Birmingham Hippodrome Looks Forward
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Birmingham Hippodrome has just launched an ambitious five-year business plan to ensure the organisation is a hub for creativity, accessibility and sustainability. Hippodrome Artistic Director & Chief Executive Jon Gilchrist talks about his vision and plans for the future.
Q: You’ve been in post a year now, why does this feel like the right time to be launching your five-year strategy?
A: That first year was always going to be a period of listening, learning and understanding the landscape and the lay of the city. Now I would say this is very much a strategy which belongs to everyone who's got a stake in the Hippodrome. I love Birmingham and I love the Hippodrome and it really feels like now is Birmingham’s time. The Commonwealth Games championed the creative talent in the region and shone a light on one of the youngest and most diverse cities in Europe – and it’s time to make the most of these opportunities.
Q: What is the main the focus for the future?
A: We have four strands to the strategy: Hippodrome Unlocked to improve accessibility, Hippodrome Studios to take the venue forward as an artistic hub, Hippodrome Stages which will develop our performance programming and Hippodrome Tomorrow which builds resilience to ensure we are here for the future, reaching more artists and audiences.
Q: In terms of Hippodrome Unlocked, how will you ensure work is accessible to the different audiences which make up Birmingham?
A: We need to consider each individual show and work with producers in different ways to ensure that theatre doesn't become an elitist endeavour and that more people feel that this is something that's for them. We have an excellent programme of assisted performances and we’ve recently made large scale investments in making our website more accessible, but there will always be more we can do to make the building and the programme accessible for everyone.
Q: With Birmingham being a young city, how are you encouraging young audiences?
A: We’re doing more to meet them at the start of their lives both by programming for young people and developing our current work in schools. This is why our Hippodrome Education Network is so important. HEN currently operates in 44 schools and it has the potential to reach out and engage with more young people. Our nine incredible Associate artists also bring exciting performances to our programme that reach new audiences which we are delighted to support.
Q: You recently announced the launch of a new department specifically to create new musicals, how does that fit into the Hippodrome’s future plans within the Studios strand?
A: Birmingham Hippodrome has a long-held reputation for staging some of the world's greatest touring musicals; put simply, our audiences love them as much as we do. It therefore makes so much sense for us to be focusing on producing the next generation of new musicals, making us an exporter as well as an importer of work. We want the Hippodrome to be a hub for creative organisations more widely too; we share this space with Birmingham Royal Ballet, FABRIC and One Dance UK and if you listen to conversations in our Green Room there is such an exchange of artistic ideas. We need to build on that because that intensity of creative activity breeds new ideas.
Q: So what can we expect to see on your main stage?
A: We will continue to programme the biggest, most popular shows such as The Lion King, Hamilton, Birmingham Royal Ballet and our increasingly popular programme of comedy. We have the biggest and most successful panto outside London and this year is going to be very special because we have an incredible cast and it’s going to be one of the most spectacular stagings yet.
Q: Do you also have plans for the Patrick Studio?
A: We are dedicated to making more use of the Patrick Studio, so that across the course of the next five years we increase the amount of time it’s used for live performance. It’s a brilliantly flexible space, which allows artists to explore new ways of making work and interacting with audiences.
Q: How important is performance outside of the Hippodrome building?
A: We have been producing festivals and events including our annual hip-hop festival and Birmingham Weekender, but we also want to explore other parts of the city that we can animate. Our fantastically experienced team are already exploring opportunities and are looking at how we can build partnerships and collaborations locally.
Q: How do you feel the strategy will take the Hippodrome forwards?
A: Next year we celebrate our 125th anniversary and Hippodrome Tomorrow underpins the entire strategy as it’s about continuing our relevance for the next generation of audiences and artists and making the venue sustainable and fit for the future. We need to explore how we provide sustainable facilities and resources which we hope will encourage more artists want to come here and create work. We also need to provide the best experience for audiences. We’re proud to be part of Southside and there are so many exciting developments planned for the city and this area, so we want to be part of that developing ecology. It’s making sure the Hippodrome is a theatre for everyone – artists, audiences and communities while reimagining our spaces and our programmes for the next 125 years.
For the full strategy document see here.
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