Kendal Mint Fest – Hippodrome Plus Youth Ambassadors Trip

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After yet another successful Summer in Southside, things have begun to wind down at the Birmingham Hippodrome before the Autumn-Winter season kicks off next week with CATS. But for the Hippodrome Plus team, there’s no rest yet, since planning for next year’s festival has already begun!

On Saturday 30th August, four of the Hippodrome Youth Ambassadors, along with Hippodrome Plus Creative Programmes Administrator Zara Harris, travelled up to Cumbria to catch some shows at the Lakes Alive Kendal Mint Fest. Fun and games ensued, but with a purpose: our mission, which we chose to accept, was to scout for talent and exciting show concepts to bring to Summer in Southside 2015.

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First things first, we headed over to the Westmorland shopping centre for a taste of the strangest meal you’ve never seen. Ola Szostak and Willemijn Schellekens’s Table of Thoughts was a strange and startling audio-visual installation, inviting participants to listen in to the private thoughts of a group of dinner party guests. One pair of headphones for each empty chair was fixed to a long dining table, upon which food and crockery had been transformed into unnerving manifestations of the themes and images explored in the recordings. What each listener heard ranged from the childlike to the raunchy, and worked best with a full table, when no one could tell what anyone else was hearing. Participants thus became a part of the “show”, embodying the party guests as they observed each others’ reactions. Sadly, this didn’t happen nearly often enough, since the piece was tucked away in a disused shop that was quite difficult to find if you didn’t already know your way around the town.

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Out on the streets, meanwhile, Peut-Etre Theatre and Dante or Die adapted the surreal writings of Russian author Daniil Kharms with music and madness in their colourful, kid-friendly show Clunk. Aimed primarily at under-5s, it did a great job of engaging the little ones, who were all really excited and made to feel part of the performance. It was a pretty big hit with the grown-ups, too, mind!

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In perhaps the most powerful and moving show of the weekend, surrealist comedy duo Desperate Men explored the absurdity of war and its impact on art, culture and society in Slapstick and Slaughter. Ideas and images crashed and collided with an exuberant, anarchic playfulness half-masking its dark and disturbing themes, as when the classic trust-building exercise of falling backwards onto a partner evolved into a vision of a soldier carrying a dead comrade, a set-up at once funny and desperately sad.

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Roaming the streets amid fixed productions were a series of mobile shows, including Encore’s Sheep, a frolicking flock led around by a singing shepherdess and her faithful sheepdog, and Talking Birds’ The Q, a group of orange-clad representatives from “The Q Corporation” attempting to restore order to the town by awarding prizes to quality queuers and offering Extreme Queuing demonstrations.

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Outside the library, audiences were transported from the old English streets of Kendal to the vibrant, colourful carnivals of Brazil and New Orleans through the lively music of BLAST! Furness, a huge, 20-piece community band whose diverse players were kitted out in crazy hats and striking, red and black attire. Their sound was irresistible – by the end of the performance, even the band themselves were dancing down the road!

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As day wore on into dusk, the amazing Les Krilati performed spectacular feats in their circus cabaret extravaganza, Little Pleasures. Seeking “to snub contemporary society”, the show was set up outside The Factory, Kendal’s newest arts venue, and saw performers climb up into the clouds on ropes, poles and swings, seeming to search for escape and freedom in the sky above them. Gleefully childish and simple yet with a cheeky grown-up edge, this show enthralled and astonished audiences of all ages.

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One of the few productions to follow a clear narrative, Ramshackalicious’s Grime told the story of a dysfunctional family in the unusual setting of a mobile burger bar. Described as “a modern soap opera that aims to push the boundaries of possibility”, the show seemed to take as its theme our taste for the macabre, both in the modern world and throughout entertainment history. Its initially gritty vibe quickly gave way to slapstick comedy and exaggerated goriness, the abusive patriarch morphing into an overblown monster of Penny Dreadful proportions. Grime repeatedly subverts its audience’s expectations, mixing elements of Mr Punch and Sweeney Todd with realistic menace. Both frightening and funny, it’s a fascinating acknowledgement of how violence has always been bound up in the history of British theatre and culture.

