North York Moors Chamber Music Festival to go ahead outdoors at Welburn Abbey

Out on the moors: North York Moors Chamber Music Festival artistic director Jamie Walton. Picture: Paul Ingram

AN evolution as a much as a Revolution, after the ever-changing need to stay alert to Government guidance, the 2020 North York Moors Chamber Music Festival will go ahead. Outdoors.

The festival will run from Sunday (August 9) to August 22 in an open marquee sited in the grounds of Welburn Abbey, Welburn Manor Farms (YO62 7HH), between Helmsley and Kirkbymoorside, in Ryedale.

“Welcome to our Festival – ‘Revolution!’,” says festival founder, artistic director and cellist Jamie Walton’s buoyant latest newsletter. “We are pleased and relieved to confirm that we are going ahead as planned, observing the social-distancing regulations guidelines set for outdoor events.

“The welfare of everyone involved, audience included, will be thoroughly considered and planned for.

“The latest programme on the website, northyorkmoorsfestival.com, is the final version now, so please do check because certain works, in light of the change in venue, have had to change from the original launch.”

Originally, before the curse of Covid, Revolution! would have added up to more than 30 musicians, around 40 chamber works, in ten churches within the North York Moors National Park. Now, 34 works will be performed by 23 musicians at ten concerts in one location, under the concert titles A Hymn; Time Of Turbulence; Janus; Incandescence; Mystique; Transcendental; Voices; Vivacity; Towards The Edge and Triumph!. Full details can be found at northyorkmoorsfestival.com.

Explaining the choice of venue after the late Government U-turn on indoor spaces re-opening from August 1, Jamie says: “Due to circumstances, this year we are unable to perform within the churches (or any indoor spaces) available, so we have instead secured a 5,000-sq ft open marquee, with wooden floor throughout and acoustic panelling behind the stage, within the grounds of Welburn Manor.”

On song: Mezzo soprano Anna Huntley. Picture: Kaupo Kikkas

A separate garden can be used in the intervals. “This way we can ensure safety and adequate social distancing, as well as provide a unique experience within an area of outstanding natural beauty,” says Jamie.

For its theme of Revolution! in the festival’s 12th year of celebrating chamber works, the focus will be on and around the music of Beethoven – the “revolutionary” – and beyond to mark the 250th anniversary of the German composer’s birth in Bonn.

“Living through the French Revolution undoubtedly had a profound effect on this great composer and much of the repertoire we have chosen is to convey this triumphant spirit against all odds, which appears timely in light of recent events,” says Jamie.

“It seems ironic that for such a Titan, the world has been forced into relative (artistic) silence while it tries to control the pandemic, almost as if we are in tune with Beethoven’s very own debilitating deafness.”

Artists billed to be joining the Revolution cause are: Katya Apekisheva, piano; Naomi Atherton, French horn; Meghan Cassidy, viola; Christian Chamorel, piano; Claude Frochaux, cello; Rebecca Gilliver, cello; Matthew Hunt, clarinet; Anna Huntley, mezzo-soprano; Rachel Kolly, violin; Ursula Leveaux, bassoon.

So too are: Richard Ormrod, piano; Nikita Naumov, double bass; Tetsumi Negata, viola; Victoria Sales, violin; Charlotte Scott, violin; Simon Tandree, viola; Zsolt-Tihamer Visontay, violin; Jamie Walton, cello; Adrian Wilson, oboe, and Quartetto di Cremona (Cristiano Gualco, violin, Paolo Andreoli, violin, Simone Gramaglia, viola, and Giovanni Scaglione, cello).

Season tickets have sold out but tickets remain available for individual concerts, priced at £12.50 on 07722 038990.

Will Dick Turpin Ride Again or not at Grand Opera House? Qdos Entertainment panto decision upcoming for Berwick and co…

We’ll meet again…or will they? AJ Powell, Berwick Kaler, Suzy Cooper, David Leonard and Martin Barrass settle into the Grand Opera House auditorium at the launch of Dick Turpin Rides Again on February 14, but now Qdos Entertainment have a decision to make. PIcture: David Harrison

BUMPING into Martin Barrass last night beneath At The Mill’s magical open-air theatre tent at Stillington Mill set the mind to pondering the fate of his winter pantomime in York.

Will comic stooge Martin bounce back with Suzy Cooper, David Leonard and A J Powell in veteran Dame Berwick Kaler’s panto debut at the Grand Opera House this Christmas after their shock transfer to Qdos Entertainment from York Theatre Royal?

Here is the latest statement from Qdos, the pantomime powerhouse across the land, amid the continuing blight of Covid-19’s social-distancing requirements leaving theatres in the dark.

“We had been very clear that we required clarity from the Government regarding the re-opening of theatres by Monday, 3 August, in order for our pantomime season as we know it to take place,” the statement read.

Martin Barrass in his last York Theatre Royal pantomime role as Queen Ariadne in Sleeping Beauty. Picture: Anthony Robling

“Based on the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s reiteration last week that the Government won’t be providing further guidance on theatres operating without social distancing until November at the earliest, we are left with no choice but to begin the consultation process with our partner theatres about the viability of each show. This is a complex process and will take several weeks to complete.

