Sculptor Anthony Gormley opened the £500,000 first phase of Westacre Theatre’s development in front of 200 guests on Sunday.
The man who created the Angel of the North, and is the village’s most famous son, spoke of the theatre’s extraordinary evolution from a defunct chapel to what it is today.
The new facilities offer a creative arts space, gallery extension, cafe bar and external terrace overlooking the meadow down to the River Nar.
By 2015 an all-year round performing space seating 150 will have been added.
Mr Gormley, a patron of the theatre, has no great acting pretensions of his own and said he is actually keener on dance.
He said: “I enjoy live performance. At a time when so many people look to virtual imaging – of whatever resolution – it demonstrates there is no substitute for live performance. It is the highest kind of calling.
He said he was thrilled by the challenge of creating “regional internationalism” where purest theatre can be staged in an agricultural shed.
He added: “I like the idea of taking theatre out of the West of London or the Edinburgh Fringe, or Manchester and putting it in a field. What happens is that peopple come and hang around.”
Mr Gormley is one of two celebrity patrons. The other, Stephen Fry, sent his congratulations by letter.
Mr Fry added: “I have been pleased as a patron of the theatre to see the exciting range of the Westacre arts programme which I know delights audiences across the county.
“I welcome, too, the important contribution made to developing the confidence and skills of young peoople who enjpy the performaing arts through opportunities provided at the theatre.”
Westacre Theatre was founded in 2000 by converting a former Methodist chapel into a studio theatre.
It was extended in 2005 to a 150-seat octagonal summer tent complemented a film theatre, jazz picnics, book clubs and an extensive theatre education programme of drama workshops for young people aged six to 21.
It is run by the Westacre Arts Foundation, run by Andy Naylor and Isobel Smith, who aim to provide part-time posts and opportunitiers for up to 15 freelance directors, set designers, choreographers, musicians and workshop leaders.