YOU ARE HERE NOW / All of Worthing’s a Stage

Too long seen as out-of-the-way, independent theatre in Worthing is quietly starting to make some noise. If you’re a theatregoer on a budget, or looking for something new, challenging and engaging, it’s time to look again at some of Worthing’s hidden gems and take a chance on the creative work that’s taking place in our local performance spaces.

“Yes, it’s true, Worthing’s got talent – and lots of it!” agrees actor Kerri Hedley-Cheney. “This really is a very exciting time to be involved in theatre and the arts in Worthing with so much going on.

“You only have to take a peep at the FB group, Worthing Area Actors and Creatives – set up by local actor Christophe Phillips two years ago – to see what a thriving community of actors and creative minds we have on our doorstep. The group has steadily grown in numbers and is a fantastic platform for actors and theatre technicians to get together, air ideas and, of course, socialise.”

The group has already spawned Worthing’s very own Theatre Trail, masterminded by locals Gary and Sue Krost. This event, which launched in 2018, saw some of our town’s finest actors, both amateur and professional, taking to the stage in various locations across Worthing to showcase their many and varied talents.

The trail was supported by 11 venues, including Cellar Arts Club, Brunswick & Thorn, Bar 42 and Coast, who offered their space for nothing as did the 12 acts.

“Coast Cafe and Kenads Printers covered the cost of our printing and insurance,” explains Sue. “The rest we organised on no budget, only our time and the goodwill of Worthing.”

“Our ethos is to bring theatre to Worthing for free, so up-and-coming actors, writers and directors have the opportunity to perform to the people of Worthing with no outgoings for venue and no cost to audiences.

“We want to show there is more to theatre than Shakespeare or musicals. We also wanted to bring something new to Worthing, a place we both feel already has so much to offer.”

Marlene Tincknell, who as a long-standing member of Lancing Rep was part of the trail, says, “Creating theatre in the Worthing area is a lot of fun but can be very full on. Trying to find a play which might not only be of interest to the actors, but to the paying audience is a fine balance.

“Performing in places like The Charles Dickens and Libertine was interesting to see how shows could be performed without needing a dressing room, lights or even seating!”

The emergence of such intimate and versatile performance spaces is invaluable in supporting more risky fringe productions. Heavyweight venues such as the Connaught and Pavilion have long supported local community-based theatre companies, including Worthing Musical Comedy Society, Worthing Musical Theatre Company and in-house professional troupe The Conn Artists Theatre Company.

However, as Dick Douglass of Cellar Arts Club points out, “In the past it would seem that smaller theatre productions had no place to go. The establishment of spaces such as Cellar Arts provides a space for productions that could not fill a large theatre or do not require a large stage area but wish to retain professional standards.”

While some groups have been lucky enough to acquire a dedicated rehearsal or performance space in village halls or fully-fitted venues such as the Barn Theatre in Southwick, where resident company the Southwick Players mounts full-scale shows with production values often rivalling those of professionals, others have worked to develop symbiotic relationships with smaller venues to encourage their support. Linsay Olliver, of vibrant new company Saints Theatre, will be staging her second show at St Paul’s in April.

St Paul’s is a truly inspiring and versatile performance space that is highly valued by all of us lucky enough to be able to use it. That’s why all profits from Saints Theatre Group go back to St Paul’s in order to help sustain this marvellous venue as well as secure the future of the drama group there.”

At a time when arts funding is hard to find, this kind of mutual support from businesses and communities is vital to the survival of local theatre. Some groups run as not-for-profit organisations, enabling them to plough all takings back into the company and keep ticket prices low, but sponsorship and advertising is key.

“Funding is difficult for any group or new group starting up,” says Marlene. “Putting on a show, however minimal, will incur costs of some sort.”

Local businesses often lend a hand, whether it’s Gardner & Scardifield loaning a lorry to Lancing Rep to transport sets, or Cloudberry Boutique in Angmering running a joint competition with WMTC to support their recent production of Bad Girls. Lancing Lions donated money to enable Lancing Rep to offer some free seats for families to watch their panto.

Linsay feels the outlook is positive. “We’ve had great support from the wider community; we had 22 volunteers working on our lastproduction, which sold out and won two Brighton & Hove Arts Council Drama Awards, and we were delighted to receive some funding from the Sussex Police Property Act fund. Our next production in April promises as much if not more in terms of engagement and creativity with a cast and crew made up of Worthing residents, so I’m pretty darn chuffed!”

Sue Krost agrees. “Funding, promotion and sponsorship help enormously, but we would have done it again just us if we had to, as we feel so passionate about it.”

So what next for theatre in Worthing? You’ll have to pick up a copy of Here & Now and read the rest… P7

By Zoe Rhodes

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