Belgrade Theatre Celebrates Successes In 60th Anniversary Year
Following its glittering 60th anniversary gala over the weekend, Coventry's Belgrade Theatre now has extra cause for celebration following the publication of its 2017-18 annual report.
On Saturday 15 September, friends and supporters from across the city and beyond gathered at the Belgrade for a huge celebration of the last six decades, as well as reflecting on successes from the last 12 months and looking forward to another exciting few years in the lead up to Coventry's year as City of Culture in 2021.
Central to the Belgrade Theatre's mission is providing a range of shows and experiences that cater to the diverse needs and tastes of all of Coventry's communities. This year has been no exception, with productions like The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin, Pink Sari Revolution and Reasons To Be Cheerful helping to reach new audiences, while family productions like the ever-popular pantomime continue to attract children and adults of all ages.
This year also saw the Belgrade host its first ever relaxed performance, opening up the magic of panto to those with learning disabilities and sensory impairments. Meanwhile, the Making Memories campaign enjoyed its best year yet, raising a record-breaking £10,822 - enough to supply free panto tickets to a total of 170 disadvantaged families. In 2017, the Belgrade was also awarded the title Theatre of Sanctuary in recognition of its support for refugees and migrants making their home in Coventry.
In addition to producing and presenting a total of 19 vastly different shows, the Belgrade has seen its community and education programmes go from strength to strength. In 2017-18, the theatre ran 18 youth and community drama groups, primarily targeting children from disadvantaged backgrounds and older people at risk of isolation. In July 2018, these groups came together to present the hugely ambitious, site-specific show Read All About It! in the former Coventry Evening Telegraph Building as part of the City of Culture build-up programme.
Summer 2017 saw the Belgrade Young Company and Senior Youth Theatre devise and perform shows as part of the All Our Tomorrows Festival, while Black Youth Theatre performed at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre as part of a major celebration of Ira Aldridge, who broke new ground in Coventry as Britain's first black theatre manager.
Elsewhere, a partnership with Graeae supported six deaf and disabled writers at the start of their careers, and in addition to introducing a new 18-month placement for an emerging BAME producer, the Theatre also shared the work of five up-and-coming BAME writers via its New Black Showcase.
Following a warmly received tour in 2017, Strictly Arts' powerful show Freeman - developed through the Belgrade's Springboard scheme for emerging artists - went on to pick up a slew of five star reviews and sell-out shows at this year's Edinburgh Fringe, with fellow Springboard company Noctium Theatre also enjoying a successful run in Edinburgh.
Outside of workshops and performances, the Belgrade's growing commercial arm has proved equally creative, with new ventures from the catering, events and conferencing, and production services teams helping to generate vital funds to be reinvested back into the Theatre's work in the community.
New offerings in the Theatre's on-site café include Tapas, Afternoon Tea and a South Asian-inspired Afternoon Chai package as well as a transition to eco-friendly, biodegradable plastic alternatives; and Belgrade Production Services have been busy creating sets and costumes for exciting shows across the country, including Titanic the Musical, Friendsfest and Sting's The Last Ship to name but a few. In total, the Theatre's trading subsidiary, Belgrade Theatre Enterprises, grew to £1.4 million, generating a profit of £322,229, helping the Theatre to remain resilient despite a 4.6% cut in core funding, and increasing its proportion of earned income vs grants to 73.4%.
In December 2017, the Belgrade reinforced its position as the beating heart of Coventry's cultural scene, hosting a massive gathering and live broadcast during the City of Culture 2021 announcement. Following on from this exciting achievement, the Theatre has continued to work closely with the City of Culture Trust on projects including Read All About It! and Meet Me In The Ruins.
Belgrade Theatre Chair Stewart Fergusson said: "I can't imagine asking for a better memory than seeing hundreds of people crammed into the Belgrade's foyers awaiting the announcement live on BBC's The One Show last December. The sheer collective joy and pride that burst forth from everyone, shared live across a nation... will stay in my mind for a long time to come."
Looking forward to the future, the Belgrade is continuing its commitment to bearing witness to stories from the city, with forthcoming productions including a gritty new musical drama, We'll Live and Die in These Towns, written by acclaimed local playwright Geoff Thompson and featuring the songs from The Enemy's number one debut album. Then in October, Christmas will be coming early when the hotly anticipated Nativity! The Musical returns home to Coventry, starring a fantastic cast of local children.
Belgrade Theatre Executive Director Joanna Reid said: "We've delivered another busy year and ongoing plans include lots of work for the Belgrade to play its central part in Coventry's year as City of Culture - look out for further announcements once details have been confirmed. We look forward to the continuing support and enthusiasm of our audiences as the Belgrade and the city itself prepare for 2021."