Built to house exceptional theatre and to be rooted in the heart of Leeds’ communities, this March West Yorkshire Playhouse celebrates 25 years of inspirational work on Quarry Hill. In 1964 a group of 23 passionate drama lovers, headed by Doreen Newlyn, began a campaign to secure a permanent and professional producing theatre for the city. In 1969 the then ‘Leeds Playhouse’ moved into a temporary home at the University of Leeds. Determined to find something more lasting they continued to battle for a resident theatre in the city centre. On 8 March 1990 West Yorkshire Playhouse threw open its doors to the people of Leeds and since then more than 4 million people have seen a show on one of the Playhouse stages. 322 productions have been staged, and a far-reaching programme of education and outreach work has been created and delivered across the city and beyond.
25 years on and the Playhouse is a vital cultural hub for the city, a compelling creative force driven by the city’s desire to see original drama in Leeds. Today Artistic Director James Brining continues to challenge with a diverse programme of arresting theatre that reflects society today. Reworking classic texts for the 21st century such as the award-winning contemporary production of Sweeney Todd set in 1980s Thatcher Britain and his inventive take on Bennett’s Enjoy, which scrutinised reality TV, sit in tandem with new initiatives such as A Play, A Pie and A Pint performed in the bar and brand new plays which inspire and excite, such as Maxine Peake’s critically acclaimed Beryl which will tour the UK later this year and Zodwa Nyoni’s Boi Boi is Dead.
Collaboration has always been important and the Playhouse continues to partner innovative and exciting organisations across the country. On-going relationships with The Royal Exchange Theatre, Kneehigh, Headlong, Birmingham Rep and new associations with companies such as the egg in Bath and Tiata Fahodzi allow the work of the Playhouse to be seen outside of Yorkshire widening the reach of our own productions.
Artistic Director James Brining comments…
The significance of this theatre being built close to the city centre 25 years ago was huge. Moving the Playhouse from the intellectual grounds of Leeds University right into the heart of the city’s communities suddenly opened it up like never before. Cementing the relationship between great drama, accessibility and community outreach work has always been a driving force for West Yorkshire Playhouse. It is my vision as Artistic Director to open up what we do even further. New initiatives include a Youth Theatre, a Community Ambassadors Scheme, Dementia Friendly productions, touring our work to community venues, establishing a third production space and a raft of artist development opportunities to sit alongside our programme of world class, cutting edge and popular theatre.
The next few years promise much as Brining and his team secure a dynamic future for the theatre. The implementation of a comprehensive talent development programme which includes supporting directors, writers, actors, designers, technicians and theatre makers to hone their practice, helps to discover upcoming creative talent. From simple initiatives such as free space to experiment to longer residencies in which artists are supported on all levels from grant applications to professional research & development advice. Alongside this a Capital Development project is planned in which the theatre would turn to face the city it continues to be inspired by. Together with revamping the iconic stages, new spaces will be created for rehearsal and performance, as well as vibrant spaces for workshops, meetings and creative thinking. This significant redevelopment mirrors the determination set out 25 years ago for vibrant, forward thinking and accessible theatre in the city.
Alongside the on-stage work the Playhouse continues to offer an extraordinary programme of unique outreach work with communities from across Yorkshire. Year on year the theatre’s engagement programme has grown, from its pioneering access work to its inclusive creative arts projects for older and young participants (including the creation in 2009 of the award-winning First Floor, a space dedicated to work for young people), to the development of a brand new strand of work for people living with dementia, their families and carers.
Committed to deepening the Playhouse’s engagement across communities Brining continues to introduce and support new initiatives that cement relationships in the community. He began by introducing a Youth Theatre; now with over 160 attendees it is about to enter its 3rd year. Members have developed their own devised work, worked with professional writers to create and stage two new plays, they have performed and worked alongside professional casts as well as regularly performing for friends and family. Last year a new community ambassador programme was created to cement the theatre’s relationships with its surrounding communities. Brining’s production of Talking Heads by Alan Bennett toured seven community venues playing to audiences who may not ordinarily engage with the Playhouse, championed by ambassadors from each community. This spring the second community tour will begin; Little Sure Shot is a family show full of theatrical magic found in a live theatre performance.
Community attendees commented,
Bringing theatre to the inner-city – Brilliant idea!’ ‘…this gives us all a chance to see plays on our own doorsteps’
From vast Quarry stage productions of major texts like James Brining’s The Crucible to individually tailored community projects like First Floor’s Buzz Art Awards West Yorkshire Playhouse at 25 is a vital artistic, a community hub for Leeds to be proud of with a vibrant and vital future ahead.
Playhouse Chairman Sir Rodney Brooke said,
The Playhouse has a long history of creating excellent theatre which stretches back to its days in its temporary home on the Leeds University campus. It was championed by the people of Leeds, and built out of a desire for access to great plays right here in the city centre. Today the Playhouse has even more to offer. It is a vibrant, exciting and endlessly creative company which champions everything from great classic drama to new writing, talent development to education and outreach work. It is full of vitality and we are looking forward to a bright and entertaining future.