Amanda O'Reilly - 2017 blog posts archive
Head of Culture
Amanda has stopped her weekly postings, but you can still read her stories here ...
Amanda O'Reilly, Head of Culture for Adur & Worthing Councils, has worked in arts management for over 20 years, having played pivotal roles in venues as varied as Watersmead in Rickmansworth; West Yorkshire Playhouse; Yorkshire Dance Agency; Queen's Park Arts Centre in Aylesbury and Spring Arts Centre in Havant before moving to Worthing Theatres in 2012.
You can read Amanda's archived 2017 blog posts below - or read her current blogs for this year ...
As the Councils' head of culture, Amanda not only oversees theatres but Worthing Museum too. This week she hands over the blog to James Sainsbury, our museum curator of archaeology, to give an insight into his work and the collection.
My role as Museum Archaeologist is varied and no day is ever the same. We are very lucky in Worthing Museum & Art Gallery to have an extensive collection of archaeological material from the local area and further afield.
The Downs above Worthing are littered with prehistoric sites, in particular the Neolithic flint mines at Blackpatch, Cissbury, Church Hill and Harrow Hill, which date back to around 4500 BC. However, the oldest piece in our collections dates back nearer to 480,000 years ago, when an early hominid species known as Homo Heidelbergensis roamed Sussex alongside lions, wild horses and even rhinoceros!
We have recently completed a digitisation project in the archaeology galleries, with four wall-mounted tablets available for public use. These contain an interactive database of archaeological finds in Sussex, as well as amazing aerial videos of our most important sites such as Cissbury Ring.
These displays are particularly useful for those who might not be able to travel up onto the Downs, or for tourists looking to get an idea of our local landscape hotspots! We aim to add a photographic database of the archaeology collections and even a quiz to these tablets in the near future!
If I was forced to choose one particular item as my favourite it would have to be the Highdown goblet. This glass vessel was found at Highdown Hill within the Anglo-Saxon cemetery in the late 19th century. It is a unique object, and a rare survival of sophisticated glassware from the late Roman Empire.
Etched into the glass are two hounds chasing a hare, with Greek lettering around the rim which translates to “Use me and good health to you”. Perhaps it was reserved for particularly good wines? What I find particularly fascinating about this item is that it was made in Alexandria, Egypt, around 400 AD, and then must have travelled across the decaying empire to end up on a prominent hill along the south coast of England…if only the goblet could speak, what wonders would it have seen.
Photo: Wall mounted tablets containing an interactive database.
Once Halloween and Bonfire night have been and gone, it suddenly starts to be the busiest time of year for the theatre especially the technical department. When someone asks you what you do at this time of year you answer “Its Pantomime Season” and the normal response is “Oh no it isn't!”.
Even before the magical show's doors open to the public it takes two weeks of hard work and rehearsal to create the fun and laughs, the boos and hisses that you see on stage.
The panto technical team, lead by Matt Pike, start with a blank canvas, an empty theatre and transform it into a magical enchanted forest. It all starts on a crisp morning on a slightly windy seafront, opening the back of a huge lorry to see an explosion of glitter all over the place. Even before they touch any of the set the tech guys are covered.
The set arrives in so many pieces with bags full of scenery cloths which seem like a giant jigsaw puzzle to be put together with pins, bolts and screws. So they unload the lorry into the auditorium into piles of woodland, witches castle, village houses and a cottage that will be the home of the dwarfs and Snow White for the next six weeks.
This is when the fun begins, with the first task being dropping the speakers and PA system ready to rehang at the front of the stage while a few of the crew start moving staging to build the home of the band - the pit in-front of the normal stage.
Lifting and shifting sections of steel staging into place to create the subterranean home of the musical director and the rest of the band. A dark place located at the front of the stage under the feet of the dancing ensemble and all the slapstick routines of the Dame and Muddles.
Once that's complete a quick break for lunch and then on to the first thing the audience see as they enter the auditorium, The Front of House Proscenium Arch. A huge structure made from 17m of Aluminium Truss, nearly 40m of Red Serge Fabric, wood and what looks like a ton of Glitter.
This involves four members of crew on Chain block winches to bring in the truss and the other four members running around connecting the flats, curtains and PA system to it before it is winched out to its full height, where it stays for the next six weeks. Their skill and years of experience means the team have it hanging in exactly the right place, matching the ground plan within a couple of hours.
That's the end of day one of the Panto Get in.
A further 10 hours of work and seven more days of building and rehearsals before the show opens is required. Hard work but very rewarding when they hear the cheers and shouts of all the children and adults as they watch the story unfold with dancing, singing and a huge amount of audience participation.
I firmly believe Worthing Theatres have one of the best tech teams in the country and certainly the compliments from visiting companies are frequent. Panto is when they come into their own. But it is a long run and hard physical work. So when you are wondering if you can fit in one more mince pie on Boxing Day, spare a thought for our tech guys who will be flying cloths, shifting sets and calling crews and still with more than a dozen shows to go.
Photos: Hard at work creating the Magic behind Snow White
This week I've handed over the blog to Mark Gordon, Worthing Theatres' Deputy Marketing Manager to talk you through a project which ended h-apple-y ever after.
“We want you to make a giant apple for us ...”
This is the sort of statement that might make people think we spend our days in a strange Alice in Wonderland-esque parallel universe. However, in the world of theatre, questions like this are pretty much an everyday occurrence.
