ERT first opened its doors on 12th December 2014 and since then has delivered over 50 shows, to almost full capacity, as well as opening up the House Café.
Introducing a theatre to Beverley was the brainchild of Actor, Screenwriter and Artistic Director, Vincent Regan, best known for his roles in films such as; 300, Troy, Clash of The Titans and Snow White and the Huntsman. Vincent was dumbfounded that Beverley didn’t have its own theatre, and having set up South London’s Landor theatre he had the experience and know-how, therefore directly approached East Riding of Yorkshire Council. Timely, the local authority had a listed building available - a former Baptist Chapel built in 1910.
Beverley is synonymous with culture and hosts various annual music festivals such as the award-winning Beverley Folk Festival in June, Early Music Festival in May, the Jazz Festival in August and the Chamber Music Festival in September, as well as an annual literature festival, kite festival and biannual puppet festival. Beverley has been home to theatregoers since the early 1900’s, where nearly 600 people regularly visiting the market town for the Races, then took a trip to the theatre. It was not surprising therefore, that when assessing demand during the mini taster production of ‘Educating Rita’ at the Beverley Arms Hotel and several music concerts, that people flocked. This was the start of making the dream a reality.
Performing arts buildings are usually funded by the Arts Council, the Heritage Lottery Fund or philanthropic individuals, but not in this case; ERT is a self-funded professional theatre. Arts projects of this scale can be high risk, highly complex with design and construction costs usually exceeding the estimated total project costs. However, with 80 volunteers, including a huge array of professionals such as; architects, structural engineers, electricians, painters, etc. a shell of a building was transformed into an intimate and stunning theatre space and café bar. With this local support, coupled with a modest lease agreement, supplies from local businesses and £25k raised from ticket sales, plus sponsorship – East Riding Theatre became the truly atmospheric, 192 seater playhouse we see today, producing high quality and diverse performances on our doorstep.
Despite being just 6 weeks before opening, ETR eagerly agreed to be the filming location for the 2016 ‘Dad’s Army’ film, featuring the Drill Hall and Captain Mainwaring’s office scenes. Directed by BAFTA award-winning Oliver Parker and with a stellar line up of; Bill Nighy, Catherine Zeta Jones, Sir Michael Gambon and Sir Tom Courtney, how could ERT turn them down? The theatre opened on time, despite the interruption.
ERT has hosted a wide range of cultural events including theatre, comedy, music and literary festivals. The inaugural show, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, adapted by Vincent Regan for the stage was a huge sell out and since then the ERT has been at 80%+ capacity. The team there are intent on producing world-class theatre. Having already delivered 5 of their own productions within the last 12 months, ERT have proven their capabilities in producing great theatre in short timescales, and at a level of professionalism no other UK theatre can match.
Elsewhere across the UK, art funding cuts are pushing theatres to the brink of financial collapse, whilst ERT benefit from remaining completely financially independent and risk-averse from this. Artistically, however, this is a local theatre that does take risks, evident in the recent ‘Sparrow’ production. Theatre Director, Sue Kirkman said: “Sparrow is a Marmite production, you either love it or hate it, yet reviews and feedback proved 80% of the audience loved the new play by award-winning author Joe Bennett, with The Observer also giving it a promising 3* review”.
Furthermore, ERT’s hugely successful production of A Steady Rain recently opened for a month at London’s Arcola Theatre; an indication of ATR’s ambition to establish national acclaim.
ERT also works collaboratively with other venues, recently partnering with Bridlington Spa to host the first two shows of their award winning production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance. Going forward, ERT will continue to work with Bridlington Spa and Hull Truck Theatre, as well as being an integral contributor to Hull’s City of Culture 2017. ERT also contribute to growing the next generation of theatre-makers and work closely with York St John University, taking on graduate lighting and sound technicians and allowing them to use the venue for graduate performances. The ERT’s resident company is an all-female theatre group called SHE Productions, formed after a successful charity performance of The Vagina Monologues, and who now produce innovative, multimedia theatre for all to enjoy.
However, it is that the work of the 130 passionate volunteers still involved that truly makes this outstanding theatre such as success. Referred to as “the local version of Dad’s Army” by Theatre Director, Sue Kirkman, these selfless individuals are essential to the running of the theatre and front of house during shows.
Sue said; “The foundations and growth of the project have been completely reliant on the local community. Having been involved in the project from its initial phases to its current entirety, they feel proud to have been part of this extraordinary and successful journey”.
The ERT also benefits from having a committed voluntary Board, comprising of professional theatre-makers and business experts. They also boast they have the support of the acclaimed Dame Judi Dench, who is their Patron, Andrian Rawlins who has now joined ERT’s Board, and an impressive line-up of ambassadors and associated artists such as; John Godber, Richard Bean, Mark Addy and Anna Maxwell-Martin – the list goes on.
Commercially, ERT also hosts the House Café for regular theatregoers, local residents and visitors. A place perfect for brunch, lunch or afternoon tea, the House Café is open Tuesdays to Sundays 10.30am until 4.00pm. All produce is locally sourced, including beer from Wold Top Brewery, wine from the House of Townend in Melton and cakes from ‘The Pop up Bakery’.
So what is the future for ERT? Their dedication and creativity continues to grow, with the opening of a terrace for alfresco dining, pre-theatre dining and the development of a 20-seat VIP Gallery area. Alongside this, more touring productions are promised, plus ‘risky’ shows that can be emotionally challenging to reflect today’s society. ERT is a relatively small venue by theatre standards but has unrivalled bold ambition. Judging by their accolades to date, make sure to watch this space – working at an enviable pace, developments are likely to be achieved in the not too distant future.