Winchester theatre hailed as cultural heart of the city

Hampshire Chronicle: Winchester theatre hailed as cultural heart of the city Winchester theatre hailed as cultural heart of the city

WINCHESTER’S theatre boss Mark Courtice has said his two-year tenure has seen it become “at the cultural heart of the city.”

Mr Courtice told the town forum it was now putting on better shows and had built relationships with national touring companies.

The capacity had been increased and the theatre was recently licensed to offer four standing spots.

“The building is much busier than before. The cafe is open all day. Events take place around the building.”

However he said the autumn season has so far been disappointing; “This has been a difficult one. A place like the Theatre Royal does need public support and it always will.”

The theatre, which celebrates its centenary in 2014, has started working more closely with the Discovery Centre next door and was now doing more with the university and local schools with every week some 400 pupils involved.

Mr Courtice’s new title is chief executive of Live Theatre Winchester as he now runs the Hat Fair as well as the venue on Jewry Street.

“Hat Fair is one of the most important elements of Winchester’s cultural offer. I’m pleased we were able to step up when needed and make it work for another year. We are committed to it for the future. Its Arts Council funding ends this year and is up for renewal and we need to make a new pitch for the next generation (of funding). How does the Hat Fair work better when involved with a local theatre?”

He said the theatre had built links with local groups such as Blue Apple, Wet Picnic, Scoundrels and Platform Four.

“We are working with young entrepreneurs based in the city. We want to make sure they stay in Winchester. Instead of running a comedy festival in London they run the Winchester Comedy Festival. That is great; it is not us doing it but us making space for local entrepreneurs. They are not moving away but can stay here because they can ply their trade.”

The theatre was now financially efficient doing more with a reduced grant.

“I am proud of the team. They have gone on making things happen and making the city more exciting than before.

“We need to bed this down so we can do it again and again so it isn’t just a flash in the pan and we don’t go back to crisis followed by fat year followed by lean.”

Town forum chairman Robert Hutchison suggested Winchester may like to bid to be the City of Culture in 2021 after Hull recently won the title for 2017.

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