At an event held to celebrate the decade since the reopening of Royal & Derngate, Martin Sutherland, Chief Executive, announced three ambitious new initiatives that will shape the future of Royal & Derngate and the cultural development of Northamptonshire.
Martin Sutherland said: “Royal & Derngate finds itself at an exciting crossroads today. The skills acquired and lessons learned, as we head towards hard won sustainability, will continue to be shared within our community and beyond. We are now seeking conversations, debate and discussion with partners who can influence our vision for cultural education, the creative industries, music-theatre and film exhibition in our County and beyond.”
Ten years on from the £15 million development that brought the Royal Theatre and the Derngate centre under one roof, the management and staff today celebrated with friends, supporters and patrons the many eye-catching successes from the past decade. The expansion of the venue’s core operations, which includes developing and managing a brand new arts centre, The Core at Corby Cube, since 2011 and developing and managing the hugely successful on-site cinema, the Errol Flynn Filmhouse, since 2013, along with annual local audiences now exceeding 300,000, have contributed to making the organisation more resilient and sustainable, able to play a leading role in the development of Northamptonshire.
Having welcomed 2.6 million audience members over the last ten years and delivered a local economic impact of more than £213 million, Royal & Derngate can count among its successes being named as Regional Theatre of the Year in the inaugural Stage Awards in 2011 (the theatres were shortlisted again in 2015 for the same award). Recent years have seen the theatre present the world premiere of Arthur Miller’s The Hook and transfer its Young America season to the National Theatre and End of the Rainbow to the West End and Broadway. Over 1.1 million people have seen Royal & Derngate’s Made in Northampton productions either at the venue or on tours across the country, and its continued success led to the theatre winning the UK Theatre Management Award for Best Presentation of Touring Theatre in 2015. Its work with children, young people, emerging artists and community groups is perhaps less visible, but the theatre remains hugely proud of reaching more than 225,000 participants through its creative learning activity over the last decade.
A New School for Northampton, developed by Royal & Derngate and Balance
Royal & Derngate today announced that, along with creative digital agency Balance, it is exploring the idea of developing a new secondary school for Northampton, placing cultural and creative learning at its heart. Sharing the values of Royal & Derngate and Balance, the new school will encourage creativity, ambition, collaboration and inclusion.
This new school initiative directly responds to the cultural sector’s concerns that arts education is increasingly being marginalised within secondary schools across England despite the sector being amongst the fastest growing in the UK economy. As the cultural and creative industries sector wrestles with this challenge, Royal & Derngate and Balance believe that a new school for Northampton could be one very positive solution. As well as ensuring that creative learning is integral to the curriculum, the new school will address a very real need locally, responding to the projected levels of population growth and the need for new school places as identified by Northamptonshire County Council.
Over the next three months, Royal & Derngate and Balance will be hosting a series of events and conversations that are intended to shape the vision for the new school. Anyone interested in joining this conversation is encouraged to visit www.new-school-northampton.co.uk in the first instance.
Support for the project will also be sought from New Schools Network, a charity that works with groups that want to set up new schools.
Sarah Pearson, Director New Schools Network, said: “Groups like Royal & Derngate, which are so embedded in their communities, are well positioned to bring teachers, existing schools and other experts together to create schools that really meet the needs of local children. I’m very excited about their initial ideas to drive greater access to the arts for all and look forward to seeing their application to the NSN Development Programme so that we can hopefully support their project in the coming months.”
Martin Sutherland, Chief Executive of Royal & Derngate, added: “In order to start shaping a truly radical education and creative learning programme we need to seek the support of educators, thinkers, artists, young people and parents who can help us develop our vision regarding creative learning in Northampton. Together we can realise the potential that will be unlocked by opening a new cultural and creative industries school in Northampton.”
Neil Webb, Director of Balance Design (UK) Limited, said: “Balance has long recognised the challenges faced by the cultural and creative industries, in recruiting and developing future talent, alongside the significant global opportunities for both business and young people in the sector. We are delighted to be partnering with Royal & Derngate to help shape a vision for an innovative new school in Northampton that can create a cultural learning ecosystem that will inspire and prepare young people for the 21st century digital economy.”
Creative learning is already firmly embedded in Royal & Derngate’s ethos, with over 21,500 people engaging with its wide-ranging Get Involved participatory programme last year, though projects in schools, within the community and at the theatre.
