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Jill Freud on Running a Summer Theatre in Suffolk

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What motivated you to start a summer theatre in Southwold 26 years ago?
There was already a repertory theatre in Southwold. It was weekly rep, which was usual then, and – to be frank – fairly basic. I already had a small company touring popular classics – The Canterbury Tales, Under Milk Wood, Cider With Rosie, and so on. We played in Southwold in the course of our tour and I was asked if I would take over the following season. My primary motivation was to provide work for actors.

How has it developed since then?
We were determined to raise standards by having more rehearsal time. Now each show gets three weeks of rehearsal and at least two weeks actually playing. There also a lunchtime theatre season on Fridays and Saturdays in the Sutherland House Hotel, parts of which date from the 15th century, a full programme of shows specially for children and two Sunday evening entertainments.

How did the extension of the season to Aldeburgh come about?
Aldeburgh had recently refurbished a run-down hall and the committee which ran it decided that they wanted what Southwold had. Most of our shows start in Southwold but at least two are now first staged in Aldeburgh. This year they are My Cousin Rachel and Abigail’s Party.

What influences the choice of repertoire?
We are not subsidised by any arts organisation or by the local authority, though we do have support from several commercial sponsors, and so the plays must be ones which the audience actually wants to see. Quite apart from tourists and other holiday-makers, many local people come to every show. So there must be variety. We do make a point of going for quality writing within those criteria. We have staged several plays specially written for us and have also adapted from classic film scripts.

How do you see the future for summer theatre?
The theatre here is an intrinsic part of life in the town. I think it will always be wanted, but the season will need regular outside financial support sooner or later. Two of our productions have already had a direct after-life; in 2008 we took The Lady Vanishes to the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford, and Mark Sterling's company took it out again in early 2010. In 2009 we transferred our production of Crooked Wood by Gillian Plowman once again to the Yvonne Arnaud. I played in that one myself. The touring of shows which start here is something that myself, Peter Adshead (our general manager, who is also an independent producer) and Mark Sterling (who is a director as well as a producer) are particularly keen on undertaking.


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