Thankfully, with Sadie Anderson and her students at Northbrook MET, we get no raised eyebrows, simply smiles and the response:
“Sure, no problem. Would you like it on a bed of snow?”
This is what they are training to do, the talented students are heading towards a career in prop making (though this might be their only giant apples ...)
Photo: Apple prop used in the show
The brilliant, mutually supportive relationship between Worthing Theatres and Northbrook MET has been clear throughout the duration of this project, there's no holding back, everyone is singing from the same sheet and it's a joy to be a part of it. The process is surprisingly simple, made easy by the Northbrook's teams ability to take our sometimes far fetched ideas and develop it in a new way whilst also giving us exactly what we need!
When Mark and Stephen (our ACE marketing duo) met the students for the first time to look at the design and go over samples, they were blown away by the work and particularly the preparation, everything laid out, samples clear to see and feel, with full explanations behind the choices. There are professional companies that don't work to this standard. The most impressive part of this process was when Mark queried an element of the proposed design - that was fine, no offence was taken and changes immediately suggested. It is that level of professionalism that will help these students excel in the future.
“How long is this going to take?”
Mark is hoping we can install this display before the show.
“You'll have it in three weeks.”
Fantastic! Sure enough, just before the October half-term began, the project was complete, a full month ahead of schedule. The apple is on display now at the Pavilion Cafe Bar and it is fabulous, clearly the eye-catching centrepiece that everyone will see when entering the venue. A massive thank you to everyone involved with the project.
Our relationship with the staff and students at Northbrook MET is fab across the board. We have fantastic ambassadors at the college who gather up groups of students and bring them along to see as much live entertainment as possible. Northbrook staff like Mike, Terri, Charlotte, Vanessa, Keryie, Matt and Sadie make working with the college a complete delight.
These students are the future for theatre, so long may this relationship continue ...
Photo: The fabulous giant apple on display in the Pavilion Cafe Bar
Last week it was announced that Worthing Theatres has been shortlisted for the LGC Business Transformation Award. We are beyond delighted!
The last four years has seen a dramatic change from poor tribute acts and tired, out of date comedians playing to ever decreasing audiences to the now rather sparkling programme packed with great theatre, impressive dance, thrilling circus and all of the best comedians with more and more sold out shows every year.
Add to this the wonderful programme of children's theatres, the popular pantomime and many a music focused good night out, and you must agree the venues are now really rocking and rolling.
The improvements and diversity of the programme is one of the key factors in the transformation but we have also completed a full restructure of the staffing, combining with the Museum team to make further savings and intensely managed each and every budget to maximise income and minimise costs. Work that has resulted in the Culture Department coming in just under its budget last year and maintaining that success in the current year.
What has made this transformation possible? A fantastic team of committed and hardworking people who live and breath the Theatres; determined marketing which has embraced social media and increased ticket sales across all genres; and, lastly, the courage to take risks and try something new.
We are ambitious and focused on change, always looking forward to the next area that we can improve.
The transformation has been impressive but we still have work to do. We are looking to programme more contemporary music gigs (a challenge with Brighton so close), we will finally be refurbishing The Pavilion toilets in January / February (yippee I hear you cry) and we have big plans for the Museum ... keep your eye on us, we will continue to surprise and hopefully delight you.
Photo: The Very Hungry Caterpillar
As far as the students at Northbrook MET College knew, this was just another Wednesday. Another day of classes, another day of the same old thing…
However, little did they know, a special guest would be joining them. Jo Brand, queen of the Extra Slice and comedy megastar, was visiting ahead of her show in Worthing that evening. She was working with students at the college to film footage for her special guest appearance in our pantomime Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
The funny thing was, not only were the students amazed by her appearance, but she was amazed in return, admiring the facilities available and she took a particular shine to the giant prop apple that was made by college students, saying it was the best giant polystyrene apple she's ever seen (quickly followed up with the fact it's the only giant polystyrene apple she's seen.)
Her charm and good nature was present for everyone to see. She was more than happy to take selfies with students and let them watch her filming. She also engaged with the students, asking questions, making sure they were happy with the footage, encouraging them to do more takes to ensure they got the best takes possible. Not only that, but her sense of humour brought a light-hearted ease to proceedings, keeping everyone comfortable throughout the afternoon.
With the filming done, Jo said goodbye to everyone, letting them know she would be having lunch on Worthing promenade if anyone was about. It's these moments that not only make our jobs a joy, but it creates fantastic experiences and memories for those who want to work in our industry in the future.
We have been working with Northbrook MET students on the last couple of pantomimes at the Pavilion and hope this is a partnership that will grow and grow giving the students the experience of working with professional performers and creating props and costumes for a professional large scale show.
We cobbled together a short video to give you a glimpse into our day. But I hear you ask, what was her performance like? Well, the show opens on 1 December, so there's only one way to find out…
Video: Jo Brand joins the Worthing Pantomine cast 2017
The world today is full of "Friends" who we spend little time with and, in many cases, have never even met. Despite hundreds of these "friends" loneliness is on the increase and we are all becoming obsessed by the two dimensional worlds of our telephones and tablets - you are probably reading this on just such a device.
My plea this week is for us all to increase our real world interaction. Meet up with real friends and go have dinner or even better see at show or film where you share a real experience with hundreds of fully functioning three dimensional human beings!