“We are not immediately announcing the postponement of all shows, however plans will be announced by individual theatres and communicated to ticket holders in due course.”

Watch this space for Qdos’s decision on whether Dame Berwick’s pantomime comeback, Dick Turpin Rides Again, will or will not ride again. What will it be: pantomime or pandemime?

NEWSFLASH

QDOS Entertainment today cancelled their biggest pantomime outside London: the Birmingham Hippodrome production of Goldilocks And The Three Bears starring Jason Donovan.

Scuppered by the Covid-19 pandemic, the show is now re-scheduled for Christmas 2021, Donovan, co-star Matt Slack and all.

Qdos’s pantomime at the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, Sleeping Beauty, has been put to sleep too until 2021.

Blue Tree Gallery sets new opening hours to herald opening of Jill Campbell’s show

North Eastern artist Jill Campbell: Exhibiting at Blue Tree Gallery, York, in August and September

BLUE Tree Gallery, York, will mark the opening of Jill Campbell’s exhibition on Saturday by introducing temporary new opening hours.

The gallery, in Bootham, will be open on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 11am to 4pm.

Jill Campbell’s intuitive and soulful new paintings also are available to view online throughout the show’s run to September 19 at: bluetreegallery.co.uk/featured-artist-jill-campbell.

Fell Clouds 1, acrylic on canvas, by Jill Campbell

Jill, who graduated from the University of Sunderland with first class honours in fine art in 2014, is inspired by the landscape of the North East, where she lives.

“Most of my work is based on an ancient mining landscape called Cockfield Fell, where I walk nearly every day,” she says. “I use elements of what I see and combine these with my imagination to create my paintings.

“I’m fascinated by the fell’s strange, other worldly, abstract shapes defined by the morning shadows and framed by big dramatic skies. Its pools, pathways, mounds, dips and curves are my motifs.

Jill Campbell: “Fascinated by Cockfield Fell’s strange, other worldly, abstract shapes defined by the morning shadows

“I decide which shapes and colours to play with, then draw and apply layers of paint until I find balance and a painterly world emerges which celebrates this landscape.”

Jill, the third Featured Artist of 2020 at Blue Tree Gallery, has exhibited in such competitions as the New Light Art Prize at Ripon Cathedral, the Beep Painting Prize in Swansea, the RBSA Prize exhibition in Birmingham and the 2019 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in London. Coming up in October and November will be her show at Watermark Gallery, Harrogate.

Fell Clouds 3, by Jill Campbell

Poets aplenty take part in short films of readings and chat for SJT summer school

A plethora of poets for the Stephen Joseph Theatre’s online film project and summer school

NINE British poets are teaming up with Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre to present three short films showcasing their work.

Taking part are Toby Campion, Martin Daws, Hayley Green, Ray Hearne, Zara Jayne, Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan, Otis Mensah,  Nima Taleghani and Beverley Ward.

The three films will be online for a month from 5pm on August 11, 13 and 15, each marking the end of a day of Summer School classes from the SJT. Each one will feature three poets discussing their work and reading at least one of their poems.

Curator Nadia Emam says: “These films feature some fantastic poets from all over the UK, performing a couple of their poems but also including a short interview about them and their work.

“Viewers will get to watch a poetry performance, but also hear a little more about the journey of each poet, which I hope will be an inspiration to anyone curious about writing poetry and making a living from it themselves.”

The nine poetry videos and interviews have been shot individually under lockdown conditions and then edited and tied together into three films by Sheffield filmmaker Brett Chapman. 

Curator Nadia Emam also will lead an hour-long performance poetry workshop at 3pm each day at the Summer School. She was a member of the SJT’s Youth Theatre and is now an actor, poet and director in Sheffield, where she is a Crucible Theatre supported artist.

In addition to Nadia’s poetry workshop and the films, the SJT Summer School includes:

Tuesday, August 11:  Movement and street dance with Marcquelle Ward and puppetry with Andrew Kim, for nine to 13 year olds;

Thursday, August 13: Musical theatre with Alex Weatherhill and HowTo Do Accents with Alix Dunmore, for 14 to 18 year olds;

Saturday, August 15:  Conducting an orchestra (a beginner’s guide) with Shaun Matthew and public speaking with York-born SJT actress Frances Marshall.

Frances Marshall, pictured in Alan Ayckbourn’s Seasons Greetings at the SJT, will host a Summer School session on public speaking

Access to the poetry films is free. To watch, visit the SJT’s YouTube channel from  August 11 at: youtube.com/channel/UCUChChdq-MZrUIqOAhEIB7w.

The SJT’s online Summer School costs £18 per day for all three sessions. Individual sessions can be booked at £7 each. To book, go to: sjt.uk.com/event/1050/online_summer_school_

The poets in profile:

Toby Campion: Poet, playwright, former UK Poetry Slam Champion and World Poetry Slam finalist. His debut collection, Through Your Blood, was longlisted for the Polari First Book Prize.

Recipient of the 2019 Aurora Prize for Poetry, he has performed around the world, at  Glastonbury Festival and on The Arts Show with Jonathan Ross. He will   read Oyster and Nits.

