Curtains open on exciting times ahead

Jo Potts and the new Alnwick Playhouse website
Jo Potts and the new Alnwick Playhouse website

BREATHING new life into the Alnwick Playhouse, theatre manager Jo Potts has launched the first of a number of projects to update the venue.

And she has grand plans for the long-term future of the arts centre, which she thinks can be bigger, better and more accessible to everyone in Northumberland.

A new website for the theatre has been in the pipeline for some time.

But thanks to Jo, it is now up and running with better and more accessible features, more interactive links and a sophisticated new look.

And for Jo, who took over the running of the Playhouse in August, the website is the first in a line of ideas and projects she has in mind to revitalise the theatre.

“It’s been a baptism of fire since I took over,” she said.

“The website was half-designed so that has been a major accomplishment bringing that in-house. It has been extra work, but it was out-sourced before so now we can update it.

“That’s the best thing about it – we control it. This is the way forward and this is the way people will find things out.

“We’re also looking to link it with Facebook and Twitter.

“And we’re looking at applying for a Grant for the Arts to help with marketing.”

But Jo arrived at the Playhouse just after its board received the news that a joint bid with Northumberland Theatre Company for funding from the Arts Council was unsuccessful.

She said: “We’ve had to deal with not getting the National Portfolio funding from the Arts Council and we have had to look strategically at funds to make sure that the Playhouse keeps going.

“But looking at it now, the Playhouse could benefit from not having the funding.

“Both the Queen’s Hall at Hexham and the Maltings at Berwick have Arts Council funds and have to meet that criteria.

“I see this as an opportunity for the Alnwick Playhouse to really help deliver the Northumberland County Council strategic level agreement.

“And I think it puts us in a better position to look at increasing projects and how to deliver things in the future.

“I can see us being a major partner with Northumberland County Council as the others are partnered with the Arts Council as well.

“I think that in the next three years we can work towards becoming a National Portfolio Organisation. If you look at the Maltings, I think we can deliver that.”

She added that the Playhouse has an opportunity to reach out to the people of Northumberland and spread its wings in terms of audience, attracting visitors not just from Alnwick and the surrounding areas but further afield as well.

“It is a beautiful venue,” she said.

“We need to look beyond Alnwick and have a wider catchment area, bringing in people from Morpeth and further afield.

“That means we don’t rely on the same audience groups.

“But to do that we have to get up-to-date.”

The website already has an e-newsletter facility to which people can sign up and receive regular updates about what is coming up at the venue.

And online ticket booking is soon to be added, meaning that people can book their seats at any time of day or night.

The Playhouse’s Friends scheme is still ongoing, and staff at the venue have already added the friends to the new system.

Jo is also keen to have more community groups using the Playhouse as a meeting venue.

“It is about creating that community vibe,” she said.

“We are part of the community and we want others to come and be part of that.”

It is envisaged that a coffee area will be set up near the box office.

But Jo doesn’t want it to detract from other cafe and coffee shop businesses in the town.

She said: “The Playhouse wouldn’t be complete with out a place where people can sit and have a cup of coffee.

“All arts venues have coffee shops and the area in the front where the exhibitions are is the perfect place.”

Jo is also looking forward to revealing the spring programme, her first for the theatre, in which she hopes she has provided the right mix of acts and shows to reach out to all audience tastes.

“As it is my first one, I want to shout about it,” she said.

“In February, historically it has been mainly films on show and live events didn’t seem to appear.

“But I have decided to introduce live events earlier in the year to see if it will attract people.”

The live event programme will kick off with Buddy Holly: The 75th Birthday Party, which marks the singer-songwriter’s year of birth.

It also takes place the day after the 53rd anniversary of his death.

The Unthanks, young storytellers who forge links between folk worlds old and new, will also be included, along with Equus and comedian Count Arthur Strong.

There is also a collaboration running between the Playhouse, Maltings and Queen’s Hall at Hexham with two pieces of work being commissioned and put on display in March in the NTC Studio.

For more information, visit www.aln wickplayhouse.co.uk and to sign up to the e-newsletter, type your information into the RSVP by email box.