• York Rotary

New Thinking at the Theatre

Updated: Aug 6

Mike Fieldsend reports...

Our speaker on July 29th was Tom Bird, CEO of York Theatre Royal. He came to York from the Globe Theatre in London where he seems to have done just about everything - including leading a company playing Hamlet on a world tour. The, slightly mad, aspiration was to take the play to everycountry in the world and, bar a couple, they succeeded!

COVID hit all theatres hard and York Theatre Royal was no exception. Once over the initial shock, and after furloughing most of the staff, Tom and his small team set about finding ways in which they could keep the theatre's work and profile going in some way or other.

A brief window of opportunity presented itself late in 2020 when people were allowed to come together outdoors. In two weeks the team put together a small-scale pantomime which they then proceeded to play in every ward of the city. They played halls, schools - just about anywhere they could find. The response was overwhelming with audiences drawn from people who rarely, if ever, went to the Theatre Royal itself.

This recognition that there is a new audience out there brought about a major rethink of how YTR operates. As Tom explained, they now run three Youth Theatre groups around the city and have reemphasised their commitment to 'community theatre' with the current production of 'Coppergate Woman', a play drawing on York's Viking history to illuminate present day concerns. Tom said how excited he and his colleagues are about the rich vein of York stories that cry out for dramatisation. Another major piece is in the pipeline for 2023.

Tom concluded his talk by referring to the many commentators who are predicting the death of live theatre in the wake of COVID. He reminded us that people have been performing drama for at least 4000 years of which we know - and probably much longer. The 'death of theatre' has been declared many times but it always re-emerges, always changing and adapting but, never the less, surviving!

Tom with President Mary and (r) Mike Fieldsend

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