In an exclusive two-part series, Paris Ali-Pilling interviews Richard Stride, the Artistic Director of Groundlings Theatre. Check out Part I, published yesterday. In part II, they discuss how the Theatre raises money to operate, celebrities that have supported the venue, and the challenges of applying for funding as a community theatre that relies on volunteers.
How much interest do you get in renting out costumes or the venue for hire?
We get quite a lot of venue for hire. We are in the middle of a process at the moment of rejigging our wardrobe, making it easier, making it more user-friendly.
We’d like to get more hires out on costumes, but its working to manage it. We have an awful lot of costumes so we’ve gone through a few sales to thin out some of it: either [costumes that] don’t get hired out very often or [that] we won’t be using ourselves. Hopefully we will start to pick up more hires.
Do you hire out to tv, film?
Yeah we hire out to tv, film, commercials, schools, colleges, universities, other drama groups, [and] individuals, someone who just wants to go to a party dressed as a pirate. [Hires range from] individuals, all the way up to the BBC and major TV networks, film companies. Some of the costumes in there were used in BBC’s Titanic.
There are a lot that have been used by Oscar-winning actors. It’s quite funny sometimes when I watch TV and I go ‘that’s our costume’.
Are there well-known actors who have starred in productions at Groundlings? If so, what was it like? Did it bring in more people?
Did it bring in more people? I don’t know. We tend to have a philosophy: we cast people because they’re good, not because they’ve got a name to them.
So we’ve had Steve Arnold here who was in Coronation Street, he’s a brilliant actor and he did three productions with us. We’ve had Tom Owen who was in Last of the Summer Wine. We’ve had Jane Merrow who won a Golden Globe for The Lion in Winter.
We’ve had all sorts of people come here and a lot of celebrities visit here, which is really nice. Everyone from Lynn McGranger from Home and Away to Anthony Hopkins, Anita Dobson, people like that who have come down and either ran a workshop with the drama school or they’re just passionate about the building. Sometimes we’ve been hired out by a film company, for instance, and they have been filming here or elsewhere and used Groundlings as a unit base.
What are the difficulties you find running Groundlings?
Having a lack of staff, which is [related to] a lack of funding. Funding is a big thing, these buildings need to be financially viable and they need to be able to make enough money and that is very difficult. We have to be incredibly creative in reducing costs, which means we are environmentally-friendly, we reuse everything.
We could do so much more if the funding was there and it would be great value for money, but it’s just trying to get that bit of funding to keep everything going and keep it working. The theatre itself is never going to raise the £800,000 it needs to restore this building, it is never going to happen by itself in the timespan that it needs to do it in. It has to come from funding, there has to be some sort of ability to be able to get that and that’s where the volunteers come in: whether it’s just picking up a couple of leaflets to take down to their local shop, or coming in and painting a set, that’s all saving us money and time, which means it allows the staff to try and chase the grants.
That is where the community can make a really big difference.
Do you get funding for the theatre?
No. We’ve had little bits and pieces but they are, in the great scheme of things, drops in the ocean, fantastic as they are. The Lord Mayor either last year or the year before gave us about £800. But to give you an idea, it costs £650 per day to run this building. It takes a lot of money to run the place and that’s why it’s so difficult, but we make money go a long way here.
There is funding out there but the difficulty as a small organisation is you don’t have enough people to write the bids to get the funding in. Larger organisations employ someone whose only job is to write bids and get funding. The chap who writes our bids is doing six other jobs as well so it’s squeezed in whenever they can. You can either fill that [gap] with a volunteer or [you] can fill it through funding that produces enough money to get us another funder to try and get more money.
Do you have drama students from local education institutions asking for placements?
Yes we get a lot: from schools, colleges and universities. It varies, on a Monday we may have about 20, on other days it may only be one or two. There’s always at least one in the building at any one point.
Anything else you would like to add?
If anyone wants to make a donation call us on the phone which is 02392 737370 or if they want to do some volunteering they can call us on that same number.
Find out more:
Find out what’s on at the Groundlings Theatre website, and find out more about their education programme and volunteering opportunities. You can also call the Box Office on 023 9273 7370 to book tickets.
Don’t miss the Theatre’s massive sale of costumes, sets and props to raise money to support the theatre. Thousands of items will be available from as little as £5, on 21st March 1pm to 5pm, Groundlings Theatre. Don’t miss it!
Want a different kind of day out? Join the historical figures of Groundlings as they take you on an exciting tour of this mysterious theatre. There are lots of dates to choose from, check here.
Image from Groundlings Theatre.