Martin Daws: Active as a spoken-word poet for more than 20 years, performing in the UK, USA and Eire, delivering commissions and residencies and publishing two collections. He was Young People’s Laureate for Wales, 2013 to 2016, and will read Under The Slates, Weekend: Saturday Afternoon and Together.

Hayley Green:  Originally from Nottingham, now based in Scarborough, she performs across the UK and Europe. She teaches poetry and creative writing in schools, colleges and communities, using poetry and creative writing to explore self-harm, mental health, sexuality, gender and identity, often the focus of her own poetry and performance. She will read Changing Rooms and Playtime

Ray Hearne: His poem A Sing Song For Stainless Steel was cut into 14 benches in Sheffield city centre. Now he is working with a stonecutter in Barnsley to devise words for a Grimethorpe Trail.

His songs have been performed and recorded by the late Roy Bailey, Kate Rusby and Coope Boyes and Simpson. The Ballad Of Wentworth and Elsecar awaits publication in autumn 2020. He will read Werewolves Of Rotherham and Living On Broad Yorkshire Street.

Zara Jayne: Started writing at the age of ten when she had her first poem published in Cosmic. Her poems have appeared in the charity magazine Sense and in the book A Blind Bit Of Difference; a short play was put on at a London theatre.

She performed in Martha, Josie And The Chinese Elvis at the SJT in 2019 and will read Ghostlight and A Dirty World.

Zara Jayne, left, as Brenda-Marie, with Emma Churchill, as Josie, in Martha, Josie And The Chinese Elvis at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in 2019.

Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan: Educator, writer and poet from West Yorkshire. Her work disrupts narratives of history, race, knowledge and power, interrogating the political purpose of conversations about Muslims, migrants, gender and violence.

She works to provide herself and others with “the tools to resist systemic oppression by unlearning what society and the education system have instilled in us”. She will read British Values.

Otis Mensah: Self-proclaimed mum’s house philosopher and rap psalmist, offering an alternative take on contemporary hip hop and spoken word.

Shedding light on “existential commonalities through vulnerable expression”, he uses  aesthetic language to paint worlds of thought. Appointed the first poet laureate of Sheffield by former Lord Mayor and MEP Magid Magid, he will read Ode To Black Thought and Shifting Sands.

Nima Taleghani: Actor, writer and workshop facilitator. Theatre and screen credits include Romeo And Juliet and The Merry Wives Of Windsor(RSC), Hatton Garden (ITV) and Casualty (BBC).

A selector and London Ambassador for the National Student Drama Festival, Nima will read King Arthur and This City.

Beverley Ward: Writer, facilitator and coach who writes poetry, fiction and non-fiction and is passionately in love with the creative process of writing.

She has run writing workshops for adults and children for more than 20 years and has her own writers’ workshop in Sheffield and a retreat in Bridlington.

She has published poems, stories and two books: Archie Nolan: Family Detective, for children, and the memoir Dear Blacksmith. She will read What If, The Swing In An Empty Playground and Poem For Kids Leaving Primary School.

The curator: Nadia Emam was awarded a placement last year with the Regional Theatre Young Director Scheme at the SJT, where she curated the poetry evening Still I Rise, celebrating female poets. Her debut poetry film won the WEX Short Film Competition and was part of BFI’s Northern

What does “home” mean to you, asks Estabrak in Scarborough digital project

Homecoming digital artist Estabrak, pictured during a performance of a Live Projection Painting in Morocco in 2018

SCARBOROUGH residents are being asked to participate in a digital art project that explores what “home” means to them.

Led by the artist and former refugee Estabrak, Homecoming; A Placeless Place is the last of a series of lockdown digital commissions from Scarborough Museums Trust in response to the Coronavirus crisis.

Estabrak’s commission is designed to “bring together individual and collective experiences and connect diverse voices and realities from the varied communities of the town”.

Participants are invited to call, text or WhatsApp to leave a message of any length, in any language, around the concept of “home”. Messages can be left anonymously or with a name, age and language attached. Those unable to communicate verbally, or who would rather draw something, can share drawings or illustrations.

The messages will be incorporated into a film that applies concepts surrounding ultraviolet light and invisible ink.

Estabrak is keen to engage Scarborough voices with her own, interweaving individual and collective experiences while also relating these shared realities to recordings and photographs found in the Scarborough Borough Collection.

Homecoming – Social Experiment UV Light Reveal, by Estabrak

Her film will be available on the trust’s website, scarboroughmuseumstrust.com, and social media from late-August.

Estabrak says: “Anyone who resides in Scarborough is encouraged to take part in this project, no matter your experience – both positive and negative; no matter your understanding of what ‘home’ means – whether literal or abstract; whatever your age, race, class, size, gender/s, ability or orientation is. You are all welcome to share your experience.”

Homecoming is a multi-layered touring and participatory project that uses community engagement, film, sound and paint for cross-cultural exchanges around home, identity and displacement.

The project started in 2019 in Brighton and Hull and now its social experiment, Homecoming; A Placeless Place, will be introduced digitally to communities in Scarborough.

