Creative producer of Theatre Hullabaloo Miranda Thain talks to Viv Hardwick about the company’s forthcoming international festival in Durham and its battle to retain a foothold in Darlington

The Advertiser Series: Young theatre is clear for TakeOff Young theatre is clear for TakeOff

ON the eve of moving its ambitious Take- Off Festival for Children and Young People to Durham City, Darlingtonbased Theatre Hullabaloo boss Miranda Thain is still looking to a future involving its previous home, the town’s shut down Arts Centre.

The six-day celebration of the world’s best in young entertainment had to be postponed last year, partly because of the uncertainty about the Arts Centre’s future and funding. Tomorrow, international guests start gathering in Durham as shows across the county draw in thousands of young and old.

“We’re working with family audiences to try and fill the gap left by the closure of the amazing space at the Arts Centre,” says Thain, who has been busy moving the company to its new home in Skinnergate, Darlington.

She is unsure that the Central Hall at Darlington’s Dolphin Centre is the long-term answer.

“It’s not a theatre space is it? It’s a reasonable interim, but I’m sad that the we’re were getting a fantastically rich theatre offer by virtue of the Arts Centre programming, but we don’t have space to experience that in our town and we’re having to look creatively at how we can take those experiences elsewhere in the region.”

Thain feels it was difficult to reinvent the Take0ff Festival for Durham, “but we were going to do that anyway. Durham is the core, but this is a region-wide festival and we are using our consortium venues and lots of other partners have got involved.”

The festival has attracted 200 delegates, who will be attending two days of performance and debate.

“We did four years of the festival in Darlngton, but it has run for 25 years and staged 19 of those 25 in the North-East. The festival did go to Durham in 2002 and it is wonderful that we’ve gained the use of the city’s Gala Theatre,” she says.

Darlington will be hosting two shows. Wanted Rabbit, from the Dutch Theatergroep Max, for three to four-year-olds, visits the Central Hall on November 15. York playwright Mike Kenny’s Red Riding Hood, for four and overs, is being staged by Engine House Theatre and Lakeside Arts Centre at Darlington Civic Theatre on November 13.

Sadly, Theatre Hullabaloo’s own contribution to the festival, The Elves And The Shoemakers (two to four age range) misses its home town venues. Not only that, but lack of rehearsal space means the company has had to forge a partnership with Southampton’s The Berry Theatre (England) to bring the show to life for a festival run.

“Our work is produced for theatre spaces so it would be tricky to get our show into somewhere like the Central Hall, so that is a sadness,” says Thain.

The future of Theatre Hullabaloo in Darlington is closely linked to the success of the Project Vane bid to turn the Arts Centre into a boutique hotel, art gallery, performance space and restaurant.

Theatre Hullabaloo is an integral part of the proposed development.

“Our contribution is providing a world class children’s theatre and that’s been greeted very positively and, as far as I understand, this is all in the lap of the Arts Council until January. We need about £1.3m from the Arts Council towards re-development of the site and there’s about £6m from private investors,” says Thain.

NEGOTIATIONS are continuing about the building being donated or rented to Project Vane.

“What we found about the Arts Centre is that after the investment in the theatre space four or five years ago our audiences increased to sell-out numbers. We had built up an audience that was very discerning and children quickly told us if something wasn’t very good. To have that kind of offering to the children of the town made it of national importance.

“The timescale of us moving back in of July 2014 was being bandied about. But I think that will be difficult to achieve now. I do think the council value our presence here and understand the need for a space where we can build our offer as a company.”

The £250,000 Takeoff festival has attracted a record number of international companies and Durham left the event “spoiled for choice” with regard to venues.

A large whale outside Durham’s Gala Theatre Saturday and Sunday will be the first of the free events offered “where children will be told a story before the whale spits them out the other end”.

Polar bears will also be prowling the city on the same days to tempt audiences into adventure.

“What really excites me about the festival is the opportunity for development and the opportunity to do twice as many shows in twice as many venues across the region is there if the support is available,” says Thain.

More than 12,000 youngsters will see a show this year and Theatre Hullabaloo is looking to boost that number in future news.

So does the children’s work on offer just come out of the blue?

“We try to plan across the age range, but people don’t make work in the same way so there is always a piece that we’ve had our eye on for a couple of years.”

The company filling that particular slot this year is London-based Box Clever. One of Durham’s 34 performances includes Box Clever’s challenging work called Time For The Good Looking Boy (November 15, Assembly Rooms, North Bailey), which involves, horror of horrors, teenagers contributing via their mobile phones.

“I think we have to find every way of making sure that theatre is a place that teenagers want to inhabit. I think entertainment is considered an interactive thing now and making it without phones would be considered a bit passive for a young audience. It’ll be interesting to see how it works.”

  • TakeOff Festival, which opens with a story-telling whale and polar bears, runs from Saturday until November 16. Full details: takeofffestival.org.uk
  • The Elves and the Shoemakers, above left, will be performing at regional schools throughout the tour, plus these North-East dates: Saturday, Town Hall Theatre, Hartlepool, 01429-890-000, whatshappeninghartlepool.com Nov 15, Assembly Rooms, Durham, 01325-352-004, takeofffestival.org.uk Nov 28, Lamplight Arts Centre, Stanley, 01207-218-899, leisureworks.net/events/5/lamplight-arts-centre Dec 1, Alnwick Playhouse, Northumberland, 01665-510-785 alnwickplayhouse.co.uk. Dec 6-8, Arts Centre, Washington, 0191-219- 3455 artscentrewashington.co.uk

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