Comment: Why I am optimistic about the future of Playbox Theatre in Warwick after the toughest time in its history

Stewart McGill of Playbox Theatre explains why there is great hope for the theatre scene after lockdown

Tuesday, 11th August 2020, 12:09 pm
The future is bright for the Playbox Theatre in Warwick.
The future is bright for the Playbox Theatre in Warwick.

Like many theatres across the Warwick district - and across the country - the Playbox Theatre in Warwick feared for its future when lockdown began in March. But while the country stayed indoors, many people got to work behind the scenes to make sure its future was secure. And as the country comes out of lockdown, the theatre is optimistic about what lies ahead. Here, Stewart McGill of Playbox Theatre writes about what was the toughest time in the theatre's history and how it will rise again.

As I write this, Playbox Theatre has reopened and welcomed back the first children and young people for participatory theatre since the abrupt closure back in March. It is heart warming to observe many happy and excited people returning to their artistic home.

Since the founding of Playbox in 1986 the company has faced many anxious moments. In the early days as a nomadic troupe finding space for sessions and performances, travelling across Europe for a residency in Poland with armed border guards waking the company at 5am in a scene straight from a Cold War movie and, of course, ensuring that young people in the arts were valued and their work validated by audiences. Yet, never has the company faced the wolf coming through the door - for a while it seemed that the glorious moment was over.

The future is bright for the Playbox Theatre in Warwick.

During Lockdown the support for Playbox Theatre has been overwhelming - from the superb and constant help from Warwick District Council to Arts Council England, local trusts and generous, individual donors together with a massive response from alumni, friends, members, families and worldwide fans.

It has been a humbling but vital exercise in rebuilding our unique company. We are not out of the woods yet as all streams of income ceased in March but, as a company, we feel optimistic that we can build back to serve young people, their audiences and our community.

During the days of closure our reduced management team created The Phoenix Project which runs until, at least, July 2021. As with the mythical bird rising from the ashes to be even more impressive, our company has re-examined what we are, what we must be for the next generation and how, through careful planning, this set of aims and objectives can be met.

A new leaner company is the first change to come into effect, with a distinctive emphasis on creativity. Having to lose some of our loyal staff has been painful and, perhaps, as the year moves on and the threat of Covid 19 eases we can enlarge our team again but, right now, our role in the artistic infrastructure of Warwickshire is to be the model utopia for all young people engaged with

the arts.

The aim with Playbox Theatre, realised at its unique Warwick base, The Dream Factory, has always been to create and develop the most beautiful theatre in the world for young people where everyone, whatever their background, can work side by side - exploring creativity and growing together through the different styles, techniques and possibilities of the arts. The Dream Factory represents a model society and we are, more than ever, determined to build back and reach more young people.

Before closure, our latest initiative Play Square opened to the young families in the local community with a range of free participatory ‘experiences’ available in our studios. This has had to be altered, with help from The Charity of King Henry V111, to a newly developed outdoor promenade that, on reopening in September, will provide even more opportunities.

We have learnt, through Lockdown, just how much Playbox Theatre is valued by people everywhere and those who have left us, some many years ago, hold a special place in their hearts for the company and what is has contributed to their lives.

The Phoenix does rise and the excitement around the building is immense as young people return. A series of semi-improvised outdoor performances will be staged later in August and plans are underway for two ‘special ‘indoor projects that we can stage in a newly configured, socially distant main space.

Christmas will happen and we need a green light for indoor performances to get rehearsals underway in the autumn. This is a challenge that we respond to and finding solutions is a very exciting task for the team. We think we have, in plan, a very special and heart-warming show to end this very difficult year.

As we return to our exceptional Dream Factory it will be with a new spirit of determination, aware of how close the company came to closure, how support is needed to bring us back and how in the light of the Pandemic and global challenges across many political arenas our work must help reshape the future through the strength and passion of the young. Perhaps this moment in our history was needed to prove to us how crucial our work is.

Exciting and challenging times lie ahead and the Playbox team are ready to respond with energy, enthusiasm and passion for the task facing us.