REHEARSAL space for world-class theatre, opera and dance companies is set to be created under a £2 million extension to Edinburgh's Festival Theatre.
The project is being planned for a gap site to the rear of the Nicolson Street venue and will be created as part of a wider development likely to involve both student housing, offices and shops.
It will mean visiting groups will not have to rehearse on stage in the theatre, one of the main venues used for the Edinburgh International Festival.
Theatre chiefs say this can be very difficult when preparations for a new show are ongoing and hope that the development will turn it into a world-class venue.
The theatre extension will be built on one of two gap sites at the rear of the building, with the other site expected to become home to the neighbouring development, which will help fund the arts complex and hold workshops and classes for youngsters.
It is hoped the scheme will help with the ongoing transformation of the area, which will boast Edinburgh University's new informatics centre, being built opposite the site earmarked for the new development, and the revamped Royal College of Surgeons, opposite the main entrance to the theatre, where a 14m hotel and conference complex is being built.
John Stalker, chief executive of Festival City Theatres, the trust which runs the venue on behalf of the council, said: "The only space we've ever had for rehearsals is on the stage, but that can be very difficult when sound, lighting and staging preparations are happening on the same day. Sometimes it is just impossible.
"We believe the addition of the rehearsal and education facilities to the theatre will make it a truly world-class venue and help us to attract the very best national and international talent. There is a long way to go at the moment, as we do not have any detailed designs or a developer on the table, but I'd be hopeful the extension could be complete within three years."
Councillors will be asked next week to approve the transfer of two plots of land behind the theatre to allow the commercial development to help pay for the extension.
It is hoped a formal planning application for the arts complex will be lodged later this year.
City council leader Donald Anderson said: "This is a brilliant development that will enhance what is already one of Scotland's best theatres and will further boost a local area that is already benefiting from the informatics centre, the new and improved Surgeons Hall and the renewal work in Nicolson Square and along South Bridge."
Ricky Henderson, the city's culture and leisure leader, added: "The Festival Theatre is only limited in its appeal to major performing arts companies in its lack of suitable rehearsal facilities.
"The theatre's education work has expanded dramatically in recent years, again without suitable space being available.
"The proposed extension will resolve these issues as well as improving the overall viability of the theatre."