To take part, please call 07547 149229 by Sunday, August 16. Providing you have access to WiFi, or an inclusive data plan, all voice notes or images sent via WhatsApp are free. Depending on your data plan, leaving a voicemail also will be free – please check with your provider if you are unsure of this.

“As an independent multidisciplinary artist and progressive facilitator, I am committed to inclusivity, and to participatory arts practice that helps highlight visibility towards marginalised communities and everyday people,” says Estabrak.

Homecoming – A Placeless Place, Social Experiment 06, by Estabrak

“My practice is repeatedly engaged with water and often explores themes related to the intersectionality of my own identity as LGBTQIA+, Arab, mixed heritage, neuro-diverse, culturally Muslim and former refugee.

“Led by the emotive, my aim is to help re-humanise many de-humanised realities, while focusing on alternative ways of safe collaboration, understanding and exchange that encourage the sharing and dismantling of power, helping move towards racial, social, humanitarian and climate justice.”

In her work as an award-winning multi-disciplinary visual artist and filmmaker, Estabrak has been supported by the BBC, Wellcome Trust, Invisible Dust, University of Hull and Ocean Global Foundation. 

She has presented work to the United Nations and worked with numerous NGOs [Non-Governmental Organisations] in television and film, as well as exhibiting internationally and at Tate Britain and the Royal Academy of Arts in London. She also takes part in international fellowships and residencies, latterly collaborating with scientists and academics.

As well as Estabrak, artists Kirsty Harris, Jane Poulton, Wanja Kimani, Feral Practice, Jade Montserrat and Lucy Carruthers have created digital artworks for Scarborough Museums Trust this summer on assorted social media platforms and all are still available to view. More information on these commissions can be found at:  scarboroughmuseumstrust.com.

York Stage head outdoors for first time for three musical nights in Rowntree Park UPDATED

On fire: Emily Ramsden, when playing the Dragon in York Stage Musicals’ Shrek The Musical. PIcture: Charlie Kirkpatrick

YORK Stage are bringing musical theatre back to life this summer with their first ever outdoor show, taking over the Rowntree Park Amphitheatre for three nights from August 23 to 25.

“Combining a live band with a team of sensational professional singers, this socially distanced outdoor event will provide you with the musical theatre fix you’ve been craving,” promises producer and director Nik Briggs.

“Presenting a programme filled with all of your favourite movie-musical songs, be prepared to be amazed as our vocalists perform songs from Grease, Hairspray, Cats, Cabaret, The Greatest Showman, West Side Story and many more.”

Explaining the choice of programme, Nik says: “We decided to stay away from anything ‘niche’, although we’re renowned for bringing new pieces, as well as ‘blockbusters’, to the York stage.

“We wanted to keep it light, with singers of great quality singing songs of great quality, and a band of great quality, performing songs we all know so well, presented as a concert rather than as a staged performance, so it’s very much about the music. With lovely lighting, it’s going to look beautiful too, with Adam Moore, Lisa Cameron and Daniel Stephenson handling the technical side of the show.”

Joanne Theaker as Maria in York Stage Musicals’ production of The Sound Of Music. Picture: Charlie Kirkpatrick

Looking forward to restoring the sound of live music to Rowntree Park, Nik says: “We’re  so excited to be creating the city’s first musical theatre event post-lockdown. We have built up a reputation of leading the way with our programming and bringing the latest show titles to the city in spectacular fashion, and so when the go ahead for outdoor performances was given, we knew we had to make theatre somehow and somewhere!”

The Rowntree Park Amphitheatre, with its bandstand and grass bank, is a long-standing presence in York’s outdoor performance portfolio, but really should be utilised more often.

Nik holds up his hands. “I’ve never lived in that part of York, so I’ve not used Rowntree Park a lot, and because the amphitheatre is tucked away in the far corner, it’s almost a hidden gem,” he says.

“During lockdown, I thought, ‘‘I’m sick of all the bad news, I need to create some good news, and find a good way of working outdoors this summer’, and it was my partner who suggested this beautiful space.

“When we came upon it, my reaction was, ‘why are we not using this space already?’.  It’s perfect, surrounded by trees. It’s crazy that it’s not used more often when other performance spaces are over-subscribed.

Richard Upton as Stacee Jaxx in York Stage Musicals’ Rock Of Ages. Picture: Robin May

“So, we set about creating a concert of songs that will be the tonic we all need right now: family favourites from across the generations”. 

Under the guidance of York Stage’s regular musical director, Jessica Douglas, York Stage are assembling “some very special performers” who have all trained and worked professionally in musical theatre and have a wealth of British and international credits to their names.

All five have performed in York Stage Musicals shows too. Step forward Emily Ramsden, Ashley Standland, May Tether, Joanna Theaker and Richard Upton.

“We saw this show as an opportunity to support actors left out of work by the Coronavirus shutdown of theatres, who would previously have been making their money from performing,” says Nik.

Musical director and pianist Jessica Douglas will be complemented by keyboards, guitar, bass and drums in the band of five. She is leading rehearsals too. “We’re doing a mix of outdoor rehearsals, along with some things pre-recorded they’ve all been sent online to rehearse,” says Nik.