I know for some this is easier said than done, when you move to a new area or friends move away it can be difficult to find comfortable ways to socialise and make new relationships. Volunteering is a great opportunity to be part of a team, build friendships and more often than not give something back to your community. You make the place you live better and feel more like you belong in that place.
Did you know that Worthing Theatres has an active team of almost 40 volunteers who cover more than 60% of the front of house shifts each week covering all our live events and the extensive film programme? And that Worthing Museum has nearly 30 volunteers many of whom have really specialist skills?
Our volunteers are made up of all ages and types of people: students, retired professionals, job seekers wanting to keep their hand in and people still working that just love arts and heritage. There are many reasons that our volunteers give us their time, some people volunteer to try something new or to gain new skills to add to their CVs, others enjoy having the chance to meet new people, to be part of a supportive team or to further their interest in theatre, film or the museum collections.
If you are interested, full training is provided and you would work alongside our lovely teams who take good care of all the newbies. It is a great opportunity to support the venues, meet and socialise with like-minded people, watch brilliant shows or discover what goes on behind closed doors at the Museum. With only 15% of the collections on display there are many gems hidden in the carefully filed, acid free boxes!
Volunteers make up a huge part of our workforce and give up their spare time to help the day to day running of the theatres and museum in many different ways: front of house, marketing, distribution, conservation, gardening....
Not only that, but we have a brilliant reward scheme that all our volunteers automatically become part of. This includes free tickets to shows so you can bring family and friends along, afternoon tea at the Pavilion Café and even theatre vouchers which make perfect gifts for loved ones.
We are actively looking for enthusiastic and friendly people to join our ever growing group of volunteers, particularly as part of our customer experience team who perform a vital role in making sure all our customers have a great time when they visit. You don't need to have experience - just be keen to learn! With pantomime season just round the corner, come and be part of the team and impress the family with free tickets to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs!
We find there are many people who are interested in volunteering with us, but don't take that first step to find out more. We love answering questions about our volunteer programme so if you are interested, email us on firstname.lastname@example.org to get the ball rolling!
This October half term, Worthing Museum are preparing for Halloween and all things spooky by inviting children and young people to participate in a variety of creepy workshops. Last year's October half term workshops were a huge success, so we are aiming to raise our game and make this year's even better!
Anna, our Education Officer and the whole team of education workers, artists and volunteers pour their heart and soul into the workshops and events for October half term creating a plethora of spooky things for families to do this half term, we hope to see you there, vampire fangs optional.
This deeply creepy endeavour begins to unfold on Tuesday 24th October 2017 with SPOOKY PAPER MASKS! Children between the ages of 5 and 11 years can come and make something scary for just £5. 90 minutes of fun filled creating ... with no clearing up for parents!
Wednesday 25th October is DAY OF THE DEAD DAY. Anna has developed two workshops with this Mexican theme where children can make beautiful Mexican Day of the Dead Crafts out of recycled materials. If you are interested in joining, the morning workshop runs from 10:30am to 12 Noon for ages 7+ then after lunch from 2pm to 3:30pm we have a workshop for 12+ years.
In the evening we then have our delightfully haunting THINGS GO BUMP event. This hugely popular session which is run by our wonderful volunteer Museum Staff who have planned ghoulish goings on and more. There will be haunted houses, ghost stories and a ghost tour around the dimly lit Museum Galleries (oooooh) and we will provide a supper of nibbles - all included in the price of £10! Participants need to be between 5 and 9 years and wear their scariest fancy dress costumes.
The spook-fest continues on Thursday morning (26th October) and offers another gem of a workshop: ALL THINGS GOTHIC is an opportunity to make some spooky accessories for your Halloween party.
If you want more details please visit the Worthing Museum website or call us on 01903 221448
It often surprises people to find out that Worthing Museum & Art Gallery holds a number of significant art works by influential artists, particularly from the 19th and 20th centuries.
The most celebrated schools represented in the collection include the Camden Town and London Group, the Pre-Raphaelites and the Newlyn School, all of which had a strong influence on the changing styles of British Art over the last 150 years.
Pieces by artists William Holman Hunt, Walter Sickert, Lucien Pissarro, Dame Laura Knight, Thérèse Lessore and Stanley Spencer, as well as contemporary painters including John Bratby and Ivon Hitchens are all well-loved and celebrated elements of the Worthing art collection.
This wonderful collection needs to be cared for and the term 'collections management' covers a multitude of care duties such as conservation, location and movement control, environmental monitoring, insurance valuation, art handling, assessing loan requests, dealing with facilities reports and organising couriers and transport, all of which is overseen by our Art Curator Emma Walder.
We have a temperature and humidity controlled fine art store which has air conditioning units to keep the work in a stable environment.
To help us monitor the conditions we have small data readers in most stores and display areas which give us regular readings.
This information is required if we want to borrow pieces from other museums or galleries and we ask for the same information from the many museums and galleries that request loans from us. You'll see the yellow data readers in various places around the museum. There's currently one in the main art gallery hanging above the paintings at one end of the room.
Photo: One of the yellow data readers on a wall in the museum
We regularly deal with loan requests from other museums and galleries who are interested in exhibiting items from our collection, and this generates a surprising amount of work. Recently we loaned two paintings, Keith Henderson's The Harbour Crowd and All the Fun of the Fair by Ernest Procter to the National Galleries of Scotland which formed part of the hugely successful True to Life: British Realist Painting in the 1920s and 1930s.
