Give Darlington Arts Centre to the people

COMMENT: If Darlington Council can no longer run Darlington Arts Centre, it should be handed to people who can.

One issue that’s been discussed a lot throughout the theatre world but not much on this blog is the cuts to arts subsidies. I’ve got mixed views about it myself, which I may go into another day, but this post is about what’s happening now. As it happens, north-east theatres aren’t doing too badly. Live Theatre and Northern Stage have kept their “portfolio” status (as has the Stephen Joseph Theatre). The Theatre Royal and Sunderland Empire are very much commercial ventures and so have little to fear. The Gala Theatre has got some sort of status as a “cultural” hub for all of Durham’s festivals. There’s issues over local authority funding and internal politics at the Gala, but on the whole there’s no prospect of any of these places closing their doors.

A glaring exception is Darlington. Darlington Borough Council ran two theatres on Arts Council support: the Civic Theatre and the Arts Centre. But unlike its Newcastle counterparts, lack year, the funding was scrapped. For a while, the closure of both theatres was contemplated. Thankfully, the Civic Theatre has done well enough since then to escape the axe, but the Arts Centre was not so lucky. In July this year, Darlington Arts Centre was closed, and this is a big loss to the town. The Civic Theatre alone does not compensate for this. Small theatres are an asset because they allow small-scale productions to perform that would never be viable in a 500+ seat theatre. I see little chance that plays going to the Arts Centre will be using the Civic Theatre instead.

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The Empty Shop is now a theatre space!

Small bit of breaking news. I’ve known about this for some time, but it was only properly announced a few days ago.

So, I can now tell you that The Empty Shop HQ off Framwellgate Bridge is now open to wider range of events which includes the possibility of theatre. This means that the Empty Shop effectively becomes Durham’s fourth space for performance after the Gala, the Assembly Rooms and the City Theatre. All this and more is possible due to a change in license term for the building. Not sure why there was a rule against this in the first place, but whatever the reason, it’s all change.

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10 common beginners’ mistakes in playwriting

This is a follow-on from my Edinburgh Fringe roundup. I’ve already listed what was good about what I saw about the Fringe. Unfortunately, there was also quite a lot of stuff that was bad. I’m not going to name and shame individual productions – that’s not what this blog is for – but I do need to start listing what goes wrong, both at the Edinburgh Fringe and elsewhere, in the hope that this stops someone doing the same in the future.

First thing’s first. I do not claim to be an expert on playwriting. Indeed, some of these mistakes I’ve done myself. At present, I have written a number of one-act and full-length plays, had a few of my one-acts done on stage, made it to the finals of two playwriting competitions, and been selected for Live Theatre’s 2011 writers’ group. Not bad, but not spectacular either. What I do have is a vast number of plays I’ve seen – at least 60 plays per year lately – from small fringe productions to big-budget West End productions. I have also considered scripts of plays from Samuel French texts to unperformed unpublished works. In both cases, they range from outstanding to abominable.

The thing is, I never see a play because I expect it to be bad. Usually the description of the play was promising – it just failed to live up to its potential. And when it fails, it is down to the same mistakes being made over and over again. So here is my list of the most common easy ways that beginners spoil plays (and established professionals too, but beginners do this more often), together with some not-so-easy ways on how you can avoid this.

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What’s worth watching: autumn 2012

So, the Fringes are over, but the autumn programmes are out for most theatres in the north-east. I’ve been scouring them looking out for things of interest.

Usual rules apply: these recommendations may be based on other work by the same writer/director/company, a promising description of what the play’s about, recommendations from people whose opinions I trust, or a combination of all three. All other things being equal, cheap low-budget productions are more likely to get a recommendation that high-budget expensive ones. This is partly my way of encouraging theatres to keep their plays affordable, and partly so that small theatres and small groups stand a fair chance against big ones such as the Theatre Royal and Sunderland Empire.

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Not such sweet soul music

Chris Monks’s Soul Man is a worthy effort to bring Verdi’s Rigoletto up to date – but branding the play as a soul extravaganza doesn’t do it justice.

Anyone who’s been following events at the Stephen Joseph Theatre will know that since Alan Ayckbourn stepped down as Artistic Director in 2009, his successor Chris Monks has been hard at work establishing himself. Amongst other thing, he’s been bringing his popular adaptations of operas. So far, Scarborough has seen the Mafia version of The Pirates of Penzance, the cricket version of The Mikado and a modern-day version of Carmen where the title character works in a shopping centre. However, the last three years have been re-runs of his greatest hits; this year, it’s back to the donkey work of trying something new and hoping it works.

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