How Theatre Orchard took live performance to the masses ahead of new season

PUBLISHED: 16:23 03 September 2018 | UPDATED: 16:23 03 September 2018

Fiona Matthews

Fiona Matthews

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More than a decade since Theatre Orchard began as a short-term community project, the performing arts charity is set to present its latest programme of shows across North Somerset. Creative director Fiona Matthews has been speaking about the success story...

North Somerset MP Dr Liam Fox with Fiona Matthews and Living Spit's Howard Coggins at the opening of Theatre Shop in 2015.North Somerset MP Dr Liam Fox with Fiona Matthews and Living Spit's Howard Coggins at the opening of Theatre Shop in 2015.

The charity began life working with eight professional arts groups and communities across a six-month period.

The scheme culminated with a performance called Festival of Eight and its success inspired Theatre Orchard to become a more permanent fixture.

Since then the group has grown and since 2015, working in partnership with comedy duo Living Spit, has put on a regular programme of shows at Theatre Shop – a disused retail unit in the heart of Clevedon.

It’s success then inspired a similar venture in Theatre Tropicana, again making use of space to help breathe some new life into an iconic Weston venue.

Theatre Shop is run in partnership with Living Spit.Theatre Shop is run in partnership with Living Spit.

However, despite Theatre Orchard’s dedication and drive Fiona Matthews, who has been involved since day one, says it is North Somerset’s appetite for live performance which has been the catalyst for the charity’s success.

She said: “The fantastic people of North Somerset – audiences, participants and volunteers alike – have been brilliant ambassadors, enabling and supporting live arts events in all sorts of unusual places and keeping up a rallying cry for more.

“Throughout there has been a real groundswell of support from local communities and a willingness to take risks on a range of experiences, that has given us the impetus to keep at it despite the financial challenges.

“We have been ambitious about ensuring all the work we present is off exceptional quality – it is not just the cities that deserve great work on their doorsteps.

Frankie Vah. Picture: Eoin CareyFrankie Vah. Picture: Eoin Carey

“It sounds cliched, but we have genuinely been motivated by a belief that the arts should be part of everyday life for everyone.

“Live arts have so much to offer individuals and communities. They can cast fresh perspectives on places and social issues, create unforgettable shared experiences, build skills, confidence and employment – transformational in many senses of the word.”

In April this year, Theatre Orchard reached one of its biggest landmarks.

It became one of Arts Council England’s National Portfolio organisations – giving it access to funding worth up to £360,000 over the next four years.

Theatre Shop is run in partnership with Living Spit.Theatre Shop is run in partnership with Living Spit.

Fiona says the achievement is one of the proudest moments of her career, along with steering Theatre Shop into its fourth year.

She said: “It has very much been a Clevedon effort – local tradesmen made our bar, a local designer creates our publicity material, local drinks producers stock our shelves.

“We also collaborate with other creative organisations in the town to spill Theatre Shop’s wares out beyond its four walls.

“In the past few years we have also begun to programme more free outdoor work in order to widen our audiences.

Fiona MatthewsFiona Matthews

“In addition to our professional programme, we run outreach opportunities for local communities and have a particular track record of working in Weston’s South Ward.

“Fundraising and new project development are also key parts of my role.”

Theatre Orchard has also put on Le Cirque de Platzak in Weston’s Italian Gardens while the Weekend of Wonders will return to the town on September 29.

As well as a series of performances at Theatre Tropicana this winter, Theatre Shop will welcome Living Spit’s new show Giants Of Science, award-winning poet Luke Wright’s show called Frankie Vah, and tragi-comedy Bismillah! by Wound Up Theatre.

Children will also be able to enjoy Star Seekers from Wardrobe Ensemble, a performance of Joan Aiken’s A Necklace Of Raindrops and Christmas treat The Little Match Girl.

Theatre Orchard also hopes to employ apprentices to its soon-to-be core team of six staff which work alongside a dedicated group of volunteers.

Fiona added: “We are currently in our first year as an Arts Council National Portfolio organisation, and short-term we plan to keep building the foundations to put us in a more robust position that can ensure a bright cultural future for North Somerset.

“In due course, we would like to look at creating more apprenticeship opportunities that can benefit young people.

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