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Theatre opportunities to open in North Devon

Friday, 13 January 2023 13:00

By Rob Kershaw, local democracy reporter

Queen's Theatre in Barnstaple (courtesy: SMJ)

It follows an investment by a theatre production company

Young people in North Devon will be able to find more opportunities in the theatre industry following investment from a theatre production company.

The company’s creative director Paul Jepson and CEO David Hutchinson attended North Devon Council’s meeting on Wednesday [11 January] to talk through the events and programmes they will be running in the area.

The National Theatre is making a “significant” investment in projects run by Selladoor, which hopes that Birmingham Royal Ballet’s talent and participation programmes will start venturing into North Devon’s two major venues – its flagship Queen’s Theatre in Barnstaple, and The Landmark Theatre in Ilfracombe.

Selladoor’s partnerships will provide “more work of a higher quality” to theatres in North Devon, said Mr Jepson.

Opportunities for new writers of any age will arise every year in North Devon under the New Writers’ Development Initiative.

Selladoor’s relationship with the National Theatre involves the running of the “Speak Up” programme, which runs on a budget of £150,000, and gives schools in the district the chance to create their own work, which will be recorded.

Those projects will run once a year for three years and might also open up career paths in North Devon.

Cllr Frank Biederman (Independent, Fremington) sang the praises of theatre productions in North Devon: “It is fantastic that we’ve still got two theatres and incredible things that we can go and see and watch.

“And it really is positive.”

However, Cllr Biederman was keen to ensure that there is a “mix and match” between Barnstaple and Ilfracombe so that people in both towns are afforded opportunities.

It was confirmed that Selladoor intends to use The Landmark in Ilfracombe as a “centre for young people,” and that it will try to create opportunity “throughout the county,” including areas that are more remote. This was music to the ears of Cllr Netti Pearson (Green, Ilfracombe).

“It sounds great, it sounds really exciting,” she said. “And I’m really happy this is going to be focused on young people in Ilfracombe. Because actually Ilfracombe so often misses out for that very reason of distance.”

She was also pleased to hear that theatre-related programmes will run in schools.

“The school used to be very much involved in the community for theatrical things, so it would be fantastic to get that going ahead,” added Cllr Pearson. “And I hope our levelling up fund works, because that goes to theatres doesn’t it, so exciting times.”

Mr Hutchinson said: “It’s as much about investing in this community and investing in voices and talent as much as also then giving a pathway for that to travel outside of the area.

“There’s this one-way bus from London to many regions of the UK, which is exactly why the Arts Council have underfunded regions like North Devon, because there’s far too much money that was being put into one area.

“The opportunity for voices from North Devon being seen in London and other parts of the UK is really important.”

North Devon Council has around £315,000 in the capital budget to improve its theatres in Barnstaple and Ilfracombe, with roof repairs and decorations being prioritised at Queen’s Theatre, while there is scope for investment in The Landmark’s fire alarm system.

Per year, around £150,000 of the council’s revenue budget goes into the theatre industry.

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