My Theatre Matters (2013)This article was written by Alan Ayckbourn for the My Theatre Matters campaign.
I have been associated with regional theatre for over 50 years. And it matters to me. I joined it in the late fifties as part of a stage management team of three, responsible for running the show, for the sound, the lighting, the prop making as well as putting in the occasional acting performance onstage.
Yes, it was one of those sort of companies, eager and experimental, alternative and unafraid of taking risks. Among the risks we took, this embryonic understaffed and underpaid company, was a commitment to new writing coupled with a determination to engage with the local community to present a programme of intelligent ‘popular’ entertainment. In the face of stiff competition from four or five variety shows, not to mention a programme of seaside farces at two other venues, it is fair to say that initially we struggled a bit!
Yet, after five years, perseverance paid dividends and the company began to win friends and gather support and, thanks to extensive touring, was able to return and establish a modest winter programme as well, displaying if nothing else our serious intention to stay in town.
From that modest beginning I watched the company grow as its roots within the community developed. It became a regional theatre with its own individual voice saying what we felt needed to be said albeit always tempered by our audience’s preference as to how we said it.
It was out of this melting pot of disciplines that I, along with several other writers, was born and nurtured. Parented by the theatre on the one side and the community on the other; the one encouraging the other tempering our youthful artistic excesses.
By the early nineties, we were operating virtually year round playing to an audience ready and willing to accept the new and eager to share in the risks and excitements of the unexpected and the untried.
All this had been made possible by public investment, local and national, which still kept it a theatre affordable for virtually everyone.
Like my own, this theatre you’re in tonight is supported out of your taxes and couldn’t put on plays without that support. For a play to break even without a grant, tickets prices would probably have to at least double - in the West End it is no longer unusual to pay £80 for a seat. In fact, without public investment this theatre would probably not survive at all.
We are living in hard times and there are some who think, perhaps understandably, that going to the theatre should be a luxury and that we can no longer afford to give it grants.
I don’t believe that, and I hope you don’t. Theatre is my living, but it is also my love. We in this country have a centuries old tradition of theatre and I want it to survive the current short-term financial difficulties.
In this technological world where many of us feel we are, both as individuals and as communities, drifting further and further apart, theatre offers us a chance to get together to discuss and examine both ourselves and the world in which we live.
This isn’t simply an appeal for money, I promise. You’ve paid enough to get in already! BUT - this you can do.
If you love theatre and want it to continue and thrive, please add your name to the My Theatre Matters! campaign. There is a page elsewhere in this programme and postcards and posters in the foyer giving you all the information you need. And there's a dedicated website at mytheatrematters.com if you want to find out more.
By adding your name you will help demonstrate that we do support grants for theatres, even in these hard times, and want our theatres to go on entertaining us, our children and our grandchildren into the future.
Thanks for reading this and I hope you enjoyed the show - (even if it isn’t by me!)
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn. Please do not reproduce without the permission of the copyright holder.