North East theatre groups receive £16,000 boost

Community theatre groups in the region have landed a windfall of £16,000 from a BBC charity set up to support grass roots talent across the country

The Twisting Duck theatre company
The Twisting Duck theatre company

Community theatre groups in the region have landed a windfall of £16,000 from a BBC charity set up to support grass roots talent across the country.

Awards from the Performing Arts Fund, ranging from £500 to £10,000, are going to five groups spread around the region, with development agency The Empty Space, based at Dance City in Newcastle, bagging the biggest.

The money comes from “incidental revenue” from public telephone votes to the TV channel’s hit shows such as Strictly Come Dancing and The Voice and it’s been handed out in the form of arts grants and bursaries for the past 10 years.

With this year’s focus being on theatre, the new awards highlight the work of Alnwick Playhouse Youth Theatre, The Castle Players, The Twisting Ducks Theatre Company and Valley Players as well as The Empty Space which will be spending its £10,000 on employing a Fellow, Jamie Hannon, in 2014.

A delighted Jamie, who is from South Shields but currently lives in London, says the award will fulfil a long-awaited ambition to work back in the North East.

The 28-year-old actor, who trained in performing arts at Newcastle College then completed an MA in creative producing in London, said: “It’s brilliant - I love the fact I’ve got a chance to come back and do something in the region.

“I’d been looking for an excuse to come back. Producing is something I really want to do, as well as acting, and I’m interested in true stories.”

The Fellowship will run for six months. “For the first half I’ll be working on Empty Space projects, learning and cutting my teeth there, and for the second half they’ll be letting me loose to do my own show with support from mentors,” said Jamie, currently duty manager at London’s Southwick Playhouse.

His is one of 19 Fellowships made by the charity across the UK, with awards also going to a total of 58 community theatre projects.

Of these, Alnwick Playhouse Youth Theatre in Northumberland gets £4,810 to help it run regular sessions and holiday master classes to teach young people outdoor theatre skills.

Playhouse manager Jo Potts said: “We are thrilled that our project is successful.

“It is a fantastically exciting development for the youth theatre who will have the opportunity to develop a new set of skills - circus, clowning and street theatre - and will perform at outdoor local festivals to really create a buzz.”

Newcastle-based Twisting Ducks gets £3,000 to help performers with profound learning disabilities become involved in different forms of theatre; while £2,500 goes to Barnard Castle-based community drama group The Castle Players to support a spring and an autumn show and £500 is awarded to Valley Players, based in Seaton Delaval community centre, towards three performances of new play.

Miriam O’Keeffe, director of the BBC Performing Arts Fund, said: “I think the arts are really important, socially. This year we have spread £430,000 right across the UK - 78% of those supported are based outside of London.

“It’s been amazing year, looking at the breadth of theatre happening across the country.”

The charity’s hope for next year is to make grants for dance. For more on its awards www.bbc.co.uk/performingartsfund

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