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Laura Collier, who will be responsible for the Prescot theatre’s programme of productions and events, says it’s important to listen to everyone and discover what exactly they want from the landmark venue.
“It’s a very special place that’s going to matter to a lot of people and it’s going to impact a lot of people, so we need to really know who we’re there for and make sure we’re growing out of the town rather than descending upon it,” she says.
“Every single conversation I have about the Playhouse there is a huge desire to be a part of it, a huge interest and a huge curiosity and that’s the best possible starting point.”
After working previously with world-renowned theatres including the National, Battersea Arts Centre, Shakespeare’s Globe and the Leeds Playhouse, Laura joined the Playhouse team in October last year.
Strict Covid restrictions prevented her from being on site to see how construction was progressing until six weeks ago, but that hasn’t stopped her doing her own local fact-finding in the meantime.
“I’ve been walking around Prescot a lot since October, people-watching and talking to people, because I just needed to feel as much as I could about the town before I could even start to think about what the theatre could be.
“I ask everybody all the time what they want from the theatre, how they feel about it, what they want to see there – even if it’s just when I’m going to get a bag of crisps from the newsagent!
“Even though there’s been so much market research and consultancy and discussion with the communities, those incidental conversations really flesh out what people are thinking and there are always little nuggets that stay with me.”
Laura says the theatre’s close ties with Knowsley Borough Council have been a huge help. “Straight away I was able to work with experts in all different departments of the council who are directly working within the communities in Knowsley which has been amazing,” she adds.
As she sets about creating a programme for 2022 when the theatre will open, Covid has meant that Laura hasn’t been able to check out live productions in the way she normally would.
“The arts and theatre are coming out of a very difficult traumatic time, theatres are only just opening up, so it’s not been straightforward in terms of planning. We’ve not had that live aspect so I’m really looking forward to the next six months of absolutely blitzing it and seeing where everybody’s at.
“We’re not a producing theatre ourselves but what we are going to be doing is co-producing so everything will be in partnership with other organisations. That’s our opportunity to really earn our spurs as serious innovators of Shakespeare’s canon.
“Alongside that we’ll be presenting work that may be inspired by Shakespeare in some way and also work that has nothing to do with Shakespeare – it will be a huge mix.
“The Playhouse is going to be focused on two areas – one is individual creativity because in Knowsley people are practicing their own personal culture with their communities every day of their lives but there is less of a formal infrastructure. What we can do is provide that scaffolding and provide different types of opportunities for people to exercise their own creativity.
“Then there are trained artists and career artists and we want to see what happens and what brilliant work can be made when those two groups meet.”
With construction on schedule, Laura has finally been able to take people around and show them what’s happening on the site.
The building is now very visible and specialists McCurdy and Co, who also created The Globe and Sam Wanamaker theatres in London, are in situ installing the stunning timber-framed theatre.
“When I went in and saw it for the first time it absolutely took my breath away,” says Laura. “It’s beautiful and the craftspeople involved in making it happen are so experienced and expert.
“Physically it’s coming on leaps and bounds. I’m now able to really start sharing with people what’s going on inside the building and everybody I take in is just bowled over.
“I think people will want to learn about it, they’ll want to touch it, see it, experience it, and it’s my job to make people want to sit in it, watch things in it and get on stage and be a part of it.
A little reminder, should you need it, of just why everyone is so VERY excited about the incredible #ShakespeareNorthPlayhouse that is currently emerging from the ground in #Prescot, #Knowsley… https://t.co/Ps0OfgPGdo pic.twitter.com/fJtNWVWHaj
— KnowsleyShakespeare (@knowshakespeare) January 15, 2020
“Making it matter to people in Knowsley is so important because if that relationship is right then the rest of the north of England and the rest of the country will follow. We have to get the heart of it right first.
“When we open, if I go and get my bag of crisps and someone tells me that they feel like it’s their theatre, then I know we’re getting there.”
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