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The arts Before! After!


“If you are an artist with an idea, the city to be in Europe is Bristol”


air. Designers could have the latest lighting equipment and the latest sound equipment and all that kind of stuff – but still based around the original design. “Our guiding principle has been that


we’re not making a museum. We’re very interested in the theatre’s history, but we’re not a heritage organisation, we’re an arts organisation – so everything is about making it better for the audience. Every seat in the auditorium has been carefully repositioned, so it has the maximum quality view of the stage. The gallery, which was a pretty ramshackle affair, is now beautifully rearranged with comfortable seating. “The first letter of complaint to the


theatre about sightlines in the gallery was dated 1800; now, the sightlines really work.”


Theatrical opportunism “Our work will always focus around this beautiful and renewed theatre, it’s what drives and inspires our programme, but while the theatre has been refurbished we’ve been forced to become opportunists. “We felt that one of the challenges


was that a lot of people in Bristol didn’t know we were here, and we wanted to put together a programme of work during the refurbishment which would make us harder to ignore. Last summer we built a theatre


46 Clifton Life www.mediaclash.co.uk


outside; we put a ship on King Street, and played Treasure Island to over 23,000 people. Nearly half of the audience had never booked seats with us before. Then at Christmas time we produced Coram Boy at Colston Hall over the Christmas period; over 17,000 people saw it in ten days. “So what we discovered was that not only


were we able to make new relationships with audiences all over Bristol, but also that there’s a public appetite for exciting work; so our job now is to introduce this inspiring theatre to audiences who may never been here before. Everyone in Bristol should be proud of the fact that the most beautiful theatre in the country is in their city.”


The new stage “If your main playing area is front of the proscenium arch, the actor is surrounded on three sides by the audience. When theatre design started to change in the 18th century, the actor Colley Cibber said that actors were outraged by this change, where the stage had to be chopped back from the audience. Cibber said ‘they have thrown us out of the room in which we were right to make acquaintance with the audience.’ “18th-century actors believed that it was


their job to make a relationship with the audience, and take them on a journey. And


that’s what you can now do, in that theatre. You can do that at Shakespeare’s Globe, and when they build the new Inigo Jones theatre you’ll be able to do it there. But there is no surviving original 18th-century theatre like ours.”


The next bit “We’ve agreed with the board to continue raising funds. We decided that up on the first floor we shouldn’t have a staircase at all – it’s a banqueting hall, built in 1740. We’re planning to refurbish the front of house in time for the 250th anniversary of the theatre, in 2016.”


Tom and the city “When I arrived in Bristol in 2009 there were four things that attracted me. One was that this was the most beautiful theatre in the country; second, it has an amazing reputation – it’s the most loved theatre by actors and audiences. The third thing was the sense that there was a really exciting creative community in Bristol and an audience who were hungry to see a different kind of work. The fourth thing was it had obviously failed, so everyone could see that something different needed to happen. I wasn’t going to have people telling me, ‘just do what they did before’. “But I didn’t know exactly how exciting


that community of artists in Bristol was going to turn out to be. I had no idea that people were moving here every month because it’s a creative place to be. There’s a


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