Photo: Keith Henderson's The Harbour Crowd and All the Fun of the Fair by Ernest Procter
The first assessment Emma made before approving the loan was based on condition reports for each painting which begins by taking a detailed look at the pieces, particularly at the surface of the painting as well as the backing and the frame.
Sometimes the piece may require specialist conservation before it can be loaned if it is not robust enough to travel or isn't in good enough condition to be displayed, if this is the case we obtain estimates from an outside conservator and ask the organisation we are loaning the piece to, to cover the cost.
If it's simply a case that the work needs cleaning then Emma will manage this in-house, even in the environmentally controlled stores its amazing how much dust collects on the surface over the years.
This is much easier with two people, one person can use a brush to carefully dislodge dust and the other can carefully vacuum the residue that comes away. After that it may be necessary to use a cotton bud or cotton wool with tiny amounts of distilled water to further clean some areas. It's a very time consuming task!
Photo: Cleaning and conserving a painting
During the clean the team look out for signs of bugs, their larvae or shedding residue as well as cracks or uneven marks to the surface paint with a technique called raking light.
Once the loan has been approved we also provide images and information from our history files. These two paintings featured in a catalogue to accompany the exhibition in Scotland which they had to have printed a second time due to high demand. The exhibition was a huge success making the team's hard work worth the effort, thousands of people were able to see these paintings and discover that they belong to Worthing Museum.
See also: Worthing Museum & Art Gallery website
Barney Warrington is responsible for the smooth running and constant development of our venues hiring department. This week I have asked him to give some insight in to what we do....
At Worthing Theatres we are lucky to be the custodians of some quite amazing historic venues and when they are not being used to stage shows we book in every year they are all available to hire. All venues have their own special features which make them unique and can lend a magic spark to any event.
If you have attended theatre shows in the Pavilion Theatre or Assembly hall you may not realise that hidden beneath the seats at both venues are fully sprung dance-floors. If you have only visited during the day you may not realise how stunning the views from the Pavilion Café Bar are at dusk and if you have never attended a backstage tour you may not realise the Connaught Theatre comes complete with its own ghost.
The uses our venues can be hired out to are limited only by the imaginations of the people hiring them. Earlier this year the Assembly Hall was hired for Worthing's very first 'Comic Con' when it was filled with giant Pokémon and attended by Colin Baker, the sixth Doctor Who. Also this year, The Pavilion Theatre was hired by a local employer for a Black-Tie Summer Ball which saw the venue turned into an old-style circus big top complete with Ring Master and acrobats.
The organisations which hire our venues are as diverse as the events they put on. They involve local community groups, sports clubs, schools and colleges as well as orchestras and theatre companies (both amateur and professional) and commercial organisations staging everything from conferences and trade fairs to staff Christmas parties. The venues are also often hired by local faith groups or for private family events such as wedding receptions and henna parties.
All of our venues are from time to time hired by music promoters to stage concerts. During the 60s and 70s The Assembly Hall played host to some of the greatest names in rock music including The Who, Pink Floyd, Genesis, and David Bowie to name just a few. Pop and rock concerts show off our venues really well and is something we have been encouraging more of this year. The Assembly Hall has just played host to Justin Hayward who was returning after he first played the Assembly Hall with his band The Moody Blues in the Summer of 1966 and we will soon to be welcoming back Graham Gouldman 34 years after he last performed in Worthing as lead singer of 10CC.
We have also had booking s this year from acts that came to fame in the 80s including Nik Kershaw and Shakin' Stevens; the 90s with Soul II Soul and The Levellers; plus contemporary acts including Ward Thomas and Newton Faulkner.
These gigs not only bring in essential money towards running and maintaining the venues, they bring additional visitors to Worthing and they offer the chance for local people to see international acts on their doorstep. We are building our relationships with both local and national music promoters and hope to bring more and more live music to Worthing in the years to come.
(Photo Credit Jack at TOTEM)
(Photo: Shane Filan in Worthing)
This weekend I went to the Out There street arts and circus festival in Great Yarmouth as part of the Coasters Arts Council funded project and whist the professional Xtrax conference element was fantastic, torrential rain meant many of the events in the park simply couldn't go ahead.
I have been considering a series of outside events on the Saturdays throughout August in Worthing for 2018 but I have to be honest, this experience initially made me somewhat nervous. The weather is out of our control and the companies would still need to be paid. Luckily the very long train ride home gave me time to think about the work I had seen which was inspiring, colourful and great fun.
In August we hosted Vertical Dance Company performing on the side of Grafton Car Park with an audience of close to 1200 people watching from the prom (plus a few on the passing double decker buses).
The response was fantastic and most interesting for us these were not people who necessarily attend the Theatres. Free outside entertainment is literally open to all and is an incredible opportunity to develop an entirely new audience.
Our Circus programme has been extremely popular over the last three years and we have grown the audience at an exceptional speed. But a large percentage of those audiences have crossed over from another genre of our programming or have moved from Brighton and are now enjoying the local cultural offer. Street Arts and outside circus performances give us a chance to really integrate with our community in a new way and after all, people are the reason we do everything we do.
