The New Wolsey Theatre: Achievements and Ambitions
It was fascinating (on 9 December) to hear David Edwards, Chairman of the New Wolsey Theatre's Board of Directors, talking about theatre in Ipswich. He explained why the old repertory system, last seen successfully operated in Ipswich by Dick Tuckey at the Arts Theatre, is no longer sustainable, particularly because of funding. He said it is essential now to broaden audiences - which the New Wolsey has succeeded in doing.
Their productions fall into three categories. The first, In-House Productions like Noises Off and A Wonderful Life are crucial but can only constitute a minority of the programme. Secondly, there are collaborations with other theatres and companies. (Some of us were surprised to hear that working with Colchester's Mercury Theatre has been successful because both theatres have fairly distinct catchment areas.) The third type of production is the touring company, of which there are many offering great varieties of this kind of work, although constrained by the Wolsey's 400 seating capacity. He also spoke warmly of the Pulse Festival which after ten years has established itself as second only to the Edinburgh Fringe for new work. Also, working with young people continues to be a high priority, with four performance-based groups. Such schemes help to create new audiences and attract valuable grants.
He said that ticket sales had not been much affected by the recession, although programming has involved more 'playing safe'. Just under half of the Theatre's needs are covered by subsidies from the Arts Council, the County Council and Borough Council- subsidies which are secure till 2011, after which the Theatre will need to make a case for the following three years. "Subsidy is an investment," he maintained. For the investment of Â£1m per annum of public money, the local economy benefits to the tune of £6.2m through employment, eating out, car parking, etc. However, he remains concerned about future funding and about plans to extend the Theatre which are held up by the developers of the Civic Centre site being unable to make progress. The developers had intended to provide the' shell' of an extension which the Theatre would have to fit out. Tesco's Grafton Way scheme could remove any such prospect from the town centre. However, we were left in no doubt that the New Wolsey is a valuable part of the cultural scene in Ipswich.