Issue date: Fri 10 June 2016
Greenwich Theatre is taking centre stage as the iconic building gets a makeover thanks to an investment from the Royal Borough of Greenwich, and unveils artistic plans for a bold new era over the next 25 years.
“This is absolutely the theatre’s moment, no doubt about it,” said Artistic and Executive director James Haddrell as the building in Crooms Hill begins a period of repair. With roof repairs to the 1855 building underway, and plans for some rewiring, front of house improvements and the creation of a new studio theatre announced today, the company is also launching a bold new ethos.
“The local authority have invested in the building repairs, which represents a major commitment to culture at a time when arts funding is dwindling around the country. In a closure period of just 12 weeks there are significant works scheduled, which mark the start of the company’s own long-term plans for the repair and development of this historic theatre.”
“At the same time we are announcing an autumn programme that embeds the reputation we have gained over the last five years as one of the country’s leading supporters of emerging theatre companies. With shows on the main stage and in our new pop-up studio from some of the country’s newest and most exciting theatre-makers, we will also be announcing a programme of master-classes for new artists and companies on everything from marketing, lighting and sound design to touring, production management and theatre finance.”
“We will be launching a new rolling one-year technical theatre post, on a full salary, which is dedicated to new graduate theatre technicians giving them that essential first experience of working in the industry. Up to 20 emerging artists and theatre companies will participate in our Artist Development programme, offering anything from rehearsal space and tour booking support to dramaturgy and PR advice. Support for the next generation of theatre makers in this country will go from being an important part of the company’s work, as it has been for 5 years, to becoming part of our DNA.”
“The investment represents a seed fund for a larger package of repairs. On top of that we are in discussions over a long lease on the building so we can look securely towards the future.”
The relaunch of the theatre – which has been on the same site in one form or another since 1855 – comes after the current management has reduced the debt it inherited from a quarter of a million pounds to just £30,000 and falling.
“The company was on a knife edge of viability,” said Mr Haddrell, “but now it’s more stable than it’s ever been and is far more artistically credible than in recent years. That’s been acknowledged by the local authority by this investment in our future.”
“The £400,000 represents a seed fund for a larger package of repairs. On top of that we are in discussions over a long lease on the building so we can look securely towards the future.”
Commercial director Simon Francis said that reducing Greenwich Theatre’s reliance on grants and public funding was another big part of the plan. “Ten years ago, at least 60% of our income came from public funding or grants but that’s now down to just 10%,” he said. “We’ve done that but maintained our turnover and have actually increased the number of shows we present and the audiences we attract.
“This model is taking hold throughout the industry, with arts organisations having to find alternatives to public subsidy, but it hasn’t been a jarring experience for us because we’ve been doing it for quite a while now, adapting to the changing economic climate as we go. We have worked with the local authority to understand how much we can manage in terms of reductions to our annual grant subsidy. Our plans are absolutely about growth. We aren’t just looking at surviving, and that’s why the council can be confident enough to make this additional investment in the building.”
Denise Hyland, Leader of Royal Greenwich Council, said, “The Royal Borough is pleased to be working with Greenwich Theatre to help them carry out these improvements which will help ensure its viability into the future. We are committed to supporting Greenwich Theatre’s work and are proud that our contribution helps the theatre to put on performance and participatory activities from the Greenwich Children’s Theatre Festival to the popular annual pantomime.”
“The work is only just beginning” continued Mr Francis, “and we are certainly looking for other modes of support – from individuals, supporters and local companies – but with this package of building improvements we’re hoping to create an environment where people feel completely comfortable when they come to the theatre, almost like we’re an extra room in their own home.”
As well as offering a new income stream as a rehearsal room for hire, the new studio being developed at the venue will offer a “ladder of opportunity” to emerging companies from all over the country as well as London. “The theatre has been pivotal in offering them a stepping stone between the fringe and mid-scale touring,” said James Haddrell, “but some companies come to us having played in 40 to 50-seaters and the jump to 400 seats is still intimidating and tough for them. They will be able to come to us and still work in a small-scale environment but with the infrastructure, experience and knowledge we can offer them to enhance the quality of their work.”
“The studio will be a completely flexible space with seating up to 60 or 70, and as the companies put on more sophisticated work they will develop with us to go to a bigger scale. Equally there is a lot of quality work that does best on an intimate studio scale but still needs a full theatre operation behind it, and there isn’t a natural venue in Greenwich for that.”
“The package of work the whole building needs to bring it up to standard, top to bottom, is £2m - but we think it can be delivered over a period as much as 20 years. The work we’re doing now is the essential work, and we’re looking to match the local authority’s investment for phase two of the improvements, which will see further electrical work around the building and more improvements to the bar and studio.”
“Greenwich Theatre is a key player in the national cultural landscape, providing an opportunity for artists from around the country to present their work in the capital, and for both local and national companies to develop their craft. Greenwich supported companies have already transferred work to the West End, to festivals around the country, and toured the UK and internationally. Thanks to this investment and our commitment to embedding this work across the company, I am certain that our impact on this country’s theatre industry will continue long into the future.”