New initiative seeks to develop contemporary theatre output from south-east England

A new three-year initiative called greenhouse has been launched to develop contemporary theatre and its audiences in the south east and east of England. Over three years, greenhouse will invest £420,000 into 30 projects.

The scheme, supported by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and Arts Council England, is being led by house, an organisation which curates and underwrites a programme of around 20 contemporary theatre productions each year for their network more than 125 venues.

This year has seen greenhouse seed-fund ten projects with over £50,000, awarding grants between £3,000 and £8,000 to projects. The ideas put forward for investment had to involve a partnership between a theatre-maker and a venue. The projects chosen for investment were selected by a panel of theatre industry professionals.

The first ten greenhouse projects include: Root Theatre bringing an emerging writer to her home town Gillingham to explore ideas for a new play about the town with the support of new venue LV21; South Street in Reading working with artists based in the town to create a piece for the recently decommissioned Reading Prison; and Take the Space is going to Norden Farm Arts Centre in Maidenhead to work with a boxing club and local Quakers for ideas to develop their new play, White Feather Boxer.

Richard Kingdom, greenhouse project manager says: ‘There’s no shortage of theatre being made, venues to present it or people to see it, and yet theatre-makers struggle to get bookings, programmers tell us that they can’t find suitable work and attracting an audience is everyone’s biggest challenge.

‘This is where greenhouse begins. We are seed-funding new pieces of theatre that respond to the ambitions of the theatre-makers as well as the venues and connect with people that they might ultimately hope to speak to as an audience.’

Arts council concerns for future audiences

The arts sector has been warned that it cannot rely on ‘traditional culture vultures’ to make up their future audiences.

Concerns have been raised about the future of theatre audiences, as Arts Council England update their audience profiling document, Arts Audiences – Insight. The two categories which were identified as ‘highly engaged’ were ‘traditional culture vultures’ and ‘urban arts eclectic’.

Responding to the findings, director of public engagement Philip Cave said: ‘It is quite difficult to see how you can sustain an arts sector simply by going for those top two segments, certainly in the future. We have to reach more people in those other [areas] where all the evidence suggests we are pushing against an open door.’

The document also listed groups who were disengaged with the arts. Among them were; older people with limited ability to leave the house, people with very little spare time and those who spend a majority of their free time at home.

This comes after a recent survey revealed that 30% of primary schools and 10% of secondaries have not been on a theatre trip in the last 12 months. The report ‘Theatre attendance: in and out of school’ was undertaken by C3Education.