Selladoor Worldwide has spoken of the “big challenge” it has faced regaining the trust of audiences in Peterborough, a year after taking over a venue whose previous operator collapsed.
Chief executive David Hutchinson also revealed his plans for the former Broadway Theatre, which Selladoor renamed the Peterborough New Theatre, including ambitions to make the stage more compatible for large-scale work.
The venue was reopened by Selladoor in September 2019, following the collapse of former operator Performance Art Ventures in 2018, with producers and contractors claiming to be owed tens of thousands of pounds and more than £68,000 of business rates left unpaid to the council.
Another previous operator of the venue, Paul Coxwell, was jailed in 2014 for fraud after it was discovered that he owed more than £1 million to creditors including producers and the local council.
The Broadway Theatre was this year removed from the Theatres Trust’s Theatres at Risk Register, with its future as a performance venue considered to be secure after it was taken over by Selladoor.
Speaking on a panel at the launch of the register at Hoxton Hall in London, Hutchinson described the theatre’s relationship with its local population as having been “pretty poor, in that the previous operator had gone bust and a lot of people had lost money”.
He added: “So in terms of our first year, it was very much ‘hearts and minds’ and a trust-building exercise, which we’re still absolutely in the middle of at the moment. It’s been a big challenge. However, what’s really exciting, being only month four into operating the theatre, is how quickly people are willing to go on that journey with [us].”
He added: “While we still have people coming in with their ticket stubs from 2017 saying they lost X amount of money – which is horrible – we are gradually starting to install in the audience [the understanding] that they can trust us and that we’re in it for the long run.”
Hutchinson told The Stage that Selladoor has been “really proactive” in trying to engage with local communities to rebuild trust, which has included launching a theatre academy, working with a data analytics company to explore ways of engaging with new audiences, and taking on associate theatre companies.
He added: “A theatre the size of the New Theatre, with heaps of ancillary space and a restaurant on the way, has a purpose to be a place-maker in the city and offer companies and artists ‘making space’ – which is great for them to have a home to develop work, and great for us to be the launch venue of exciting new work.”
Hutchinson said that since taking over the venue, Selladoor had installed a permanent technical rig to allow the venue to house more ambitious musicals than before.
He added: “The theatre is a non-flying house, which does present its challenges, and so we are exploring opportunities to develop the stage footprint to make it even more compatible with the modern-day demands of quality touring theatre.”