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OPENING UP THEATRE TO NEW AUDIENCES

Posted by Craig Morrow, 21st September 2015, 22:03pm

By their very nature, the arts are always evolving, finding new ways to present ideas, opinions, humour and emotions.

And as a venue, we have to adopt a similar attitude; if we want to increase access and provision to contemporary work then as a venue we have to do something different to punch above the noise and excite audiences enough that they want to take a chance on the new.

That’s why we will be welcoming the Roundabout Theatre to the city this month, a theatre company and a concept I became familiar with back in 2010, six months before I started at Lincoln Performing Arts Centre. I worked on a consultancy project for Paines Plough, looking at touring theatre in the regions, and it was felt that venues were struggling to afford to attract new plays, whilst touring companies often felt the theatre spaces were not the right size for the type of performances they wanted to produce. Sometimes, the problem is simply that there is not a theatre in the local town.

It was from these problems that the idea of a touring theatre that could pop-up anywhere was born. I was only there for the initial conversations but it sounded like an innovative idea and I’ve watched from the side-lines with interest.

I’ve always been interested in the role of new plays within our repertoire, but like many arts organisations outside of the larger metropolitan areas, the balance between new work and titles that audiences have heard of – and feel comfortable taking a risk on – is often skewed towards more popular events in a bid to bring in larger audiences.

Accordingly, we are always trying to think of things that might excite an audience enough to try something different. It’s something we’ve done with our Script This programme where local audiences get to vote on a ten minute extract of a new play, with the winning play going on to have further support from the venue.

These events have proved welcomingly popular. But they’re low cost and relatively low risk for the venue. When asking audiences to take a chance on a whole season of new plays that becomes a different matter entirely, as there is only a finite audience for new work. Programming more productions increases the chance that we’ll come up against a conflicting event somewhere, which might be a more familiar and safer bet for audiences to spend that hard-earned money on.

At the end of September the Lincoln Performing Arts Centre will host Paines Plough’s innovative touring amphitheatre, Roundabout. This flatpack theatre-in-the-round can be put up in just 24 hours and tours with a rep of critically acclaimed plays such as Duncan Macmillan’s Lungs, Fringe First winner Alexandra Wood’s The Human Ear and Our Teacher’s A Troll by Dennis Kelly (the writer behind West End hit Matilda The Musical). There’s never been anything like this in Lincoln and we’re very proud to have been able to arrange this unique visit, as it’s a very special experience.

This sort of space provides just the right sort of context in which to try something different. We’ve scheduled our own performances that reflect the spirit of the type of work we try to present at the venue. From stand-up comedy, music and family shows, to script readings and fully staged performances of work developed in Script This – we’re adopting the ‘there’s something for everyone’ approach – placing our focus on generating a buzz around the experience of attending an event regardless as to whether it’s new writing or not.

Moreover, by filling the campus square outside the venue with outdoor seating, festoons, bunting, a bar and performance area programmed with live music, we’re looking to turn a dead space into a place where audiences will want to spend time.

By animating the square and encouraging audiences to make use of an area that is traditionally a bit of a no-man’s-land, we’re hoping to generate a welcoming festival feel. Festivals are undoubtedly a great way of breaking down barriers to participation, opening up traditionally inaccessible art forms and bringing communities together. The Roundabout tour definitely feels like a unique enough talking point to build a festival around, we really hope to raise the profile of contemporary work in Lincoln.

In a year full of public celebrations across the city, from Magna Carta and Festival800, to the biennial Frequency Festival Of Digital Culture, it feels like the right time to be hosting this pop-up theatre festival.