There are 176 registered venues in the house theatre network stretching right across the South East & East England. The network gives each venue, whether a multi-auditorium NPO or a smaller studio arts organisation, the same chance to engage in programming new contemporary theatre and benefit from networking and training opportunities. Our monthly house venues profile celebrates some of the network’s venues, big or small, and gives them a chance to talk about some of their upcoming projects and current focusses.
This month we visit Karen Read (Manager) and Des Reynolds (Director) from the Seagull Theatre in Lowestoft, Suffolk who introduce us to their venue and talk through some of their exciting projects including an opportunity to join their new theatre commission for their Heritage Action Zone.
Tell us a little bit about The Seagull
Karen: So the Seagull was reborn in its current since 2007/8 having been council lead up until 2004. There was then a period of saving the building from being pulled down for housing and it was ‘saved’ and became a CIC theatre here to serve the community of Lowestoft. Outside still looks very much like the Victorian infant school it started as, but inside it has a black box auditorium that seats 112, a large foyer and bar, large backstage area with a costume department and a very large workshop and storage for set building. Upstairs it has three large studios for dance and drama and the largest studio is also regularly turned into a second performance space.
How do you interact with the lovely people of Lowestoft?
Karen: The Seagull is much loved in our town with so many people growing up and coming here for drama/music/dance in the 70’s/80’s/90’s and 00’s that we knew we had to make sure the next generations also benefited from what we can offer. We have spent the last eight years growing our outreach programme and offers to our community and we regularly work with many of the schools in Lowestoft. We deliver drama and dance in many of the schools, we direct year 6 plays every summer bringing the children into the theatre to perform, we supply costumes and set to help with their own productions and we work with East Sussex Council to deliver holiday clubs in the summer holiday for children on free school meals where we also feed them lunch. At the other end we also run an extensive programme of events and sessions for people living with Dementia and their families, using the space and cultural activities to engage and help to enrich their lives. Our Dementia work just keeps growing and we work closely with the council and also dementia charities and care homes.
How has the start of the year been for you?
Des: As is traditional, our year has started somewhat quietly. It has always been the case that January and February are slow months for us, but obviously this year has been exceptionally so. That said, our community work continues to be busy, with increasing numbers attending our Dementia Accessible programme of activities and our Youth Theatres preparing for they Spring performances. We have also been fortunate in being funded for an additional schools project working with the Early Years classes in three local schools, this has kept us pretty busy! The slow start to the year has also been an opportunity to try out some new marketing initiatives to grow the audience. Pre-Pandemic we had a weekly advert in the local newspaper which had run for years, this stopped in 2020 and we have chosen to not restart. Instead we have used that money to fund larger one off ads for shows we know might struggle to reach an audience (particularly drama shows) and this month have experimented with flyers being delivered to 5000 local homes. We are analysing our results in the next few weeks to see if these have an impact.
What events are you looking forward to at the Seagull?
Karen: After such a challenging few years in the theatre, we are looking forward to getting our programming back on an even keel and growing our audiences again. We are proud to have our professional theatre company The Seagull Rep which last toured in 2019 and we want to take it back out on the road with the production Emma and our version of this well loved Austen tale…..We also have the amazing First Light festival in June again which is a 24 hour non stop festival of the arts on our beautiful beach, we work closely with the first light team and watching visitors flock to our beautiful beach and enjoying what we take for granted makes us appreciate so much how lucky we are over here on the east coast. In September we will be hosting our fourth Jazz Festival for Lowestoft bringing the best of national and international Jazz down to our theatre and offering very affordable concerts to our town.
Tell us a little about your High Street Action Zone project
Des: The Heritage Action Zone project (HAZ) is a really exciting new venture for us this year. Lowestoft has two Heritage Action Zones, which are designated streets where a combination of there Heritage Lottery fund and central government have provided funds to support regeneration. A very small bit of that funding was made available for a cultural programme, of which we are offering three strands. Between now and May 2023 we are developing three projects themed around the shopping areas of Lowestoft. The first is to create an art trail this summer, using pieces of art created by local people. We have recruited 10 local artists who will be paid to deliver workshop activity with local care homes, and schools and community groups. The outcomes of these workshops will then be showcased as the Art Trail in August. We hope that this will encourage people to go out and find their art and walk the historic shopping areas. Then from July onwards we are planning four themed weekends, where we will be dressing the streets with actors and small scale events to take them back to specific decades. Our first weekend in July will aim to take people back to the 1940’s and we will be working with local shop keepers to dress up their staff and make it as much of a community event as possible.
Lastly in May 2023 we will be staging a brand new piece of theatre within the Heritage Zone. The exact form of that will depend on the creative process, but we want it to be an immersive piece of promenade theatre using the shops and building in the HAZ area. We will be incorporating local voices and memories as part of the creative process and are really excited about how this could work out. Anyone wanting to be involved or find out more – can get in touch on email@example.com.