So we will be brave and seek the funding to put on free, outside events throughout August 2018. I have learnt a few lessons: firstly we can estimate a start time but must be willing to fit in with the weather on the day; we must make sure the performers have somewhere warm and dry to change and eat; and lastly don't go to Great Yarmouth in just a leather jacket, you will end up spending a fortune on water proofs!
We are very lucky, if sunny Worthing really lets us down and we have an August day with continuous rain - we can clear the Pavilion and bring the performance under cover. But let's not be pessimistic, let's dream of long, hot summer days full of acrobats, jugglers and clowns.
Photo: Right Now artwork on Worthing's Grafton car park (from south east)
Photo: Vertical Dance created HOST, performed by 3rd year students from Ciramedia on Grafton Car Park
Monday was pantomime press day. This is the first time the cast meet each other and the Worthing Theatres team, and we know from experience that a happy cast give the best performances.
Happily this year's bunch of celebs and performers hit it off wonderfully and the Connaught was filled with laughter and fun.
Press day is jam-packed, we only have the cast for this one day before rehearsals start in November so we have to:
- Give the cast a tour of the venue
- Film the full length Panto trailer
- Try the full range of costumes on each performer and note any changes
- Take a range of photos ready for our social media campaign
- Film short interviews with each cast member
- Record the voice overs and pre-recorded press and radio interviews
We break for lunch when the WT staff get to meet the cast but this is only for an hour before we start again with interviews booked with radio stations and local newspapers. We finished in time for the cast to take a walk along the seafront before checking out their local digs.
So what did we find out about our performers? Chesney Hawkes is simply the loveliest man who is devoted to his family, Richard David-Caine and Joseph Elliot from CBeebies Swashbuckle are hilarious, we couldn't forget Richard's brilliant Jack Frost from a couple of years ago and now we have twice the laughter with Joe joining the team. Cassie Compton is the image of Snow White with a beautiful voice, Niki Evans will dominate the stage as the wicked queen (start warming up those boos). We also have our tap dancing Dame Simon Howe back from last year and the prettiest woodland fairy.
What is next for the panto project?
During the next couple of weeks we will be recording Jo Brand as the mirror at Northbrook MET College and holding auditions for our three teams of dwarfs.
Panto Auditions: If you have a talented child aged between 9 and 12, boy or girl, then bring them to the Pavilion Theatre on the Sunday 24th September 2017 at 10am, you can find out more about the Panto auditions on the Worthing Theatres website.
Photos: Amanda with Cassie Compton (Snow White) and Chesney Hawkes (the Prince)
Video: Photo-shoot with Worthing Pantomime Cast 2017
Photo: The cast of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
The culture team have some exceptionally talented individuals so I thought this week I would hand over to one of our brilliant officers - James Tully is our film officer who programmes and markets the films at the Connaught, successfully managing one of our biggest strands of income. Over to you James, Amanda.
Being a life-long film fan I can honestly say I love my job! Learning the intricacies of the UK film exhibition and distribution sector has been a fun ride.
That said, programming a cinema is the sort of job that everyone thinks they can do and they tell me that on a regular basis!
I still live by William Goldman's famous Hollywood adage “NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING”, no-one can truly predict how an audience will react to a film.
I've seen great films flop and terrible films become huge successes - there really is no formula for it. Colleagues still remind of the time I predicted that Cowboys Versus Aliens would be a bigger hit than The Inbetweeners Movie ...
We try to cater for all audiences at the Connaught and as such program a varied film line-up.
Meaning we will play documentaries, foreign language films, anime, classics as well as playing Theatre events broadcast from around the world and welcoming directors and cast through the doors to discuss their films.
We love to challenge our audience by playing less mainstream fare than the usual multiplexes - In the last month alone we have played a Turkish documentary about street cats, Japanese animation, 1980s classic The Lost Boys, indie movies, museum curated guests, big blockbusters and live music from Maastricht, As such, festival season is great as you get to hear about all the brand new releases that will be coming out over the next year or so. Industry feedback on films is of vital importance for programming and advance word on films.
Being a film fan I often want to screen some of my favourites in the cinema, but it's not quite as easy as that. You always need a reason to screen films in order to catch people's interest.
I love that in contrast to theatre programming film programming can happen relatively quickly, for example when great film stars sadly pass away we can play tribute screenings within a couple of weeks and appreciate their work on the big screen where it is meant to be seen. One of my favourite nights on the job was just last year when we welcomed Anthropoid director Sean Ellis to the Connaught for a screening of his film and a wonderful Q&A afterwards, then as soon as it was finished I ran straight up to the studio to watch our cult screening of Big Trouble in Little China, which was full of fellow film geeks enjoying a great classic.
Photo montage: James with some of his movie picks ...
Stand up comedy has been a stunning success for Worthing Theatres with an increase in income of 277% for this strand of work in the last three years.
We've had an array of comedians performing in Worthing - Dawn French, Alan Carr, Tim Vine, Stewart Francis, Sean Lock, Sarah Millican, Jimmy Carr, Ross Noble, Russell Brand, Sara Pascoe, Jo Brand and Paul Chowdhry are just some of the names who have sold out.
A stand up comedy night is usually a pretty straight forward gig for us - tickets sell quickly, sometimes sold out within a couple of hours of our first social media tweet, technically it is often just a microphone, sound system and upbeat moving lights to create a party atmosphere. There are exceptions like Ross Noble with his huge inflatable set.
