Saturday 4 March – come and be part of The Stables success story
The building that houses Hastings’ Stables Theatre is getting on for 300 years old. In its time it’s been a hay barn, a home for circus elephants, a fire station and a garage. Since the late 1950s, however, it’s been home for a remarkable theatre company, producing outstanding work but entirely run by volunteers. On Saturday 4 March they’re having an open day to get more people involved. Toby Sargent reports.
I’ve been a great fan of The Stables Theatre since seeing last year’s production of The Dresser. The direction was a masterpiece of light and shade, the acting was outstanding, the set superbly evocative of the era, and the whole theatrical experience a delight to watch. So I was amazed to discover later that every single person – from those onstage to the bar staff and the whole front-of-house operation – was a volunteer.
If you – or anyone you know – has ever been interested in getting involved in the theatre, in any capacity at all, I can think of no better place to start.
And if you’re uneasy about taking the first step, the good news is that this Saturday they’re holding an open day to show people around and give them the chance of signing up.
“We’re not amateurs!”
But don’t use the term ‘Am-dram’ (Amateur Dramatics). As Stables Chairman Chris Lacey explains:
“We’re not amateurs! We’re ‘non-professionals’, and that’s a good distinction. It sometimes surprises other groups from this area who come here – and I’m not being perjorative when I say this – who work in church halls; they come here and say ‘It’s a proper theatre!’ And yes, it is a proper theatre.”
Everything done by volunteers
He’s right, of course. There’s a proper stage, proper light gallery, comfortable seating (no stacks of dusty school chairs, dragged out and then put away in a store room at the end of the evening), a real box-office and a good bar for pre-curtain-up refreshments.
And everything – I repeat, everything – is carried out by volunteers (apart from the cleaner, who’s paid). This means the actors on stage, the person who welcomes you when you arrive and explains where to go, and the friendly face behind the bar who measures out your glass of Merlot, is there because they want to be. It’s fun for them, so it’s a genuinely nice experience for the customers. And that’s not something you can usually say about theatrical establishments in the West End.
Some of the younger volunteers have helped set up a strong social media presence. The film put up on their Facebook channel to promote One Man, Two Guvnors, for example, had 4,500 ‘hits’. Chris Lacey sees increasing and sustaining young people’s interest a key priority for the future of the theatre as a meaningful part of Hastings life:
“We want to encourage young blood. Our youth theatre has expanded. It used to be just ‘The Stables Youth Theatre’ but because we did a play about 1066 – written for us – last October, it’s now called ‘The 1066 Youth Theatre’. So while it’s based in The Stables, we’ll get more people from what’s called ‘1066 country’. We’re trying to get people from 15–20 to come here. They can join up for workshops, and possibly put on a production as well as the main one in August.
“The idea is that they will run their own show. We will step back and they can choose the play they want with us providing the facilities.”
So, if you fancy getting involved, either onstage or behind the scenes, I can think of no better way to dip your toe in the water and – hopefully – find a new and fascinating interest. Pop along on Saturday 4 March between 10.30am and 4pm to see for yourself. It could be the start of something huge.
The Stables Theatre is at the top end of The Bourne, Hastings TN34 3BD.
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