Ashley Standland as Phantom in The Phantom Of The Opera. Picture: Richard J Tampion

“When they get together, it will be for the least time possible, with two of three rehearsals per person, with the joint rehearsals being socially distant, singing at least three metres apart.”

Be assured, the safety of performers, staff and audience is “paramount” in York Stage’s planning of this three-day event.

“We’re remaining up to date and working to ensure everything we do is guided and informed by City of York Council and the current Government guidance as the event approaches,” says Nik. 

“We want to ensure we can provide audiences with a brilliant night of musical theatre, while keeping them safe and comfortable.

“Under Government guidelines for public performances, for this venture, we’re only able to work with performers who have trained and work professionally, so although the total number of performers may be reduced from our usual blockbuster shows, we can still guarantee a host of powerhouse vocals.” 

May Tether as Tracey in York Stage Musicals’ Hairspray. Picture: Tim Clarke

In order to make sure they can seat everyone and maintain suitable social distancing of two metres between groups, York Stage have taken the decision to sell spaces for a “Bubble Blanket” for families or support bubbles to sit in, rather than sell individual tickets.

“These spaces have been positioned to ensure there’s a minimum gap of two metres between the spaces in every direction, while keeping the audience three metres away from the performers,” says Nik.

York Stage are creating two sizes of “Bubble Blanket” spaces: one will hold up to three people; a larger one will accommodate four to six people. Please note, no actual blankets will be provided, so bring your own or a camping chair. “You can bring a picnic too, as long as you take away your rubbish,” requests Nik.

A one-way system will be in operation and the show will be 90 minutes straight through. “With no interval, we avoid any possibility of congestion,” reasons Nik.

The ticket price is £40 for the smaller Bubble Blanket; £65 for the bigger one, available online only at yorkstagemusicals.com and they MUST be bought in advance of the 7.30pm shows.

York Stage director Nik Briggs and musical director Jessica Douglas

York Stage have been anything but dormant through lockdown and beyond. “We’ve been doing Songs From The Settee online,” says Nik. “We thought there’d be four or five, but there were 11 in the end – we made a rod for our own back, but it was lovely to work with professional singers and musicians, and now we’re thanking them, and the technicians too, by doing the live shows.”

Meanwhile, York Stage School has continued to run through lockdown and beyond with online sessions. “We’re doing a summer school too, with sessions last week and this week,” says Nik.

“We’ve even had one student calling in from Estonia! Normally she stays with her grandma in York in the summer, but not this year, so she’s joining in from Estonia. We have just short of 30 students taking part, and we’re creating a ‘Zoomsical’, an online performance under licence, to show to family and friends in a premiere on YouTube on Saturday.

“The show’s called The Big One-Oh!, composed by Doug Besterman with lyrics by Dean Pitchford, and it’s an American high school piece that the licencees have managed to adapt to do on Zoom.”

Looking ahead, Nik says: “Hopefully, we can return to York Stage School lessons as normal in September, pending Government guidance.”

Harrogate Theatre to stay shut till 2021, so no panto, redundancy talks and what next?

Not so Happy Harry: Tim Stedman, pictured in the 2019-2020 pantomime Snow White, will not be taking to the Harrogate Theatre stage this winter in his 21st silly-billy role

HARROGATE Theatre will remain closed until 2021. No pantomime this Christmas and no safety net for up to 60 per cent of permanent staff, facing redundancy after an upcoming consultation period.

This hammer blow/”sensible action” comes despite Harrogate Theatre receiving £395,000 last month from the Arts Council England Emergency Fund, on top of Harrogate Borough Council funding, to cover losses incurred from March through to September.

And there’s the rub. Only until September, point out chief executive David Bown and chair of the board Deborah Larwood in this afternoon’s joint statement, despite being “extremely grateful” for the financial aid so far.

“Whilst we welcome the Government’s new Cultural Recovery Fund [£1.57 billion across Britain in grants and loans promised by Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden and Chancellor Rishi Sunak on July 5], we still require clarity as to what specifically we can access from the fund, having already been in receipt of Emergency Funding, and there is no certainty of success.”

The emergency press release carried an upbeat headline – “Our Safety Curtain is down for now, but we are still lighting the way for culture in Harrogate” – but behind that curtain, the unbroken reign of Coronavirus continues to stop play.

“Today we are announcing that the Safety Curtain will remain down at Harrogate Theatre until 2021,” the statement forewarns. “This has been an extremely difficult and very sad decision to make, but we feel it is the most sensible action under the current circumstances; not only to protect the safety of our audiences, volunteers and staff but to safeguard the future of Harrogate Theatre.”

In the wake of the Government postponing the re-opening of indoor performance spaces by a fortnight until August 15 at the earliest, and the even Grimmer Reaper blow of the Culture Secretary now saying that any possibility of a Government thumbs-up to theatres being allowed to return to full capacity will not be forthcoming until November…at the earliest, Bown and Larwood have declared their hand.

The still necessary curse of social distancing leaves them as glum as Cassandra. “Our business model relies on at least half of our auditorium being occupied to break even,” they say. “To produce our much-loved pantomime, we need to sell close to 90 per cent of our seats over two months of shows. With social distancing in place across this beautiful Victorian building, we can only fill 20 per cent of the auditorium. This is not financially viable.”

