Words: Amy Jane Smith, Marketing Officer
Today marks the third anniversary of our theatre opening, and this date also closely coincides with an even more exciting milestone: our millionth customer.
I caught up with our Theatre Director Mark Everett to find out how he feels when he recalls the last three wonderful but hectic years.
He describes a sense of “amazement. It’s bizarre to think back on that time over three years ago – the anticipation and anxiety of opening this new theatre and how far we’ve come since then.”
“Really, we’ve achieved most of what we set out to do and then some. The idea of being able to host Glyndebourne was almost totemic in building the new theatre. We’re now one of their regular venues on their limited tours – which is a real mark of success but also stability. The big producers seem to love coming here, and so we’re proud to be able to present the best touring shows. We have a wonderful, varied programme right through 2016.”
“The other end of the spectrum, but equally exciting, is the work coming into (and now also out of) The Marlowe Studio. It’s an absolute joy housing this new venue, presenting the best new plays, contemporary theatre and comedy. Anyone who has enjoyed a show in the space will know that there’s a different energy to it – the intimacy of it being such a small space (150 seats) lends a sense of exclusivity: you feel like you’re part of something really special.”
And how about the thought of one million customers?
“Well, how do you process that one? It’s a number that feels intangible, too big to process, but this isn’t a statistic that we’re patting ourselves on the back for. It’s overwhelming and of course it feels great, but more than anything it’s humbling, and makes us so appreciate our audiences: quite literally, we’d be nothing without them. It’s also strong evidence that love of theatre is alive and well. I may be biased, but there really is nothing quite like a night of live entertainment – and this number just goes to prove that.”
While our audience numbers grow, so do staff numbers. Mark recalls a changing team and atmosphere around the building:
“On re-opening, we had some staff members from the previous theatre but a mostly new team – some of whom were even new to the theatre industry. All of us, regardless of levels of experience, had to learn and learn fast – with the new theatre being a whole new entity with its own challenges and opportunities. We’ve been through a lot together and I couldn’t wish for a better team, of which there are now over 150 of us. Our staff members have built up a superb level of expertise – it’s great to feel so settled and safe with a brilliant, innovative team.”
Personally I was so glad to begin my theatre career here as Arts Marketing Trainee. The scheme is still going and going strong.
“Absolutely. It’s a credit to the theatre to have the traineeships run so well. Our most recent “graduates” as it were have gone straight onto jobs at the Donmar Warehouse, Soho Theatre and Finborough Theatre – with previous trainees now enjoying advanced careers at the National Theatre, on tour with Blood Brothers and Wicked, amongst other esteemed companies. This kind of full-time paid training job is rare in this industry but is so important to us, to nurture these young people and help them begin their careers. We can now confidently call ourselves a learning organisation – and it’s one of the things I’m most proud of.”
How about the shows themselves – what would your top three productions from the last three years be?
“Oh that’s a tough one. Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake would have to be up there. It’s a stunning production but it’s also one there’s no way we could have hosted in the previous theatre – so that was a real proud moment, and felt like a personal journey. Porgy And Bess was a massive production that felt really special, then in the Studio this year’s Marlowe450 season was fantastic. To work with this young, fresh company [Fourth Monkey] to mark Marlowe’s 450th anniversary felt important and exciting.”
And how about shows yet to come? What are you most excited for?
“I can’t wait for the return of Cirque Eloize with Cirkopolis – anyone who saw their previous production here in 2011 will know just how fantastic they are. Also Kneehigh Theatre’s Rebecca – a company I can’t stop raving about. It’s not just in the Studio that we have cutting edge work – these are one of the best touring companies around. Though in the Studio The Paper Birds are back with Blind. I saw and loved Thirsty last year, and missed the debut of this piece in April so will be booking to see it here in October.”
“Of course the show we’re all most excited for has to be Beached. It’s the first play we are producing, which is premiering in The Marlowe Studio in October for a week before transferring to the Soho Theatre. It’s the sum of so much hard work, much of which is still to come, but also only the beginning of our journey into the world of producing.”
The creative projects department has also grown considerably over the past few years, right?
“Oh, beyond belief. We started out with The Marlowe Youth Theatre, adult acting and pre-school classes running out of The Marlowe Studio. We’ve since added a class for 5-7yrs (Minis), and also The Marlowe Literary Department led by our Marlowe Literary Associate Simon Mendes da Costa. We’ve been able to offer script feedback, and writing workshops through this. The classes expanded to the point where they had to take up a new home – with us taking on a new space in the form of The Marlowe Lab at Pound Lane.”
“Our creative projects team have taken us from just giving classes, to linking up with national companies, local communities, and putting on full-scale productions. We’re about to enter into our third National Theatre Connections play – both with our own youth theatre taking part and hosting the South East’s festival. Then there’s mid-year writing showcases and festivals such as Modern Heresies, Canterbury Children’s Festival, and of course our community production.”
“Last year saw our creative classes work together to produce and perform The Garden Of England – a stunning celebration of our rich and diverse heritage, with the performance taking place across our grounds and in The Marlowe Studio. There was such an atmosphere about the place. For a first project of its kind here, it was hugely ambitious and successful – the participants loved getting to perform in a professional theatre. Our next community production, The Rights Of Others, will take place in July – and I’m sure it’ll be even bigger and better.”
Any final thoughts?
“Just thank you – to the companies who visit us with wonderful shows and the producers that bring them, to the team here at The Marlowe and to you – our brilliant, supportive audience. We look forward to seeing you again soon.”