A new filmhouse proposed for Daventry – developed and operated by Royal & Derngate
Building on the success of the theatre’s cinema, the Errol Flynn Filmhouse, Royal & Derngate is working with Daventry District Council and its development partner Henry Boot Developments Ltd to devise plans which will see the inclusion of a cinema in the proposed redevelopment of Daventry Town Centre.
Opened nearly three years ago by Royal & Derngate on a site adjacent to Derngate auditorium, the 88-seat Errol Flynn Filmhouse has welcomed over 121,000 audience members so far. With a loyal following established, work has just started on building a second screen for the venue.
As nearby Daventry’s population is set to almost double by 2021, Daventry District Council is working in partnership with a range of organisations to deliver its Town Centre Vision, a regeneration programme aimed at improving the town’s amenities and economic and social vitality. As part of these ambitious plans to create a sustainable, thriving town for its residents, there is the potential for the inclusion of a cinema.
Royal & Derngate will lead a consultation process to establish what the people of Daventry would like to see in their cinema. Plans for the cinema will be developed in response to this consultation and the needs of the local community, but there is the expectation that the new filmhouse could include up to three screens, showing a mix of mainstream and independent films as well as live screenings of opera, ballet and theatre productions. If the project goes ahead it is anticipated that the cinema would be developed and operated by Royal & Derngate as tenants of Daventry District Council.
Martin Sutherland commented: “It is very exciting to be part of these plans, helping to shape the cultural development of Daventry Town Centre over the next few years. Our knowledge and expertise, gained in the successful establishment of the Errol Flynn Filmhouse, will help deliver a filmhouse that Daventry can be proud of.”
Councillor Colin Poole, Daventry District Council’s Economic, Regeneration Employment Portfolio Holder said: “These discussions between Royal & Derngate and Henry Boot, albeit at a very early stage, are encouraging.
The potential of such a scheme would provide a good fit for Daventry and the additional leisure and cultural offer that we are keen see in our town. An independent, high quality and accessible leisure experience would also complement the centre’s character of small and independent businesses.
In this ever-changing economic climate, commercial viability is key for all parties and we look forward to these initial discussions being brought to a successful fruition.”
Royal & Derngate takes a new approach to music-theatre
Building upon the Royal’s early history as an opera house, the Derngate’s regional reputation as a concert hall and Northampton’s rich musical history, Artistic Director James Dacre described how Royal & Derngate has gathered a consortium of partners – including Scottish Opera, Musical Theatre Network, Perfect Pitch, Improbable, China Plate and Underbelly – to commission, develop and support new music-theatre, ranging from opera to musicals, which it expects to present over the coming years in a festival format, in Northampton and at major UK and international festivals.
The theatre is working with Studio Three Sixty (who launched the Roundabout space which won The Stage Awards “Theatre Building of the Year” in 2015) who are developing a new portable theatre venue called The Mix, which will provide a magical and architecturally striking performance space for this series of commissions. Designed specifically with live music in mind, The Mix can be transformed into different layouts, with flexible auditorium seating for between 200 and 400 people.
As the distinctions between opera, musical theatre and plays with music are increasingly blurring, the consortium plans to commission work from a diverse range of writers and composers working across different genres, from the emerging to the established and from local to international, providing a dynamic platform for new music-theatre.
Royal & Derngate Artistic Director James Dacre explained: “For a long time we have felt that the scale and demands of new musicals and operas exclude theatres and organisations like ours, which lack the finances and resources to realise them. So we are interested in a new model for creating music-theatre that can liberate writers, composers and creators from the barriers they’ve previously faced in originating new work and still be audience-friendly, locally relevant, collaborative and deeply imaginative.
We want to demonstrate that new musical work in all its variations can be enjoyable, accessible, contemporary and exciting in celebrating the power of the sung word. In short, we are interested in developing what it means to sing stories.”
Studio Three Sixty directors Lucy Osborne and Emma Chapman added: “With The Mix we aim to create a venue that is capable of touring anywhere without compromising high artistic standards and the quality of the audience experience. Every element of the venue, from the state-of-the-art audio equipment, to the seating and exterior walls, has been carefully designed to give a unique, exciting and comfortable venue that is all about the creation of new work.”
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