Royal & Derngate launches five-year vision to expand arts in Northants

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Northampton’s Royal & Derngate Theatre is planning a massive expansion of the arts in the Midlands with the launch of three major initiatives that includes the building of a new school, it announced yesterday.

The theatre was hosting a celebration to mark ten years since the venue reopened when chief executive Martin Sutherland announced the ambitious schemes that will shape the future of Royal & Derngate and the cultural development of Northamptonshire.

He said: “Royal & Derngate finds itself at an exciting crossroads today. The skills acquired and lessons learned, as we head towards hard won sustainability, will continue to be shared within our community and beyond.

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“We are now seeking conversations, debate and discussion with partners who can influence our vision for cultural education, the creative industries, music-theatre and film exhibition in our county and beyond.”

The management and staff yesterday celebrated with friends, supporters and patrons, the venue’s numerous eye-catching successes from the past decade since the £15 million development that brought the Royal Theatre and the Derngate centre under one roof.

In 10 years 2.6m people have visited the R&D, contributing £213m to the local economy. The theatre has expanded to include the running of a new arts centre, The Core at Corby Cube and the on-site cinema, in Northampton, the Errol Flynn Filmhouse.

It has been named as Regional Theatre of the Year in the 2011 Stage Awards and been at the forefront in staging premieres of major new productions including Arthur Miller’s The Hook and the transfers of its Young America season to the National Theatre and the Judy Garland story, End of the Rainbow, to the West End and Broadway.

Over a million people have seen Royal & Derngate’s Made in Northampton productions either at the venue or on tours across the country, and its continued success led to the theatre winning the UK Theatre Management Award for Best Presentation of Touring Theatre in 2015.

Neil Webb, Director of Balance Design with Martin Sutherland
Neil Webb, Director of Balance Design with Martin Sutherland

The theatre is now exploring the idea of developing a new secondary school for Northampton, placing cultural and creative learning at its heart.

The new school initiative directly responds to the cultural sector’s concerns that arts education is increasingly being marginalised within secondary schools across England despite the sector being among the fastest growing in the UK economy.

R & D, and its partner, design consultants, Balance, hope a new school for Northampton could be a positive solution.

Over the next three months a series of events will be held intended to shape the vision for the new school. Anyone interested in joining the debate should visit new-school-northampton.co.uk.

Mr Sutherland added: “In order to start shaping a truly radical education and creative learning programme we need to seek the support of educators, thinkers, artists, young people and parents who can help us develop our vision regarding creative learning in Northampton.

“Together we can realise the potential that will be unlocked by opening a new cultural and creative industries school in Northampton.”

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And, building on the Royal’s early history as an opera house, its artistic director James Dacre has announced plans for an expansion of music theatre.

The Royal & Derngate has gathered a consortium of partners – including Scottish Opera, Musical Theatre Network,
Perfect Pitch, Improbable, China Plate and Underbelly – to commission, develop and support new music theatre, offering everything from opera to musicals, which it expects to present over the coming years in a festival
format, in Northampton and at major UK and international festivals.

The theatre is working with Studio Three Sixty who are developing a new portable theatre venue called The Mix, which will provide an architecturally striking performance space for this series of commissions.

Designed specifically with live music in mind, The Mix can be transformed into different layouts, with flexible auditorium seating for between 200 and 400 people.

Mr Dacre explained: “For a long time we have felt that the scale and demands of new musicals and operas exclude theatres and organisations like ours, which lack the finances and resources to realise them.

“So we are interested in a new model for creating music-theatre that can liberate writers, composers and creators from the barriers they’ve previously faced in originating new work and still be audience-friendly, locally relevant, collaborative and deeply imaginative.

“We want to demonstrate that new musical work in all its variations can be enjoyable, accessible, contemporary and exciting in celebrating the power of the sung word”.

A new filmhouse is also proposed for Daventry – developed and operated by Royal & Derngate and building on the success of the theatre’s cinema, the Errol Flynn Filmhouse.

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