Meeting planned to discuss Garrison Theatre’s future

Plans are afoot for a public meeting which will help determine the long-term future of the Garrison Theatre in Lerwick.

Earlier this year the theatre was thrown a lifeline with support pledged by Shetland Arts until the end of March 2020.

But what happens after that is unknown – because the trust’s funding of Shetland Arts is due to be reviewed at that point.

Stakeholders hope a new group, Friends of the Garrison, can be established to maintain viability for the 112 year-old, 280 seat mainstay of local arts provision.

The meeting will be held in the theatre on 14th September from 7pm. It follows research carried out last year to gather views on the Garrison’s future.

Izzy Swanson of Open Door Drama said she hoped the meeting would be well attended.

“We hope many of the people who expressed an opinion in the poll we did last year will come along to this meeting, this is a great opportunity to make sure your voice is heard.”

Bryan Peterson of Shetland Arts added: “The ongoing dialogue between the Steering Group, Shetland Arts and Shetland Charitable Trust has been frank, positive and fruitful and we look forward to this continuing with the new forum.”

Meanwhile, Martin Summers of Islesburgh Drama Group said: “We have been overwhelmed by the support shown to the Garrison Theatre by members of the public that took time out to complete our survey about securing a sustainable future for the theatre.

“Yet the hard work doesn’t stop there, and we are calling on all the supporters of the Garrison to come forward to join us as Friends of the Garrison. It is essential that we gather support and work with both Shetland Arts and the Charitable Trust to secure a sustainable legacy for our wonderful theatre for generations to come. It is also essential that we showcase the impact and need for amateur drama in this fantastic community resource.”

Shetland Arts says 800 folk took part in last year’s survey, with the vast majority of those responding showing support.

Almost 75 per cent strongly agreed that the Garrison was important to the future of performing arts.

The survey identified the historical importance of the Garrison, and found a “significant percentage” of the community regularly attended productions.

Another strong theme in support of theatre activities was the positive community benefits brought by productions which involve, and appeal to, audiences.

The majority of respondents agreed (18.9 per cent) or strongly agreed (66.3 per cent) that the Garrison was the only place in Shetland suitable for traditional theatre productions, with respondents insisting there was no alternative to the production facilities in the Garrison in terms of backstage, sprung floor and wing space.

More than 62 per cent strongly agreed that continued investment in the Garrison represented a good use of resources.

However, the stakeholder steering group has recognised “financial challenges” of operating the Garrison in the face of reduced funding. Incomplete, and in some cases inaccurate information, about the Garrison and Mareel is in circulation, the findings say – particularly around funding and building maintenance.

More than three quarters of respondents either agreed or strongly agreed that the theatre hosted a “varied programme of events and productions” which catered for their tastes.

A similar figure said they would be willing to pay £20 or more for tickets to see live professional theatre, with many calling for more touring productions to visit the isles.

The majority of respondents said the Garrison could be managed by a voluntary group or trust. However, a common theme in the comments was that any such group would still need the support of Shetland Charitable Trust and/or Shetland Arts.

Most people responding were non-committal over whether they would be willing to offer time and energy to help out with events and productions, although many respondents already volunteered their time as performers or backstage operatives.


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