The heavy cloud of a possible second, wintry wave of Covid-19 hangs heavy over Harrogate Theatre, as indeed it does over all indoor theatre, serving as a killjoy to any planning. “Neither can we take the financial risk of paying for and then cancelling shows if the theatre is bouncing in and out of closure, due to possible quarantines or lockdowns,” warn Bown and Larwood. “Therefore, we are suspending or moving all planned activity for this year at Harrogate Theatre into 2021.

“As a direct result of the pandemic, and the dramatic loss of income associated with it, we have no other choice than to scale back the organisation and reduce our overheads in order to survive.”

What does that mean for the staff? “This means that we have been forced to make the incredibly hard decision to enter a period of redundancy consultation with our staff. At the end of this period, we may have to make up to 60 per cent of permanent roles redundant,” say Bown and Larwood.

“To make it through to next year, we will still need to continue our emergency fundraising campaign. Our audiences and the wider community have been incredibly supportive during these extraordinary times [raising more than £100,00 so far]. From the kindness of donations to the publicly led fundraisers, we have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and generosity shown towards the theatre.

“We accept our responsibility in this special town and must continue doing all we can to secure the future of the theatre. Thank you all for your help and commitment so far.”

Bown and Larwood are not down and out, however, and are looking to bounce back in 2021. “The majority of shows in our autumn season are moving to next year and Cinderella will be dancing at the ball in 2021. If you have tickets for a show during this time, we will contact you to let you know the rescheduled dates of performances.

“As you can imagine, this is a huge task for our small team, so please bear with us and where we haven’t been able to find a new date for you, please consider donating your tickets to the theatre.”

Harrogate Theatre is usually run in tandem with Harrogate Royal Hall and the Harrogate Convention Centre [formerly known as the Harrogate International Centre until a 2017 revamp], but the other two have been commandeered for the Corona war effort as a Nightingale hospital.

“We are working closely with the Harrogate Convention Centre and Royal Hall regarding the use of those venues as a Nightingale Hospital,” say Bown and Larwood. “The action at the theatre does not, as yet, affect these venues. However, we will contact bookers if and when shows are rescheduled or cancelled.

“Harrogate Theatre will also closely monitor what is an ever-changing global situation and will remain flexible to any changes in national policy or guidelines.”

Is there any sign of a silver lining or even autumn fruits? “While the Safety Curtain is down, we remain committed to making and sharing innovative theatre with audiences and participants and in autumn will launch an exciting socially distanced season of special performances and events, both in person and online.”

No details are being released to the media as yet, however. “Our White Rose Members will be the first to find out about these and will also get exclusive access to one-off events,” reveal Bown and Larwood. “Harrogate Youth Theatre and our Associate Artists will continue to be supported throughout the year. Although the doors might be closed, we will endeavour to light the way for the arts in Harrogate alongside our fellow cultural partners.”

To finish on a positive note: “We look forward to the day we raise our Safety Curtain and once again share the magic that live performance in our building brings,” say Bown and Larwood.

“While we understand the impact of this decision, as custodians of our organisation we will do everything in our power to safeguard the company to be able to entertain, educate and inspire for the next 120 years.”

In the spotlight…Joe Wawrzyniak, chair of Theatre @41 Monkgate, York

“Theatre has always been my passion and I realised that I had an opportunity to lead a team and make a difference to this incredible building and charity,” says Joe Wawrzyniak. Picture: Charlie Kirkpatrick, Kirkgate Photography

Why did you take on the role of chair for Theatre @41, Joe?

“As we were approaching last year’s annual general meeting, our incumbent chair, Jim Welsman, decided to step down and I agreed to take on the chair as a temporary role. Very quickly it became clear that there was a big job to do with the charity from an operational and developmental point of view.

“Theatre has always been my passion and I realised that I had an opportunity to lead a team and make a difference to this incredible building and charity.”

What does Monkgate mean to you?

“Creativity. Every experience I’ve had with Monkgate has been a creative one, from the very first moment I stepped foot in there with the University of York St John, to all the rehearsals I’ve been part of and then finally as part of the board of trustees. Creativity has been the one constant that remains.” 

York theatre-goers will know you from major roles in myriad productions but do you have any experience of theatre behind the scenes too?

“Surprisingly, I have lots of experience behind the scenes. I’ve stage-managed productions and directed many musicals and plays. My favourite musical was The Phantom Of The Opera, which I staged in 2014 – my favourite show and a great success.

“I’ve also worked professionally at York Theatre Royal and Square Chapel Centre for the Arts, in Halifax, in marketing and administration, so I have lots of experience and knowledge working for charitable organisations.

“Most notably, I worked at the Theatre Royal during their capital renovation project and some of their other major events, such as The Railway Children at the National Railway Museum, The York Mystery Plays in the Museum Gardens and their season in the round – I helped with the production of shows and front of house.

“For a long time, theatre was my whole life, having studied performance theatre at York St John, concentrating on live art and acting/directing.”    

What challenges have you faced since taking on the role of chair?

