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Inside the Venue ... New Diorama

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In the first of an occasional series, we look at a new venue that launched in central London this month, the 80-seat New Diorama, situated near Warren Street and Great Portland Street tube stations and built as part of a £250 million re-development of the area.

For Whatsonstage.com, Jude Offord went to chat to its programming manager David Byrne to find out more.

The building
DB: We have at the New Diorama a brand new 80-seat venue. It's incredible to have a stage with such height – usually smaller venues will have a stage that is long but shallow, or short but deep – but this space can feel epic, and is able to heighten that sense of claustrophobia or give a real sense of sweep. It's very versatile.

As a theatre, I think we're unusual in that we have a garden here, and one that is so private and enclosed. We plan to utilise the outside as a space. It will also function for company events.

We plan to utilise the corridors as installation galleries -we already have artists interested in providing suspension art. And we hope to have bits and pieces that are relevant to the show, so that there's something interesting for people to look at relevant to the show rather than hanging around in the foyer.

The name
We chose the name for two reasons. Diorama Arts had a theatre just down the road which was knocked down and whilst Diorama Arts won’t run the theatre, we thought that it was good to preserve that link – hence the continuity between Diorama Arts Centre to the New Diorama. The link is there with where we are, but not too just prosaically named after the street.

There was also the Diorama in Regent’s Park, which was a Victorian piece where you would stand and look at the stenography. I think that there is something beautiful about creative worlds in small spaces. We want to do epic stories in a small space, so the idea of a Diaroma, originally a cinematic creation that could take you into a completely different world, really resonated with our artistic policy.

Resident company
Quicksilver - our resident company who have produced work for children for over thirty years now- has always dealt with big themes. Its productions deal with death, illness, blindness… it’s very bleak. Children’s work is starting the get he recognition it deserves: the more I see of it, the more I realise that most of it is better than adult work! It is all to do with the emotions that Quicksilver deals with, and the incredible precision that you have to possess when dealing with a young audience who won’t just get bored and fall asleep!

We want companies to produce work for all ages; we're looking to establish a cross-generational venue. Places like the Little Angel Theatre are having problems re-branding themselves as anything other than a ‘children’s theatre’. We want children’s theatre to have a special place here at the New Diorama and to be something that will be continually provided. However, we want shows that children can come to, that parents can come to having left the children at home with the babysitter, and that the grandparents can come to. Hopefully we can bridge the generational gap in the breadth of our work.

My aim for the first year is to get as many people through the building as possible. And also to see what works here. We want a real breadth of ages, of styles. We're hoping for classic work in a very contemporary, modern vein. When you bring work here, you really do bring it to its absolute best. People have been comparing it to a smaller version of The Pit at the Barbican, the Studio at Hampstead Theatre, the Maria at the Young Vic. It's amazing to have a venue of this quality on such a small scale. The possibilities it afforded in terms of programming are so exciting.

Up first, we’ve got Love, Question Mark, the debut from the well-known actor Robert Gillespie, who is most famous for his roles in the 60s and 70s. The next piece, Elevator, is from a young Romanian writer who won the best dramaturgy award at the Romanian writer’s awards. It is the play’s first English outing. Within the mosaic of the season, I thought it would be nice to have this older writer debut his first play, then this young Romanian writer who are both looking at love, but at very different periods of life. Both feature a cast of two. So here we have two very nicely contrasting plays.

We're putting on Hecuba by Lazarus Productions, which is coming in from the Camden fringe. This will be the first proper run for a Camden fringe play. With such a large cast, we felt it deserved a long run.

I'm also really excited about Scene Pool. Companies can come to us and try something out, using the space free-of-charge. Whilst we do want to make money, this serves as a unique mechanism for us to look at emerging companies’ work and see how we might work with them, and see how we might help them develop their work.

So there's a real mix to our ‘under construction’ season. We are having our ‘proper’ opening in September, which I can’t talk about yet.

Quicksilver Children’s Project will produce in-house work and continue to tour. It's an Arts Council subsidised company. The building itself, however, is not subsidised at all. We have to make money off either hiring the space with the work that is coming in, or through projects we do, or through ticket sales, or from our bar/café revenue. The building itself must be self-financing, which in this tough economic climate is a little bit scary. But we’ve a budget that works. We are confident that the programme we have coming in should hopefully help us survive our first year. We have had an awful lot of people be very generous in helping us start up – Diorama Arts gave us a lot of their technical equipment, and with our print and distribution. So we have had a lot of help from the theatrical community in getting going, but no core funding as yet.

Theatres such as the Arcola, the Tricycle, the Southwark Playhouse amongst many others have been so helpful in providing guidance to setting up a venue. Quicksilver have been a touring company for thirty years, yet this is the first time that they have been in a venue proper. It’s been very interesting asking these venues where Quicksilver have toured and saying "We are going to do adult work now too… tell us everything you know".

The New Diorama feels like a proper venue: it’s not in a basement, it’s not an over-ground train away. We're on every major Tube line except the Jubilee, and only a short walk from every major over-ground station. We're near St Pancras, the gateway to the Olympics, and we're also near to the West End.

The West Euston area is insane: we have this huge poor housing estate, but then Fitzrovia Square, we have people who have lived here since the 1920s, and then people who have lived here a few months. We have the ethnicity of Drummond Street. We have canals… the world is in Camden!

Our big community project is to do an outdoors show, as ultimately some people fear the actual theatre building and we have got to consider that we only have 80 seats. We're asking people for their personal memories (‘who had their first kiss here?’, ‘who sat on that step?’, etc) and combining it with the area’s rich history – plague pits, Dick Turpin…We’ll be sifting through all this and one of our writers will turn it into one big overarching story to give out to some of our companies, and then the performances will be strung together as a guiding tour. We are hoping at the end to erect some pseudo blue plaques to commemorate the event! We’ve got some ideas that are even more bonkers than that!

Given the small team, we are hoping we will get lots of locals in. The volunteer scheme will hopefully see local people coming in as ushers in exchange for free tickets. It will be a useful way for them to get to know one another. We want to offer people just out of university a means to find that very difficult first job: we can give them a leg up with an internship by providing lots of training and skills to get them a job somewhere bigger and richer! We hope volunteers will be the heart of our organisation. We are certainly banking on word-of-mouth recommendations. We want it to feel like home, and be somewhere we can all relax.

For more info on the New Diorama, visit www.newdiorama.com


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