two performing groups, while the Music directorate comprises three modern and folk music groups, namely Izra Folk Music & Dance Group, Yared Modern Orchestra, Dawit POP Orchestra and String Orchestra.

In the last fiscal year, the National Theater generated 3.8 million Br from theatre, music and rentals of its facilities. A total of 1.35 million viewers attended music and theatres at the National Theater. Currently, it has six plays on its stages and charges 40 Br per person.

Actors, including Amanuel Yeshiwend, welcome the construction of the new building, stating that the current theater is technologically inadequate.

"It has sound and light problems coupled with deficiencies in the archiving of our work," Amanueal told Fortune. "The rehearsal rooms are not comfortable either."

Some experts also applaud the construction of the new building.

"The existing building is unique from many other buildings," said Isaac Kenifmikaeal, an architect at ZIAS Consulting Architects & Engineers Plc. "The new skyscraper building has to be harmonised with it."

Isaac also commends the decision of the management of National Theater in preserving the old building.

National Theater, which is under the Ministry of Culture & Tourism, is one of the 32 public and private cinemas operating in the capital. Hager Fikir Theater is the oldest theater, founded in 1935.

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