Uniting & Delighting through the Arts
The chances are if you’ve visited Winchester, you’d of walked past Theatre Royal Winchester and know this one-time capital city is also home to the UK’s longest running festival of Outdoor Arts: Hat Fair. However, the Arts and Education charity responsible for both of these anchors of community culture, formally known as Live Theatre Winchester Trust, has been virtually unheard of. Until very recently that is.
Re-branded as Play to the Crowd, we caught up with Chief Executive, Deryck Newland, to talk about what the name change means for theatre lovers and how the organisation intends to honour their commitment to ‘delight and unite’ the wider Winchester district and beyond.
What was the inspiration behind the change from Live Theatre Winchester Trust to Play to the Crowd?
I have been the Chief Exec of the charity for 2 and a half year now, and there were four things that I noticed acutely when I first arrived.
……….Firstly, no one realised we were a charity. Also, nobody seemed to know that very charity ran both Theatre Royal Winchester and Hat Fair. This was a huge miss because they are two fundamentals of our outputs. In addition, locals didn’t seem to know anything about the participatory, creative learning and educational aspects of our work. And finally, when you visited the building, if you came any other time than when a performance was happening, it felt incredibly ‘closed’. They were the motivators.
………The solution became clear very quickly: We needed to re-work the public profile and how the community identified with us, so the re-brand began.
Why was this year the time to do it?
We needed to do a lot of thinking and internal consultation, to get our board, the stakeholders and our investors on-board for the journey. We also had to ensure our audiences agreed with our assertions.
……….It’s also fair to say that in my first year, we were fire fighting a really challenging solvency situation; we had to get the organisation into a position where we could continue trading. It then became apparent that as we were getting out of this situation, the financial challenge was only going to become even more challenging in the future. Public investment is under continued pressure. The focus of local authorities is rightly on their statutory priorities. The arts are important, but it’s a discretionary part of their budgets.
……….We’ve had to look at ways to diversify our income streams; next week we are pitching to local businesses and saying ‘we need your support, come and partner with us’. We can no longer rely solely on local authorities and our own box office to sustain the charity. So it was also a case of not being able to wait any longer.
The name change represents the charity’s vision to ‘Delight and Unite’, what hopes do you have for this vision?
Any charitable vision needs to be ambitious and bold, yet have a social purpose. We accept that we won’t be able to delight and unite the whole world, but we have a vision of a world that is delighted and united, and we start from where we are. So we’re going to start by trying to delight and unite Winchester & wider Hampshire to deliver to that ambition.
……….By delighting and uniting we mean bringing smiles to peoples faces; bringing joy into their lives. And in terms of uniting, bringing people together in unity. Not only physically in the auditorium, but also with empathy and understanding in other parts of society.
……….We hope to do that with the types of performance we show, – by using performance to show the world through other peoples eyes, so that the public, at large, can understand more what other peoples lives are like. For example – let’s take the issue of mental health. If it’s not something you suffer negatively with, it’s hard to empathise with those who do. Performance can help you understand it better. The same with culture and religion. ‘Uniting’ is a socio-political purpose for us.
Play to the Crowd will be the parent brand to Theatre Royal Winchester, Hat Fair, and new brand – Playmakers, representing the work the charity does more directly with the local community. What can we expect to see from Playmakers over the next 12 months and how will it benefit the local community?
Playmakers is a way of bringing together all the community work that we already do and the vision for what we want to do in the future. We already run 8 different youth theatres for ages 5 to 16 around the district. That has now become Playmakers Youth Theatre.
……….We’ve also just completed a project calling Celebrating Age; we’ve been working with older people in the community to hear and present their stories. We intend to carry that work on to encourage older people to feel more connected to the arts and have their voice heard and to work inter-generationally with young people on creative projects. We will also set up community Hubs to bring together those who want to develop their own ideas and use performance as a way of expressing their voice and channel that creativity.
……….In five years time, we hope to have a number of Community Hubs dotted around Hampshire, enabling people to engage with Play to the Crowd through Playmakers, even if they never come to the theatre. One of my feelings is we were too building based and city-centre focussed. The ambition of Playmakers is to take our work out into communities and give them the power to say what it is they want to collaborate with us on creatively.
“We want Playmakers to champion intergenerational creativity. That is our social purpose.”
Work has also taken place over the summer to transform the theatre’s foyer. This refurbishment has made the building a more vibrant and accessible space, as well as more social, with a cafe bar. What does this mean to the theatre and what ways will the community be able to enjoy it?
We have opened our doors from 8 am every morning, we just haven’t told the world yet! From the 8th of October, we’re out there as a destination Cafe Bar in the centre of Winchester.
……….The Theatre Royal is a community asset. So people should be able to come and enjoy it whether or not they are coming to watch a pre-booked performance. I like to refer to the Cafe Bar as a threshold invitation: Come and have a coffee. Plug your laptop in. Recharge your phone and plot creative ideas with friends.
“Frankly, there’s an association with the theatre being a very middle class, slightly – elite activity, that immediately alienates people who don’t consider themselves theatre go-ers. We want to break those barriers down and encourage everyone to believe that theatre can be for them.”
We’ll also be having informal and often free, pop-up performances in the Cafe Bar itself. In October we’ll be hosting our first ‘Munch with Music’ event. You’ll be able to come along on a Saturday lunchtime, enjoy some good food and some live music from emerging musicians. We’re currently in talks with the Spitfire Sisters about Jazz Brunches on Sunday mornings. And the University will have a monthly platform at the cafe for emerging talent, which could be musical theatre or Spoken Word poetry.
We’ll have an increasing range of informal, cabaret-style performances in the Cafe Bar for everyone to enjoy.
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