Comedians generally arrive an hour or two before the show starts, just in time for a sound check and to get in the zone. They often have a rider that specifies exactly what they want in the dressing room - I couldn't possibly tell you who wanted the scented candles and pink fairy lights! Dawn French listed her ideal rider in a magazine just weeks before coming to Worthing so we managed to surprise her by tracking down every item. Sarah Millican brings her Schnoodle 'Tuvok' so we did a mini rider for him (I have a Schnoodle called 'Hubble' so have a massive soft spot for that breed of dog).
Occasionally comedians have to change dates due to TV commitments - Susan Calman will now be postponed to 2018 because she is performing on Strictly and Jo Brand had a date change to allow for the filming schedule for An Extra Slice.
We programme the big names that are seen on TV but also partner with Matt's Comedy Club who programme the up and coming stars of the future. These nights are also family friendly with no bad language or racy content, catch the next one on the 17th October 2017 when they host The Noise Next Door.
We love stand up comedians so much we try to get one in our pantomime each year, last year we had the unforgettable Patrick Monahan as Hook (coming to us with his stand up show on the 27th January if you need another injection of his energetic crazy). This year we have Jo Brand as the mirror in Snow White, filmed by Northbrook College students.
An interesting fact, Worthing Theatres has two stand-up comedians in our staff team, Amy is part of the front of house crew and James our film officer recently performed at the Edinburgh Festival. What a talented bunch.
We live in strange times so a great night out full of laughter is just what we all need, bring on the jokes!
Photo: Alan Carr, Russell Brand, Sarah Millican and Stewart Francis are among the acts that have sold out
I write this on my fourth day at the Edinburgh Festival, literally standing in a queue outside the Assembly on the Mound waiting to see Transit by Flip FabriQue.
This is my fifteenth year and it is just as colourful, creative and crazy as the first time I came.
The hills feel steeper and the bed in student hall of residence seems a little less comfortable - but that is really just due to my being fifteen years older (I was practically a child on my first visit - honestly)
2017 has been a good year and I still have three days of shows to go.
I have been moved to tears by The Nature of Forgetting by Theatre Re, Mother's Ruin felt like a party, Sue Perkins was candid and warm (do you know Sue and Mel are working on The Generation Game? It was news to me...), Fleabag was incredible and darkly horrifying.
The best performance for me has been The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk by Kneehigh which told the story of Chagall - exceptional performances from the small cast, amazing set and costumes and a musical score that carried the performance through the ecstasy of love to the despair of loss and beyond to a place of acceptance - I loved it completely.
It is undoubtedly a privilege and a thrill to spend a week here but it also directly affects the cultural programme for Worthing.
Each year I book between eight and 12 shows directly after seeing them at the Festival.
I see an average of eight shows a day (eleven is my peak) and if I had to see them on individual nights in London it would take 48 days and cost over £2,000 in train fares alone.
Just as important are the shows I see and choose not to book - almost any company or performer can have a year when they just don't make the magic happen.
I see nearly fifty shows in about thirty different venues. It is a crash course in venue management, technical possibilities and the fierce competition to sell tickets.
During the week I also manage to touch base with fellow programmers and creatives. Many a project is born out of a late night after a show at the Edinburgh Festival. In 2016 I had a quick supper with Nick Young from Bristol-based Circamedia and the Gratfon Carpark Vertical Dance project was born.
I will return to Worthing inspired and informed, having been challenged, filled with creativity and the courage to programme exciting new work.
Photos: Direction finger post to shows (left) and the 5 star and 4 star not to miss board (right)
Angels among us...
Last Saturday (12th August 2017) something wonderful happened in Worthing, a culmination of weeks of work resulted in an aerial dance piece performed on the side of the Grafton Car Park.
This is the first time Worthing Theatre has commissioned a piece of work and certainly the first time we have managed a project with a risk assessment as thick as the yellow pages! Vertical Dance created HOST inspired by the film Wings of Desire (which also inspired City of Angels in 1998) and performed by third year students from Circamedia.
The marketing campaign running up to the event was certainly one of our most creative with graffiti wings on half a dozen buildings across town, a series of photos on social media titled Angels Among Us, pavement posters and beautiful gold tipped feathers replacing the usual flyers. This attention to detail paid off with more than a thousand people coming down to the prom to watch the free show.
With outside, non ticketed performances there is so much more to consider - will enough people come, will too many people come, will the sound system be loud enough, will a bus park and block the view and most importantly will it rain! On Saturday the event was problem free and the clouds parted giving us blue sky and sunshine. The performance was just 15 mins long and beautifully choreographed and very well received by the enthusiastic audience.
Thank you Arts Council for funding this project and thank you to the team who really went the extra mile to make it all happen.
For me personally the highlight of the day was being on the Prom and chatting to families, joggers, dog walkers, day visitors even a few groups of teenagers ... everyone was delighted to have something different happening on the seafront and interestingly everyone I spoke to loved the Grafton Graffiti Art and wanted it to stay.
I am already considering outside events for next year and looking for funding so we can make them free - a huge purple whale ... a hot air balloon ... Victorian ladies on the roof of the Pavilion Theatre. Keep your eyes peeled in the summer of 2018 because we plan to get more creativity and bring more fun to the prom.
