Catherine Lomax discusses her work in Stevenage
How do you fulfil audience expectations? The Gordon Craig Theatre's artistic manager Catherine Lomax has some answers.
It's unusual these days for a theatre such as Stevenage's Gordon Craig to mount three in-house professional productions each year. How did this come about?
The Gordon Craig Theatre has produced two in-house musical productions for over ten years and so producing plays seemed a logical step.
Having lived in Scarborough when I was at university, I had watched Alan Ayckbourn direct some of his own work as well as other plays and so producing and directing a professional play at a professional theatre became a dream of mine!
Our play-going audience is incredibly loyal and many years ago the theatre used to have three three-week play seasons throughout the year.
These were produced by touring companies but with the recession and the decline in plays going out on tour, there were fewer dramas available to book for our theatre's diary.
We needed to make sure that we were delivering what our audience wanted and developing what we offered by way of in-house productions with plays of different genres seemed an obvious choice.
Have you plans to expand the two-play seasons?
Yes, we have produced two in-house plays and two in-house musicals this year alone and, as we continue to develop in reputation and experience, we are ultimately looking to increase what we offer especially as our audience grows.
Is there a chance that you will tour these productions?
We were asked to take our 2014 summer musical Hairspray on tour but unfortunately most of the actors were contracted for other jobs and the performance licence was not available but, next October, we will be producing one of my favourite plays, Moonlight and Magnolias by Ron Hutchinson with a view to then taking it on tour to venues across the UK.
The Gordon Craig offers its patrons a wide mix of staged events. How do the in-house productions sit with these?
The in-house shows are specifically selected to work alongside the touring shows that we receive as well as offer as varied a theatre programme as our audience requires. The Easter musical is always a family treat and I try to specifically select classic stories that everyone will enjoy from the youngest tot to the oldest great-grandparent!
The summer musical varies depending on which musicals are available for licence and what we think the local audience will want to see, as well as what is actually feasible to stage within such a short period. I read a lot of plays and go and see various productions by different writers as well as listen to feedback from our Theatre Friends and forum in order to select the widest range of plays.
Stevenage is very much a commuter town. How does this affect your audience mix?
I think it means our audiences have a wide experience and knowledge of plays and musicals, and so we have to set ourselves very high production values. We are very much in competition with West End musicals and plays less than forty minutes away by train.
However, the price of watching a show in London and ttravel expenses on top of that can be so expensive that most people have to wait for birthdays or a special occasion. We are very conscious of our prices and making sure that we are affordable for our local audience while delivering shows that are comparable with the West End and large-scale touring productions.
What type of productions (panto and concerts apart) are most popular with your audiences?
Comedies are always extremely popular, from stand-up acts to comedic plays, I think everyone loves a comedy, I know I certainly do! Our summer musicals are also incredibly popular but we are aware that we are very lucky at the Gordon Craig Theatre to have such a varied audience and a lot of loyal support.
Do you think this will change? if so, how and why?
I hope not! I think comedy will always be a bit of a favourite because it's an escape from real life and people like to laugh!
You've been at the Gordon Craig now for several years. What is your professional background?
This is my fifth year at the Gordon Craig and I am very lucky to have such a varied role and the chance to work with such a great team. I originally trained and worked as an actress and moved into directing and producing when I set up my own touring theatre company, Great Shakes.
I wrote and directed plays and eventually ended up spending more time off stage than on it but I love everything about creating the shows, from licensing shows to auditioning to watching the sets come together to meeting and working with new performers, designers and creative teams.
I love watching the stage go from being a black box to a brand new scene or world and it never ceases to amaze me how fantastically the lights, sound, musicians and actors can all come together and make something completely magical. I have wanted to work in a theatre since I was a little girl and watched my first ever pantomime and I am very aware of how lucky I am!
Catherine Lomax's production of Francis Durbridge's Fatal Encounter runs at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage 8-11 October.