The BIG idea
- Credit: Angela Sharpe
What is the background to Westacre Theatre and its redevelopment now?
We came to Westacre to set up a touring theatre company 20 years ago, based at an old chapel. We did more and more open air productions and decided to develop it further. We modified the chapel, creating a studio with a foyer and then last month, with great excitement, we opened the first phase of our major redevelopment, which has been about four years in the planning.
What challenges is the theatre industry facing today?
When people’s pockets are tight, they tend to cut back on entertainment, however there are also those who, when are miserable, do like to go out and enjoy themselves. But, if they do, it tends to be on the spur of the moment so it is no longer the case that people book up months in advance.
What is Westacre doing right in the way it provides entertainment for the people of the county?
The new development has trebled our space. We are hoping to start doing pre-show suppers for people and want to promote the whole area, it is fantastic for walking and we hope to attract visitors from all over. People thought we were crazy initially, trying to get them to invest in this little theatre project in the middle of rural Norfolk. Now, such has been its success, I think we are proving that a theatre is not fanciful, but something the whole county can cherish and use as a resource.
Who has been involved in Westacre and what support have you had from the community and beyond?
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We have raised £600,000 from grants and funding from different authorities, organisations and private charities, and we have had tremendous support from local people which has been so valuable. It has also been fantastic for our profile having Stephen Fry and acclaimed sculptor Antony Gormley as patrons as both have strong local connections and are hugely supportive. Stephen has been great and supports our summer bursary scheme for undergraduates.
So, Andy, what is Westacre’s big idea for taking Norfolk theatre to the next level?
We are committed to a programme of workshops for young people. The focus is on developing skills for the theatre but its benefits reach a lot further. It develops all kinds of skills, from self-confidence to communication, and encourages a lifelong interest in the theatre, which is essential for its future. We also run our undergraduate scheme in the summer holidays giving students an insight in to all aspects of the theatre industry, while earning a little money and learning skills to take forward in their careers.
Westacre theatre was founded in 2000, when the former Methodist chapel was turned into an 80-seat studio theatre. Over the years, the team, led by directors Andy Naylor and Isobel Smith and chairman Clive Hadfield, has created an international award-winning programme of theatre productions, a winter film season, summer jazz picnics and its extensive theatre education programme.
On September 1, after years in the planning, phase one of the theatre’s ambitious redevelopment was opened by patron Antony Gormley and fundraising work is already under way to find the £1m needed to complete the second phase by 2015, which will include an environmentally sustainable second performing space seating 150 people, set in landscaped meadowland linked to woodland walks along the River Nar.
As well as increasing the number of performances and workshops on offer, it is hoped it will create employment opportunities for directors, set designers, choreographers, musicians and workshop leaders. Coming up at Westacre Theatre is Quartet by Ronald Harwood and Roald Dahl’s The BFG.
Westacre Theatre, River Road, Westacre, PE32 1UD; 01760 755800; www.westacretheatre.com