Photos: Vertical Dance created HOST, performed by 3rd year students from Circamedia, on the side of the Grafton Car Park
Photo: The public watching Vertical Dance on the side of the Grafton Car Park from the seafront promenade
Let the light in ...
Worthing Museum is a beautiful building with an incredible costume collection, one of the strongest local archaeology collections and a wonderful and very knowledgeable staff team who seem to have endless time for our visitors. However our Museum is far from achieving its potential and is very overdue for a redevelopment that will show both the collections and architecture of the building at their very best.
We are starting work on developing a concept that will focus on letting daylight back into the exhibition spaces. Many of the windows are currently covered and there are several beautiful roof lights that are boarded up. Imagine how wonderful the collections would look with sunlight flooding through the spaces.
Now I know some readers will be worrying about the artefacts but technology means we can install glass cases with UV filters that will protect the dresses, jackets, gloves, hats and knickers from fading in the daylight. Have you seen the Chanel dress on loan from the V&A, it is stunning and displayed in one of our new UV protected cases (see photo below).
This week we have been talking to architects to consider the possibilities for Worthing Museum and Gerry (Senior Museum Curator) and myself can hardly contain our excitement. So much of the beautiful building is not currently accessible for our visitors which means we have the space to display a lot more of the collection - did you know less than 15% is on show at any given time.
Costume is the largest of the collections and we are working on a Costume Research Lab that will allow access to the thousands of pieces in storage for students of textiles and design and independent makers. We will incorporate workstations for pattern cutting, 3D photography and a 3D printer.
We also want to make the wonderful work of our curators and volunteers part of the visitor experience with a Conservation Hub where you will be able to see pieces being cleaned and catalogued and can discuss the work.
This is your museum so we want to hear your thoughts - the museum staff are completing questionnaires and taking feedback from visitors so pop in and tell us what you think or email email@example.com. Do you agree the building needs more natural light? Would you like a cafe so you can enjoy a coffee and delicious cake in the museum garden? Let us know.
The next step for us is to investigate funding opportunities. Initial conversations with Heritage Lottery have been very positive so hopefully some of the images of incredible, light filled, inspirational exhibition spaces that are constantly floating through my mind will become reality in the next couple of years.
See also: Worthing Museum website
Photo: The Chanel dress on loan from the V&A
Photo: Worthing Museum
One of the most successful and popular areas of work in Worthing Theatres is our screen arts programme.
We screen regular performances from The Royal Opera House, the National Theatre, English National Opera, the Royal Shakespeare Company, Glyndebourne and many one off projects.
This really is a triple win - our audiences love it with over 12,000 tickets purchased last year; it brings in 22% of Worthing Theatres film revenue; and the company providing the screening make a huge income with hundreds of cinemas and theatres across the world screening the performance on the same evening.
When live screening was first established there were concerns about the effects it might have on live theatre but several years down the line is has proved to have a very positive impact.
The Royal Opera House operates at 98% capacity and there is simply no room for any more opera lovers at the venue so Live Screening brings the work to thousands more people.
Big theatre events in London often sell out months in advance so these shows give everyone the opportunity to see thrilling live theatre without a trip to the capital.
Recent sell-outs include Andrew Garfield & Nathan Lane in Angels in 'America' and Billie Piper in 'Yerma'.
For Worthing Theatres is enables us to offer a broad range of high quality performance on people's door step and works beautifully with our live programme.
For instance, did you know:
- Worthing Theatres has the second highest attendance in the country for the Royal Opera House season. Worthing loves Opera!
- Our technicians need to be well versed in satellite technology as Screen Arts comes to us live via satellite. There is no margin for error here and our satellite dish needs to be perfectly aligned to receive the broadcast, just 10mm out and the stream is lost!
- A National Theatre Broadcast is planned out months in advance and the cast work with a completely different director for the live element. Two filmed rehearsals are held so the director can place cameras for the best shots.
- Our busiest National Theatre screening was Benedict Cumberbatch starring in Hamlet. Over 800 people saw the performance at our venue.
- The bulbs in the projector used to show the Screen Arts performances cost in excess of £250 and are 75 times brighter than the bulbs in your house.
- The busiest Royal Opera House performance was The Nutcracker
- Andre Rieu is Worthing's favourite Screen Arts musician with over 1,700 people watching the Maestro in action.
- National Theatre is broadcast to over 2,500 venues in 60+ countries. Its biggest production (Hamlet) was seen by over 550,000 people worldwide!
I have my tickets booked for Yerma at the end of August. I tried to get tickets for both runs at the Young Vic but it sold out in the blink of an eye.
Thanks to live screening I will get to enjoy Billie Piper's incredible performance - who knew the girl who sang “Because I want to” all those years ago would turn into such a talent...
Photo: Billie Piper in Yerma at the Young Vic. Photo by Johan Persson
Photo: Madama Butterfly. Credit: Royal Opera House
We are in the midst of a hugely successful Summer of Circus but have to keep one eye on developing the circus programme for next year. 2018 is the 250th anniversary of the first ever circus, invented by Philip Astley in 1768 in the centre of London - like many cultural venues, Worthing Theatres are planning a full on celebration of all things circus.
