After being closed for many years, the much loved Lyric Theatre in Bridport, Dorset re-opened in September 2010. Since then it has become the workspace and home to many professional artists working in puppetry and the wider performance arts. We caught up with Niki McCretton who saved the building from private development and continues to work ceaselessly to preserve the space as a working theatre and centre of creativity in the performing arts.
The Lyric Theatre is a fascinating building with an interesting history. Can you tell us about that?
It was built in 1742 as an alternative place of worship and became a Liberal Hall and Temperance Society. Around 1913 it became one of the first electric cinemas and was called The Electric Palace. Following its popularity, a new Electric Palace was build in 1930 down the road and our building became The Lyric Cinema. Since then it has also had performances in it (of many guises) and was owned before we got it by Bernard Gale, who ran a Ballet School.
How is the theatre currently being used and what is your involvement? How do you fund maintenance and activities at The Lyric?
The Lyric is an artist-led creation and performance space, seating up to 150 people in the beautiful theatre with flocked wallpaper, with a puppet and set making workshop space upstairs. The artists based in the building are me (Niki McCretton); Holly Miller, a visual maker who constructs puppets, props and processional pieces; Kate Scott, our writer in residence; and Stuff and Nonsense Theatre Company. We have a cafe, ‘BearKat Bistro’, which serves amazing coffee, veggie and vegan food. Our programmer is Delphine Jones.
I purchased the building 8 years ago as a space for my own work and for other artists to create in. It seems that many venues are programmed so far in advance that residency space is rare. We are the other way around. We keep the performance programme fairly light and flexible so that artists can use the space at shorter notice. Companies or artists that are in residence have different needs, so we try to find a way for them to get what they need. We usually find accommodation for artists with local arts supporters and The Lyric is a great place to escape to and get immersed in the work, day or night. Bridport is such a lovely place to have this base as we are near the cliffs and the sea. This adds to the experience. We have had international artists come to create work from as far as Egypt, Japan, New Zealand and NYC.
We currently have no funding and most of our team work as volunteers to support the space.
What’s coming up over the summer months? What can adults, families and children look forward to?
Our programme varies. We like to support and present new work, or work that is near the beginning of its life. We have a wonderful audience here, who love to see work in progress and experimentation. We have presented comedy, dance, puppetry, productions for families, physical theatre, Edinburgh Fringe previews and international work that is created in the building and then tested.
We support new artists and established artists who need a space to try something new. We also run a masterclass programme at a professional level which ranges from ‘Clown Training’ to ‘Writing for Television’ and many things in between. We don’t have a seasonal brochure, so do follow us on Facebook or on our website www.the-lyric.com to find out what is on, or how to get involved. Artists who are interested in joining us can email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
What is special about The Lyric is that it is much loved by the community and there is a thirst for the experimental, which is wonderful given that we are in a rural market town in West Dorset, albeit one that does have a great deal of culture and interesting artists, performers and writers. The artists within the community here are passionate about supporting others and seeing the work flourish so it is an incredibly supportive place to come and create with expertise from established artists also available.
What are the future plans or ambitions for The Lyric?
We would like to support more artists and to get some funding to carry on this important work. I do have a dream that the space is more collaborative. For example, we do have space for another resident company and, given that we have double height auditorium, it would be terrific to find a way to rig the space for circus artists to benefit from it. I don’t think it would be that hard to do and would be an additional space to train or create in. I would also love to have the funding to continue the renovations of this wonderful building.
We have just reinstated three of the vast church windows that had fallen into disrepair over the years with all the money raised from donations. We are about to mount a similar fundraiser later this month to replace the rest of the windows. We are very proud also to have fought a campaign to become the first heritage building in West Dorset to have bespoke, handmade, double glazed windows in so that the building can be more energy efficient. Some of our windows have been boarded up since 1970 so the building is slowly being transformed. Future plans also include some studios in the attic space for artists, so that we can grow as a hub and as a community.
Find out more about the performances, workshops, masterclasses and other events at The Lyric Theatre on the Facebook page and website: www.the-lyric.com Artists who are interested in residencies or hire can email: email@example.com.
To make a donation or find out how you can support The Lyric Theatre in their fundraising campaigns, visit the website here.