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Made in Margate: Theatre Royal Margate

  • Date: 11 February 2010
  • Artform: Theatre
  • Area: South East
A performance of Victorian project, Smoke and Mirrors, 2009 A performance of Victorian project, Smoke and Mirrors, 2009, Theatre Royal Margate

Theatre Royal Margate, the second oldest theatre in the country, has been awarded £150,000 through Grants for the arts for a two-year development project that puts the local people and artists at the core of its operation.

Made in Margate aims to make the theatre a strong player in the town's regeneration, which has recently seen £3.1million Sea Change investment, by raising artistic aspirations as well as appealing to its younger audiences. The funding supports a three-way partnership between the Arts Council England, Kent County Council and Thanet District Council to make the theatre an instrumental part in Thanet and East Kent regeneration, with partnership funding of £275,000 from the two councils.

'Culture is genuinely leading the regeneration taking place in Margate,' comments Stella Kanu, Theatre Royal's new Audience Development Manager. 'With the development of the old town, the explosion of shop front creative enterprises, and the building of the new Turner Contemporary alongside the investment in Theatre Royal all contributes to a creative and cultural quarter of real merit.'

Made in Margate is also looking at how they can make the theatre more accessible particularly for families, younger people and those on low income. Theatre Royal borders two of the most deprived wards in Margate, with a population that has double the national unemployment and high pregnancy rates. The theatre is introducing affordable monthly shows and using links with local organisations such as Surestart and local schools to offer discounted tickets and provide more low cost arts experiences.

They're also sending associate company Scandelmongers to the streets to engage with local audiences with their storytelling prowess, as well as using the yearly draw of the Christmas panto, which they're making bigger and brighter with new writers and an education pack for schools.

Although young people and families are a major focus for Made in Margate, the project doesn't forget about its artists, who also play a key role in regeneration.

In August 2009, Theatre Royal launched a new associate programme to work with artists and companies over two years. The programme will help artists foster strong relationships with the theatre, with local audiences, and with other artists, as well as creating new work. This is a fantastic opportunity offering artistic and technical support, funding application advice, audience feedback, marketing and a chance to perform at the theatre.

The theatre have also recently launched a new one-year project "Starter for 10", working with 10 writers in the south east. The project will offer them monthly creative writing sessions leading to staged readings in 2011.

The theatre will also continue to develop their wide ranging programme of performances, booking from the experimental to the well established.

Last but not least Made in Margate funding will also enable the theatre to strengthen its outreach and participatory work. Two-year community project "Smoke and Mirrors" focuses on the Victorian theatre and explores the heritage of the theatre and its relevance today. This project will reach thousands across the community: from running Victorian workshops in schools to gathering and sharing memories of the theatre on local radio. "Smoke and Mirrors" will also involve 35 local people, writers, and directors to design a new play, and this project will culminate in three performances at Canterbury Festival 2011.

'Smoke and Mirrors is really about asking participants to re-imagine the theatre space and explore the function of theatre,' says Will Wollen, Artistic Director at Theatre Royal. 'In the early development workshops we decided to recreate a Victorian illusion by moving the action away from the main stage. The drama took place in the stalls, the gallery space, at times with the audience viewing from the stage itself.'

Now half way through its first year, Made in Margate has had tangible results. Audience numbers have risen by 9% between September 2009 and January 2010. Their reimagining Victorian theatre project, "Smoke and Mirrors", has run its second weekend workshops, involving over 40 participants. Theatre group Scandalmongers from Isle of Thanet in East Kent and experimental theatre company Beady Eye in Canterbury are both on board for the new associate programme, while 10 writers have been selected for "Starter for 10".

No doubt there'll be more to come from this theatre that's definitely managing to keep in step with its modern audiences.