This week we had a site visit from Mimbre - a stunning all female circus company. After seeing the Pavilion Theatre in the thrust circus layout and meeting the brilliant tech team and creative marketing team, they have agreed to have the international premier of their next show - Exploded Circus in Worthing as part of our Circus 250 in May 2018.
With technically complex, high profile shows we often meet with the company up to a year ahead of the performance to make sure we can fulfil the requirements of the company and to get an in depth understanding of the piece so we can make sure our audiences know what to expect.
We are in conversation with several other circus companies, particularly looking for performances for the whole family and something for the little ones - we should be able to announce the full line up by December this year.
In 2018 we are looking for more than the incredible circus performances. We are also seeking funding to curate an exhibition of the history of circus that can feed into our education programme.
Back to this year we still have the critically acclaimed version of Jungle Book by Metta Theatre at the end of August with skate boarding, breakdancing, beat boxing and fabulous circus - coming to Worthing straight after its run in London.
Photo: Mimbre Circus
It took four cups of tea but I finally lined up my Edinburgh Festival shows.
The Edinburgh Festival brochure has over 450 pages containing 3,269 different shows across 294 venues with over 50,000 individual performances in total - the biggest celebration of arts and culture on the planet.
It is a privilege to attend each year for a week in August and I thank HOUSE who fund my accommodation and the Coasters project that funds the travel as well as all the companies and performers who give me complimentary industry tickets. No time to eat so the cost is just many, many cups of coffee (OK I will be honest, there might be the occasional gin after dark!)
Back to the four cups of tea - deciding what shows to see and trying to predict what would work in Worthing and what this year's hot ticket will be, is a challenge. I start with booking tickets for children's theatre because the shows are always in the morning and generally see two a day - favourites this year are 'Peter Rabbit' and 'Arr We There Yet' (a pirate show). Next is the circus and dance section which is tough because I WANT TO SEE IT ALL!! Managed to limit myself to about nine shows including the new piece by Gandini and Fauna - both of which are on my shortlist for Summer of Circus 2018. I then work through theatre shows, comedians, a magic show and a cabaret about Gin!
41 shows booked over 6 days and I know I will add a few more in when I get there. By the end of the week I am exhausted with sore feet and a caffeine overload but also exceptionally happy to have been part of this incredible festival and able to bring some of its sparkle to back Worthing.
Photo: The Udder Belly tent
For some people Christmas is just a week in December but at Worthing Theatres we live and breath the pantomime season all year round - even during a heat wave.
This week we have finalised the poster and banner design making sure Chesney Hawkes has pride of place.
We confirmed Jo Brand as the mirror so arranging to record the film for this in September - delighted she has agreed!
We also have one of my favourite panto actors back this year - Richard David-Caine who played Jack Frost for us a couple of years ago (yes I did keep his cardboard cutout...)
I have been chatting with the production company over the script and have come up with new names for the seven dwarfs (we are not allowed to use the Disney names). We have:
- Whittle - he is the leader and takes care of the trees, loves to whittle spoons
- Twitch & Tufty - twins, one looks after the birds, one looks after the Squirrels (always has nuts in his pocket)
- FunGuy - looks after the mushrooms
- Petal - looks after the flowers (definitely a boy)
- Forage - a feisty girl who collects berries and roots and wants to be the leader
- TrashBag - the smallest dwarf with a huge bag of rubbish picked up from the forest
You can see we have a woodland conservation theme and are even considering the Evil Queen being responsible for fracking to power her fountain of eternal youth.
It is great fun to be involved in the creative side of the production and we aim to have a bespoke panto for Worthing. Tickets sales are already 30% ahead of last year so book quickly to get your favourite seats.
Photo: Amanda 'with' Richard David-Caine
10th July 2017: Gangsta Gran, crime writer Peter James and groundbreaking Circus - It's a busy time for Theatres
Welcome to the first of my weekly blogs in which I'll be trying to give you a flavour of what goes on in our theatres and cultural spaces.
I start each week with an overview of the programme, making sure we have a balance of events and performances throughout the year and across the genres.
At this point we have completed the full theatres programme for September to March 2018 and I am signing the final contracts, tying up any loose ends and overseeing the copy and design of the autumn / winter brochure. Big discussions on what should be on the front cover!
We are particularly excited to have booked Gangsta Gran for April 2018, following its successful West End run. This is a large scale show and we hope it will capture the public's imagination and sell like hot cakes!
Early in July is the first chance to interrogate the finances for the first quarter and I am glad to say we are currently exceeding the projections, helped by a sell out week of Peter James, great news but we have to keep on our toes and make sure every event is a success.
The staff offices have huge white boards showing the updated sales for the next three months and we brain storm marketing ideas for any event that is not hitting target.
We are in the middle of our Summer of Circus which launched with an incredible performance by Barely Methodical Troupe in mid June.
Although the programme was completed several months ago we still have to manage the logistics of each company arriving and completing their often complex get in ( the technicians really earn their money during this season!), manage the new public workshops and make sure the performers are fed and watered, have the crucial time and space to warm up and are generally happy - happy performers give the best performances.
I'll be back next Monday with more from our world of culture.
Contact Public Relations & Communications
If you have any enquires please contact:
- 07909 688 132 - Mike Gilson
- 07342 066 216 - Tim Ridgway
- 07795 504 983 - Talia French
Public Relations & Communications,
Adur & Worthing Councils,
Worthing Town Hall,