Charlotte Harding from etc magazine talks to Amanda O’Reilly about her role in turning around the fortunes of Worthing Theatres.
The theatre can be a very emotive place be it the plays you see or the feelings you have when you walk out the door. Amanda O’Reilly is head of culture at Worthing theatres and museum and agrees that it is very special. “Theatres are place making. They can really do a lot and add colour and vibrancy to a community,” she enthuses. “There is so much loneliness out there so it gives people a place to go and meet people of different ages from different walks of life. It is a break from the hamster wheel, I really believe it is an oasis.”
As well as dealing with running the theatres (which includes the Assembly Hall, Pavilion Theatre, Connaught Theatre and Studio), museum, looking after the teams and toilets, she also does the programming.
“I spend more time than I would like trying to sort out the toilets,” she laughs. “We have seven genres that we book for. So contemporary dance we have say six a year, there is the studio where we show new work, the summer of circus is a big draw for us and we are looking to increase how long it is on for next year, looking at June through to September for those big pieces.
“Then there is the theatre where we try to have something on regularly, monthly talks and comedy if we can get a name that has been on telly that is great as they always sell well.”
Amanda admits that when she started at the theatre as a manager the programme needed some work but she is happy with the quality of the acts now. This is reflected in the fact that the theatre is now financially viable and ‘in the black’. “There are a few reasons why,” she begins. “We have invested in a really strong marketing team it is good to have quality productions but you need that awareness and interesting campaigns.
“We have also created an eclectic programme that people want to pay to come and see which is great. “After every show we ask people for feedback and we listen and use that for future bookings.
“I think what we have to offer on our program rivals any other theatre in the country.”
The theatre also has other revenue streams so when the studio and Connaught isn’t being used they hire it out for productions or parties, and the cinema has grown in strength.
Each entity is not seen as separate but all work together to give something more interesting and better to the town.
“If we have a play or film showing we see if this can be linked to something else. So for example if a film or play is set in the 1930s we may hold an exhibition at the museum with costumes from that era.”
With 2019’s schedule almost done and shows booked for 2020 and 2021 Amanda says that she spends a lot of time looking forward. “It can be hard as you are always looking at what you have coming up that you often don’t look at what you have already achieved,” she explains. “The Exploded Circus was a fantastic event though, we had great feedback from that.” She goes on to add that Worthing loves a traditional panto but that they look to do something a bit different with it. “We know what pantos we are going to do for the next few years, we don’t do the casting but we like to know the concept so we can begin work on that,” says Amanda.
“But we do it with a twist. For example this year’s Aladdin our Abanazar is a woman whereas traditionally the character is played by a man.”
As for future plans there is a project relating to the Pavilion Theatre where they are considering adding a balcony and modifying the seats. Amanda explains that these are ten-year projects so rather than rush it through they want to take their time and see where the pennies are being spent.
Another exciting project is ‘let the light in’ and will see changes being made to Worthing Museum and Art Gallery. Currently 50 per cent of the building is accessible and just five per cent of the collection is on display, Amanda wants to change this.
Amanda originally studied theatre and dance at university but while resting her hip after injury she had to stop dancing and instead got a theatre manager job. Moving to Worthing theatres five years ago, dances loss has been Sussex’s gain.