The Stables Theatre and Art Centre – an exciting future post pandemic

It has been a very difficult year for all who work in the arts, coping with the Covid restrictions, false starts and the constant uncertainty to our industry writes Neil Sellman Chairman of The Stables Theatre.

Neil Sellman.

But here at the Stables we have been working behind the scenes to maintain the theatre, carrying out essential maintenance and upgrades to the building while putting plans in place, so when the current lockdown eases we are in the best possible position.

The initial lockdown in March 2020 stopped all performances at the theatre for a number of months but as restrictions eased we were able to adapt the theatre to work within the Government’s socially distanced guidelines. 

During December we were able to stage three small scale shows to a socially distanced audience, the stables converted its well-known tiered auditorium into a cabaret style venue. These shows were hugely successful and included West End leading Lady Sophie Louise Dann, who first appeared at the Stables as a pupil at The Hastings Stage Studio, and a radio play version of Its a Wonderful Life presented by Redwood Productions

During the months when Hastings found itself in tiers three and four and now the January to May ‘lockdown’, new ideas about how the theatre could be used have been put into action.

Small, local, professional companies have hired the theatre for rehearsals, R&D projects and live streamed discussions and performance, obviously all events have had to abide by social distance rules and hygiene protocols, which are extremely complicated for theatres. A number of these projects are linked to our website and online platforms.

One of the overriding aims with the current Stables management team is to reach out to support local groups and encourage greater community participation. 

Companies such as Oyster Creatives, who present innovative new writing fusing theatre, film and music, Theatre Nation, a company based in Hastings which produces re-imaginings of classical texts and new work, Fetch Theatre, a touring theatre company producing a highly visual style of theatre incorporating puppetry and mask work and BallyBest Theatre Company, who have been working with London Director and former Artistic Director of the Unicorn Theatre, Tony Graham, on a new piece written to be performed at the Stables called Picture Perfect, have all used the theatre during the past year.

Ben Randall and a group of technicians from both the Stables and West End Theatres have rehearsed and filmed an hour long one actor play called Medium Font, the film will be shown at The Stables and then will be available on line at a later date. All these groups are committed to promoting the arts as an activity for everyone and to bring the highest quality of theatre to audiences of Hastings.  

Local musicians Anna McLean, bands, Kid Chapichi and Nova Twins, have rehearsed and filmed on stage

Outside the normal activities of the Theatre one of our council members, Victoria Fay, has masterminded a food and toy collection programme for vulnerable families in the local community with great success. This has been done in conjunction with The Education Futures Trust and Dom’s Food Mission Charity during school holidays throughout the past year. It has been heart-warming to see so many generous donations by our members and friends of the theatre helping to support children who will also be encouraged to see suitable Stables productions with prizes of free tickets later in the year.

So… what does the future hold?

Our Programme Advisory Group (PAG) reads upwards of 40 potential plays each year to choose a programme of eight to ten to be produced at the Stables during a given season. It is also hoped that our online play reading casts will be able to feed suggestions to PAG of any of the new works or plays for particular interest groups, providing further opportunities for new writers and audiences alike.

With lockdowns and ‘roadmaps’ allowing, our plans for re-opening from May 17th are being developed and as challenging as it will be to adapt to any new procedures and guidelines the Stables will be successful. Our proposed programme:

  • Rosie Ashe, the original Carlotta in The Phantom of the Opera will be bringing her one woman show about Ethel Merman.
  • A new show debuting at The Stables by David Manners called Picture Perfect.
  • A post pandemic workshop entitled MASK by Theatre Nation.
  • Hastings Fringe Festival is set for July
  • Productions from Redwood Productions, Theatre Nation, Fetch Theatre and Vital Theatre 
  • Lectures 
  • Music events

A number socially distanced small scale plays are in various stages of rehearsal to be presented as soon as restrictions are lifted and larger cast plays planned for the end of the year, including:

  • Bunker Girls – The story of the staff in Hitler’s last hours by Michael Punter.
  • Prodigal Son – An enthralling story about a young man in a thrilling situation in an American prep school. This is written by John Patrick Shanley and it will be directed by a well-known Stables actor Johnny Magnanti.
  • Reduced Shakespeare 
  • These will be followed by plays already prepared and postponed by the pandemic – Blue Stockings, My Old Lady and our Christmas Production Snow Queen

At the Stables we would like to thank our volunteers and members, whose support has made such a positive impact during this difficult time. We are very excited about all the activities generated during this unique period of history and look forward to welcoming you back to enjoy top quality events here at the Stables Theatre. 

Following the PM’s ‘Road Map’ announcement we are very much hoping that the theatre will re-open for socially distanced performances from May 17th and with no restriction performances from June 21st this year.

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