The Castle theatre in Wellingborough is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year and is planning a range of events to mark its birthday, including a special gala dinner on Monday, March 30.
The official opening was on March 30, 1995, with the theatre’s patron at the time, actor Jeremy Irons, doing the honours. The first public performance was a showing of the film Casablanca, and the first live show was Annie.
Describing how the theatre came to be built, current theatre director Darren Walter said: “There was a strong scene of amateur groups so the thrust came from the community. The council secured the funding and the theatre was built in about two years.
“It has a 500-seat theatre which is quite unusual for a town this size, there are West End stages that are smaller, and it is a real jewel. Wellingborough is lucky to have it.
“Over the years we have increased the amount of engagement work with the community and first-time visitor rates are increasing. We get about 240 people attending classes here each week and 12,000 young people come to classes here every year. We are very keen to remain relevant to the community we’re in.
“We are using the 20th anniversary to focus attention on ourselves so we can engage with more people and build relationships with customers, communities and businesses.”
During the past 20 years the theatre has changed what it offers. Mr Walter said: “The programme is more aspirational now, we have diversified and do more things for families and children, more broadcast shows from places such as the Royal Opera House and we do more live music so we can be more relevant.”
Funding is an issue for regional theatres and The Castle has seen its funding from Wellingborough Council cut for the past two years. It does still receive Arts Council money and is looking at special initiatives this year including a business club which local businesses will pay £1,000 to be members of, and the board of trustees have pledged to match-fund every £1 donated by the public up to a total of £20,000.
Mr Walter said: “One way to get more money is to do more commercial theatre but that’s not what we’re about. We’re trying to find out what The Castle means to people and what impact we’ve had on people’s lives because that can help with funding.
“It’s about peeling back and seeing how the theatre can be incredibly valuable in building life skills through the work we do with young people. The youth theatre groups are our lifeblood.”
For more details about The Castle visit [http://www.thecastle.org.uk/|www.thecastle.org.uk|}.