We attended the Theatres Trust Conference 2019, held at the beautifully refurbished (and stripped back!) Battersea Arts Centre in London. Theme of this year: Centre Stage - about putting the needs of artists and audiences at the heart of theatres.
The session was kicked off with a provocation from Madani Younis, Creative Director at Southbank Centre to question what and who our cultural buildings are for? How do you put people at the centre of theatres and what can theatres mean for the communities surrounding them?
After the morning break we joined the session highlighting some recent theatre building trends across the UK. There were presentations by Eastbourne Theatres, Polka Theatre and Theatre Royal Wakefield. All of these redevelopment projects have a common theme that reimagines how a venue space needs to work for a 21st century audience. Not restricting thinking of these as being theatres to present “high art”, but rather seeing them as Civic Spaces where people can eat, drink and meet. There were some great insights that could become the blueprint for many other venues.
Back in the Grand Hall we were treated to a new format of super-speed updates on capital projects from around the UK. The striking takeaway from this was something that Madani Younis had pointed out at the start of the day; that we’re currently in a period of development, redevelopment and spending on theatres and arts centres way beyond the Victorian period. A time that we think of as being a renaissance in UK theatre. Reasons to be very optimistic about the future of this sector.
As part of our lunch break, we took a tour of the Battersea Arts Centre. It’s an amazing venue with not only an impressive interior, but also a great example of a 'democratic' theatre space: engaging widely with both artists and audiences in the development of the building and its activities.
Ensuring that theatre capital projects are informed by the view of their audience and stakeholders, places the audience at the heart of theatres: right where they deserve to be.
We then heard from some ambitious Artistic Directors what their ambitions are for their buildings now and in the future. Some really great ideas and approaches were presented by Matt Fenton and Nasima Begum from Contact Theatre, Manchester, who focus on youth and have strong youth representation on their board.
Like all good conferences, the day ended with a drink and a chance to chat with like-minded industry enthusiasts. The day served as a great reminder that theatres are a synergy of the building, the art and the audience and we’re looking forward to what Theatres Trust will bring in 2020!