Ideas wanted for future of isles theatre

The future of theatre in the isles, and in particular ways to use Lerwick’s Garrison Theatre, should be guided by the Shetland public, according to recently appointed Shetland Arts boss Graeme Howell.

At a meeting in the Garrison last night, which mainly attracted people with an interest in the arts world, Mr Howell said he did not want to be an “arts colonialist”, telling the public what they needed, but was open to new ideas. It would be a “balanced approach”, with input from both sides.

New Shetland Arts general manager Graeme Howell.
New Shetland Arts general manager Graeme Howell.

He heard there was a wealth of talent, both in acting and backstage, in the isles, and that should be developed.

Robina Barton stressed the importance of the Garrison to the Shetland public and this was echoed by the couple of dozen people present.

Other suggestions included bringing up more visiting theatre productions, something which had been lacking in recent years.

That was welcomed by Mr Howell, who said that he had also considered bringing up a theatre in residence for around three months.

Members of such an organisation could then provide “spin-offs” with workshops in acting and technical skills, Mr Howell said. That would leave a “legacy” for locals.

Another suggestion was that there should be more opportunity for local drama outwith the high point of the drama festival.

Mr Howell said he would like to see that, and added: “Our role is in developing local talent, possibly with community productions with visiting directors.”

There was also a call for more engagement with primary-aged pupils.

Matthew Lawrence from the Shetland Community Ballet School said that “barriers” to art forms should be broken down, and he wanted to attract bigger audiences and more participants.

Discussion among the public at the meeting touched on the fact that the Garrison Theatre had been somewhat overlooked in recent years, perhaps inevitably, in the effort to get cinema and music venue Mareel up and running.

Mr Howell said that theatre in its broadest sense need not be limited to the Garrison and Mareel – “buildings can limit your thinking” – but the challenge would be to bring up theatre which suited a particular venue. “Art is all about intention,” he said.

That did not necessarily mean full houses – some more specialised productions would have succeeded if the number of people expected was achieved, Mr Howell added.

Jazz fan Jeff Merriefield said that the “Bop Shop” in Harbour Street was being refurbished and it was hoped to have events for around 20 people there.

In general, Mr Howell said: “I’m not saying yes or no to anything at the moment.”

He added that his new role was “brilliant fun … I’ve met a bunch of brilliant people”. He met representatives from the drama groups earlier this week.


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