I’ve been touring to arts centers and theatres across the UK for 25 years now. I’ve been squeezed illegally in the back on vans smuggled across the country with huge backbreaking sets. I’ve walked around very comparable shopping malls in towns on cold winter’s days trying to burn time between the tech fit up and the show. I've got a mixture of accommodation stories from a B&B in Brighton that offered you a French cigarette with your breakfast, to a terrible place in Bedford where the door came off the night and the lights flashed on and off every hour.
I feel now in the arts we are at a tipping point. Audiences aren’t as frequent as they were, especially in new writing and more experimental work. They might flog in to see National theatre live, comedians etc, but it’s hard to get the audience to take a chance on someone or something they've never heard of. This is due to many things that I’m underqualified to comment on, but recently I went somewhere with a show and we got an audience of about 21 in 150 seated venue. The venue thought this was very good considering….
There are positives, of course, there has to be and my one example is Colchester Arts Centre.
I come from Colchester. I lived there from the age of 9 to 20 and I’m still a strong supporter of the Colchester United (for my sins). One of the biggest influences of me in becoming who I am today, whatever that may be, was Colchester Arts Centre
A beautiful church that survived over a hundred years through the English civil war, the burning’s of religious martyr’s outside it's walls and worse of all goth teenager hanging out drinking snakebite in the graveyard in the 80's. I first became aware of it in my early teens while attending the first of many summer school’s called GOAT (Getting your act together). Here you would have singing lessons, drama, dance and circus skills for two weeks. Then quick auditions and a musical show all done in the third week with a couple of performances. It was brilliant and I made lifelong friends. All made possible from £30 all in from the parents.
Through my late teens, I begin to hang out at the art center socially, Illegally drinking terrible alcohol in the graveyards and going to unique music events in the evenings. In sixth form college myself and local geniuses Damien Bell and Darren Gooding set up a theatre company and premiered new works there ( they are still doing excellent work ) and even ran a Comedy Impro night completely ripping off “Whose Line is it Anyway” once a month. The arts center was always welcoming to local artists and young creatives needing and recognising the importance of that vital experience at that age.
Since leaving Colchester in 1991 I have come back to the Arts Centre with other companies and with my own work over the last twenty years and it’s always like coming home. The brilliant work done by Anthony Roberts and the team is talked about throughout the country from artists in every genre. It’s a place where people love to go and perform. They provide a fascinating mixture of live events that is bold, pioneering and entertaining.
When you go with a show my experience has always been marvelous. You get a full house generally and you ego might think it’s because they’ve come to see your work, but the truth is they come to the venue because they trust it and it’s theirs. I think that relationship is a vital component going forward for every venue in the future of the arts.
They’ve just been awarded capital arts project grant and you can read about it all here. https://www.colchesterartscentre.com/news/news-categories/capital-bid-success/
Go there if you haven't and if you have been...carry on. I don't why I'm saying that because once you've gone through those doors there is no turning back. It grabs you and doesn't let go.