Norwich Theatre Royal’s new chief executive, Stephen Crocker, has been in the job for almost four months now, and he sat down with us for an interview.
He gave us his thoughts on the city, where he sees the theatre going from here – and revealed some very exciting shows coming up…
First up, coming to us from The Lowry, Salford, how is Stephen settling in to life in Norwich? “I’m having such a great time making Norwich my home,” he says. “Everybody has made me feel so welcome, and this is just such a fantastic city.”
And with that, it’s down to business, as Stephen launches into his plans for the programme. “There’s not going to be a revolution, but do look for evolution.”
He hints at big things to come, pointing to ongoing discussions with partner organisations like Glyndebourne and Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures, who bring work to Norwich time and again. On that note, there’s a big announcement: “I’m really thrilled to say that Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella will be coming back to Norwich in February to delight audiences again.”
And he hints at a number of major shows coming over the next five years, with an aim “to create Theatre Street as Norwich’s own little West End…we’ve got a lot of blockbusters in our schedule over the next five years, beginning with – exciting news Miss Saigon, opening here next summer!”
We can simulate a concert hall acoustic through an enhancement system that was installed during our last renovation in 2007, and with three top international orchestras announced in our most recent brochure, Stephen sees the Theatre Royal as being at the core of a city-wide approach to classical music.
As for dance, he’s passionate that the top international top dance companies add Norwich to their tour schedule, insisting: “I feel passionate that if people want to go to London to see theatre, music and dance, that’s great. But they shouldn’t have to.”
Another area of focus for Stephen is Stage Two, the theatre’s learning and participation centre. He points to Stage Two’s Education programme as a strand of work that he’s particularly proud of, supporting teachers in delivering creativity “at the heart of school life.”
Alongside that work, Stage Two houses our long-running Theatre Arts Courses, which provide creative training outside the classroom. “We really want to keep developing talent of all ages,” says Stephen. “We will work hard to connect talented people to real-world job opportunities.”
Beyond the Theatre Royal, Stephen has been spending time at Theatre Royal’s sister venue, Norwich Playhouse. It is run under a shared management agreement with Theatre Royal, and Stephen’s got some news to share on that front, too: “Norwich Playhouse is a bit of a cult icon here in Norwich. Like any icon, every now and then, she needs a little bit of TLC. So over the summer, the Playhouse will be having a little downtime whilst we spruce it up a bit.
“So by the bank holiday when we re-open with the Nimmo Twins, the auditorium will be nicely refreshed, the better to house all this exciting work going forwards.” But with summer coming up, Norwich residents will be pleased to know that “the bar stays open!”
Finally, Stephen’s other big project is to promote Norwich as a destination to people outside the city, through what he calls ‘destination programming’. He explains: “It’s the kind of cultural activity that brings people to Norwich from outside the city, the county – from outside of the East.”
And with Norwich serving as one of just two UK cities to welcome Philip Glass and Laurie Anderson next month, it looks like he’s making strides already: “Just looking at our Box Office, we’ve had bookers from as far afield as Australia – that’s helping build Norwich as a venue for culture”
So that’s Stephen’s vision for the Theatre. Asked to sum it up, he says: “We’ll keep working to develop the programme here as one of the best in the country. We’ll keep working to reach out into communities and break down barriers with people who don’t currently engage with us, and we want to keep playing a broader role within the life of our region.”
Watch this space.