“The biggest challenge is running the charity with a full-time job too. The charity in itself has a heavy workload which impacts on people’s time. This is why it’s really important that we build our volunteer community so they can be part of the developments and to ensure that the charity is running effectively.” 

Joe Wawrzyniak, as Tick, left, starring alongside Jacob Husband, as Adam, and Alex Weatherhill, as Bernadette, in York Stage Musicals’ 2017 production of Priscilla Queen Of The Desert, The Musical at the Grand Opera House, York. Picture: Benedict Tomlinson

How did the board of trustees come together and how is it working?

“With a lot of hard work. Three of us were existing members of the previous board and everyone else was a new recruit.

“Because the profile of Theatre@41 is not as big as we would like, there was a challenge getting people to, firstly, know who we are and, secondly, understand why or how they could make a difference. Through a lot of networking, we have finally found a cohort of people who, day after day, make a difference to this charity.”

Who is serving on the board?

“Myself as chair, looking after all the governance of the charity and leading the board to achieve their short and long-term goals.

“Joanna Hird and Susannah Baines are joint secretaries; Joanna is responsible for administration and Susannah is responsible for our membership, though they do cross over a lot!

“Philip Barton is our treasurer, Jack Hooper is our marketing, branding and communications trustee; Alan Park is responsible for fundraising and business development; Kaeli Wishart is a new addition, responsible for our volunteer strategy, and Emma Godivala, of York Gin, is a trustee too.” 

What has the new board achieved already to fill you with pride?

“When you’re part of a project, it’s really hard to see the developments that you’ve made. So, when we wrote the annual report this year, I was astounded by how much we’ve achieved in such a short time. I’m proud of everything that we do as a board.

“Most of all, I’m proud of the team we have become and how we continue to operate. Achieving something of this magnitude is impossible with just one person. It can’t be done. You have to have an effective and engaged team… which we do.”

York actor David Bradley: One of the six Theatre @41 patrons announced in May

Game Of Thrones star David Bradley, comedian Rosie Jones, actors Karen Henthorn and John McArdle, former chairman Jim Welsman and founder John Cooper’s daughter, Felicity, became patrons in May. What do you hope they will bring to Theatre @41?

“I think the primary purpose of high-profile patrons is about raising our own profile. Part of our five-year strategy is to build the awareness of our charity and building. We face a disadvantage as we’re physically hidden from passers-by and then, secondly, we aren’t at the top of people’s minds when it comes to theatre spaces in York.

“We don’t want to be number one; this isn’t about stealing the audience from other venues, but we do want to be in people’s consideration when they’re thinking about theatre experiences, either as an audience member or as a hirer.

“We’re hoping that having patrons who are not only high profile but actively involved in our theatre will help raise our profile and attract people into our building.”

What do you want to achieve in the next year?

“Most importantly, we hope to re-open successfully and start to build our hires again to ensure the financial stability of the charity. That is our first goal.

“After that, we’re focusing on creating a comprehensive pack of governing policies to ensure that we’re  operationally effective; building a bank of volunteers to help us with the day-to-day running of the charity and venue; building a brand identity to make sure our name lasts long into the future; looking at our artistic offer and raising funds for our roof. These are just a few of the many tasks we have to achieve.”

What would you like the brand identity of Theatre @41 Monkgate to be?

“We want our identity to exhibit creativity. Our tagline is ‘Just Add Imagination’ and our identity should reflect that. However, we also want it to incorporate our history. We shouldn’t forget where we have come from and we have a great story to tell.”

How has the Covid-19 lockdown affected your plans?

“Aside from our theatre being closed, lockdown has, in a strange way, let us to concentrate on a lot of activities that we were struggling to complete when our building was open. So, actually, in one way it has positively affected our plans and given us the breathing space we needed to carry on with building the foundations of this incredible charity.”

The late John Cooper, who converted Trinity Methodist Church Hall into the 41 Monkgate theatre from scratch

What are the practical questions facing Theatre @41 in relation to re-opening?

“I think that the lack of direction from the Government on re-opening is slightly frustrating as it isn’t allowing for any future planning. Though we completely understand these are unprecedented times and I’m sure there is a lot the Government are working through.

“Operationally, there is probably less impact for our building due to the flexibility of seating and the fact it has a natural one-way system we can implement very quickly.

“I think our biggest challenge will be having hirers back in the building. At the moment, as we understand, amateur performance is still not advised to go ahead, which means that for the foreseeable future we will have no income. Like other businesses and charities though, we must have a think about how we adapt to this in the new world.”

Once the Government says “Yes” to indoor performances, is there any viable possibility of re-opening with reduced-capacity social distancing?

“We haven’t done the calculations as yet. However, working on an average audience size, I don’t foresee there being any issue with seating arrangements.”

But is it more practical to stay closed until Theatre @41 can re-open at full capacity?

“Not really. We really need to be open to continue bringing in money to our charity. We don’t receive any regular funding from bodies to help with our operating costs, so being open would help with our cash flow.” 

Given the need to address the upkeep of the building, what makes Theatre @41 worth fighting for?

