New Norwich Theatre Royal chief executive reveals his vision for the venue’s future
- Credit: Archant
A commitment to bringing major West End shows to the city, overseeing a refurbishment of Norwich Playhouse and championing the county as a cultural destination are among the priorities for Norwich Theatre Royal's new chief executive.
Stephen Crocker, who took the helm at the venue in January, has set out his four-point strategy for the venue's future.
'I think the Theatre Royal's role is to continue being at the cultural heart of Norwich, Norfolk and supporting the growth and development of the east, and doing that through fantastic programming and fantastic reach into our communities,' he said.
His key focuses will be programming, learning and participation, the venue's relationship with Norwich Playhouse, and its relationship with the 'bigger picture' of the county as a whole.
'I've spent a lot of time getting out and meeting partners, spent a lot of time with the fantastic team here at the theatre, and I've been very clear I want us to move forward, I don't think organisations do stand still. During Peter's [former chief executive Peter Wilson] 25 years here he never stood still, so I'm very much about picking up the baton where he left off, and those are the areas where I think there is real opportunity for us and for the whole city and county.'
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The theatre's commitment to bringing West End shows to the region is highlighted by its announcement the musical Miss Saigon will be heading to Norwich in summer 2018.
'I kind of think Theatre Street ought to be seen as Norwich's West End, we are the west side of the city, why not! We should have these blockbusters, they are so important for the city, audiences adore these kind of works and we are delighted Miss Saigon is back with us next summer, although booking doesn't open until the end of this July. I can also say we have got major West End shows scheduled for the next five years which is really exciting, cementing Norwich's place on that national touring circuit.'
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Mr Crocker is also keen the theatre continues its long-term relationships with big theatrical players such as Matthew Bourne's New Adventures, the National Theatre, Glyndebourne and the Royal Shakespeare Company, and he plans to programme more dance through a partnership with Sadler's Wells, and add to the classical music scene.
'One of the things I'm really interested in is how we build Norwich's reputation as a city for classical music, There's a real appetite for a city-wide classical music programme and what we've done to support that agenda is bring three international orchestras into the programme throughout the autumn and the spring of next year. There are some exciting developments beyond that which we will be able to announce later.'
The new Stage Two building will play a key part in the theatre's learning and participation focus which will concentrate on education, training and skills for young and old, community engagement, and breaking down barriers and widening access.
'We have the phenomenal facility that is Stage Two and now what we are really focussed on is breaking down barriers to participation with and engagement with Theatre Royal and really making Stage Two a resource for the whole city and county,' he said.
The theatre also has plans work closer with its sister venue, Norwich Playhouse, which Mr Crocker described as a 'cult icon.'
He said the St George's Street venue would undergo a refurbishment in the summer.
'The Playhouse will have a short closure period towards the end of July and a bit of August - although the bar stays open!' he said.
'We will re-open in the run up to the August bank holiday and you will see a nicely refreshed auditorium. We are going to make sure the space people sit in reflects the fantastic quality of the stuff on stage.'
The aim is for both theatres to work closer together in the future.
'In September at the Playhouse there's a theatre company called Vamos focussing on people living with dementia. At the Theatre Royal we will be working with the National Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company to programme our first-ever dementia friendly performance. That kind of joining up of programmes is something we want to do more of in the future.'
The Theatre Royal also aims to build on its links with other city and county organisations to help boost the area's profile as a cultural destination.
Mr Crocker said: 'I think I am a great example of someone having to get to Norwich to truly understand the cultural richness that is here and I want to be an ambassador for that. I am very pleased we were able to secure Philip Glass and Laurie Anderson to perform here as part of the Norfolk & Norwich Festival, their only engagement outside of London in the UK, and I want to continue that kind of programming that affirms Norwich's place as a cultural destination....I am personally hugely committed to ensuring that culture is at the centre of a joined-up approach to driving forward the growth agenda for the city, county and region.'
About his overall vision, he said: 'I think it is less of a revolution and more of an evolution. We are part of a network within the city, county and country. We need to foster lots of partnerships and some of those will take time. I would like to think that if we look back at today in five years, we will be able to see the distance we have travelled.'