Right, whilst I am catching up on my backlog of news and reviews, here’s a bit of news from Saltburn. With all the cuts going on, there’s been a lot of bad news in financial terms for theatres. Darlington Arts Centre has already closed, and hopes of a re-opening are fading fast. Newcastle City Council proposed to cut all arts funding last year, and whilst this has sort-of been watered down, there’s question marks over whether this “cultural fund” at 50% of the old arts fund is any better. It’s unclear whether the Esk Valley Theatre will be able to maintain its professional programme after they lost their Arts Council funding. Even the famous Georgian Theatre in Richmond is in danger of closing. All in all, it’s not a happy time to be a theatre treasurer.
Well, for a change, here’s a bit of good news from my old home town. Last month, Saltburn Community Theatre managed to bag a £50,000 grant from the National Lottery through the People’s Millions. The People’s Millions is a public vote where two worthy organisations pitch their proposals to the viewers of local ITV news (Tyne Tees in this case), and it then goes to a public vote, with the winning getting the money. I must say I’m not sure we should be allocating money on an all-or-nothing basis in a series of head-to-head votes, and I suspect the real motivation behind a public vote is free publicity for the National Lottery, but hey, it’s good news. If it’s any consolation, the group Saltburn beat, the Royal Voluntary Society with their scheme for older men isolated rural communities in Northumberland, also got £50,000 as runner up with the most votes.
It’s not quite clear exactly what the £50,000 will go to, and a lot of it might have to go to expensive building repairs, but even so, £50,000 is a lot of money for a (mostly) amateur theatre. To put this in context, this is equivalent to the theoretical maximum of three years’ box office takings at my local amateur theatre in Durham. One thing we know will be installed is new sound and lighting equipment. You’ll be able to do something good with that sort of money.
The big question now is: will the various arts and drama groups in Saltburn make the most of their new sound and lighting equipment. I ask because, speaking as someone who regularly pushes sound and lighting to the limits of its capabilities when I’m directing, I frequently curse when other amateur productions only use a fraction of the capability of spangly new equipment. Installing flashy equipment is only half the challenge. The other half – the thing that a lottery grant can’t help with – is having people who understand sound and lighting well enough to use it to its full potential. Will Saltburn ’53 society or other groups achieve this? We’ll see.
Yet there is, potentially, a more exciting benefit from this. Saltburn Community Theatre, although mostly used for amateur productions, does get a few professional productions stopping on tour. Saltburn is a nice place to stop off at, a 150-seat theatre is an ideal size for small touring productions, and some of the productions that stop off at Saltburn are excellent. But one of the things that stops touring companies coming to any theatre is inadequate facilities. However much you might want to stop off in Saltburn, it’s no good if the facilities aren’t there to allow you to do what you want to do.
Ultimately, it’s down to Saltburn Community and Arts Association as to what they want to achieve. If the mission is to provide better equipment to any of the amateur groups who wants to make use of better equipment, mission accomplished, job done. It they want to put Saltburn on the map as a choice destination for small companies alongside theatres such as Richmond, they’ve taken a big step forward – but there’s still a lot of work to do to make that dream come true.