No other theatre in York offers what we offer. When a hirer enters our building, they’re allowed to take over the whole space and have full creative control, from rehearsal rooms to the black box studio.

Amie Burns Walker’s Daisy Buchanan and Oliver Tilney’s Jay Gatsby on the Theatre @41 stairway in The Guild Of Misrule’s The Great Gatsby in December 2016. Picture: Steven Eric Parker

“Back in 2016 and 2018 we had The Guild Of Misrule bring Alexander Flanagan-Wright’s immersive production of The Great Gatsby to us. They took over the entire building and every room was transformed into a 1920s’ setting so that the audience stepped back in time as soon as they came through the front door.

“We’re also the perfect size for local companies to stage new or daring shows and not take too much of a financial risk. Our space allows companies to produce well-known pieces in new and exciting ways and, finally, we’re exactly what York is lacking: a Fringe venue.

“Possibilities are endless in our building, whereas in other theatres there may be a lot more restriction.” 

What does the board see as the priority with the building’s maintenance?

“The biggest priority is to fix the roof. There are other tasks to undertake but our biggest priority is the roof, for which we have already started fundraising.”

How is the proposal to mark the legacy of 41 Monkgate founder John Cooper progressing?

“We obviously unveiled a plaque a few years ago and had a brown sign erected outside our building for the John Cooper Studio. The next step is to include the memory of John and immortalise him in the fabric of our brand identity and story-telling.”

Amid the uncertainty brought about by the Coronavirus pandemic, why is the arts scene so important in York?

“In a city so small it absolutely amazes me that we can house five major theatres and one large concert venue, plus support all of the many different groups that produce in York.

“We are so lucky that we have such a diverse group of arts-makers and they are all, in the majority, successful. From large-scale musicals to Shakespeare and everything in between, you’d be hard pushed to find another place like this outside of London.

“However, there are a few things that aren’t catered for that I would like to experiment with and expand the horizons in York. Watch this space!”

Yorkshire’s Got Talent contest video entry deadline extended by a week for Joseph Rowntree Theatre roof appeal fundraiser

“We don’t want anyone to miss out on the chance of becoming a finalist in Yorkshire’s Got Talent,” says organiser Hannah Wakelam

THE deadline for performers to upload video entries for the Joseph Rowntree Theatre’s online contest, Yorkshire’s Got Talent, is being extended by a week.

Organiser Hannah Wakelam and the judges, Wicked star Laura Pick, cruise-ship vocal captain Nathan Lodge and vocal coach Amelia Urukalo, have set a new cut-off point of midnight on August 8.

Hannah has set up the virtual competition as a fundraiser for the JoRo’s £90,000 Raise The Roof appeal.

“We still have lots of entries coming in, as word of the contest reaches further afield,” says the 19-year-old York performer. “We don’t want anyone to miss out on the chance of becoming a finalist in Yorkshire’s Got Talent, and so the judges and I are extending the entry deadline to next weekend.

“All types of performers are encouraged to enter and to show off what they can do, whether it’s singing, dancing, playing a musical instrument, performing a circus act, the list is endless.”

The cost of entry is a minimum donation of £5 to the Raise the Roof appeal for the Art Deco building, in Haxby Road, and no age restrictions apply.

To comply with lockdown rules, entrants are asked to submit a short video of themselves performing their acts. The contest winner will receive £100.

Full rules and details of how to enter can be found at:

Facebook:  facebook.com/groups/687590815139642/about

Instagram: instagram.com/yorkshiresgottalent/

Graham Mitchell, the JoRo’s events and fundraising director, says: “There’s a real buzz around this contest now. Having a West End star [Laura Pick] among our judging panel has certainly got people talking and we are seeing a rush of last-minute entries.  By extending the deadline, we’ll be able to accommodate more acts at the same time as raising more money for our fundraising appeal.”

The online contest is the latest in a string of fundraisers for the Rowntree Theatre’s  roof appeal, following on from a virtual video, a Zoom fitness class and the ongoing sale of jazzy face masks made by theatre volunteer Barbara Boyce.

To launch the Raise the Roof campaign, the JoRo has set up a Just Giving page and is encouraging donations of “even just the amount of a takeaway coffee” at  justgiving.com/campaign/Raise-the-Roof.

Today in brief…

Welcome back to City Screen, York

CITY Screen, York, and Cineworld, Monks Cross, re-opened today, but you will have to wear a mask from August 8. Mask up at museums and galleries from that date too.

The Government green light for indoor performances from August 1 went back to red, or maybe amber for a fortnight…although Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden’s decree for Stage Five of his road map for the full-scale re-opening of theatres may not be announced until November “at the earliest”. Clear as the Ouse mud.

Daisy Duke’s Drive-In Cinema parked up on Knavesmire on the hottest day of the summer…before thunder and lightning paid a visit tonight. That’s more like it.

British film-maker supreme Sir Alan Parker died at 76. Has there ever been a more diverse director? From Bugsy Malone to Birdy, Midnight Express to Mississippi Burning, Angel Heart to Angela’s Ashes. Yes, he loved a musical, Fame in 1980, The Commitments in 1991 and Evita in 1996, but it was always down to the way he told a story. RIP.

The End.