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From one violent feast to another, Tetes de Mules’ Parasite Circus saw viewers mercilessly showered with the blood of its “artists”, a series of puppets torn and exploded into pieces before their very eyes. A pair of grim, grimey hosts presented a miniature, mobile circus from their battered caravan, with a strong man, a dancer and an acrobat all brought before the audience and promptly murdered for its entertainment. Parasite Circus is a hilarious splatter-fest with a little of Grime’s influences combined with a few more from the films: from Hammer Horror’s theatricality to the outlandish blood baths of Tarantino movies. Though it took place after hours, squeals of delight were soon ringing out from kids and adults alike – after all, there’s nothing for bringing the family together like a bit of comedy slaughter!

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To end the evening, Gentleman Juggler Mat Ricardo took over the Brewery Arts Centre’s Mint Room for a cabaret night packed with danger, dexterity and dapper elegance. Having sold out shows at the Edinburgh Fringe and in London’s West End, Ricardo wowed the Kendal audience with a spectacular array of tricks and stunts, juggling everything from hats to bowling balls, poker cues to electric knives.

The following day, after listening to a series of exciting-sounding pitches in Town Hall, we headed over to the Brewery’s Mint Garden to relax to the cool, uplifting sounds of Polly and the Billet Doux, an energetic four-piece blending elements of soul, pop, folk and blues styles.

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Even with just a few of these acts, it looks like there’ll be plenty to look forward to at next year’s Summer in Southside! Hope to see you there!

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Summer in Southside, Closing Weekend: Bank Holiday Jamboree

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A jamboree jam-packed with a huge range of amazing live acts, the closing weekend of this year’s Summer in Southside finished off the festival in spectacular style, with singing, dancing, clowning, acrobatics and a truly explosive finale!

The events kicked off on Saturday with Ida Barr’s Mash-Up, a hilariously bizarre blend of music hall, R&B and pantomime drag led by acclaimed theatre creative Christopher Green, while Inspector Sands‘ audio tour High Street Odyssey roamed Hurst Street and Arcadian, delving into the past, present and future of Southside with some surprising consequences.

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At 1.30, Wired Aerial Theatre presented a series of spectacular feats in Straw Dog, with two performers portraying internal conflict through a breathtaking physical struggle, inspired by a Native American saying. At the same time, Candoco Dance Company explored the themes of frustration and disappointment through two duets – Studies for C and Two for C – telling the story of a slowly stagnating relationship. Meanwhile, in Push, Tangled Feet offered a playful and touching take on the trials and tribulations of motherhood, perfectly capturing both the sheer joy and utter anguish of bearing and raising children.

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Showcasing circus skills and traditional clowning, Le Navet Bête‘s Extravaganza was a fun, family-friendly farce taking over Arcadian in between appearances by Ida Barr. In sharp contrast, the Helen Chadwick Song Theatre‘s poignant White Suit used music to tell the story of an aspiring footballer who becomes a landmine victim, highlighting people’s willingness to ignore the suffering of others rather than risk the consequences that helping out might have on their own lives.

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Throughout the day, popular arias were presented in a series of pop-up shows by Oyster Opera, while Icarus‘s beefy Rugby Player Duo wandered through the crowds on stilts, chatting to visitors, actors and volunteers alike.

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And of course, beneath the Arcadian Umbrella, the Hippodrome Plus Youth Ambassadors were on hand to chat about the shows at the Talkaoke table, hosting a series of interesting discussions with creatives and performers from Wired Aerial Theatre, La Navet Bête, Southpaw Dance Company and High Street Odyssey.

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On Sunday, High Street Odyssey, Straw Dog, White Suit and Extravaganza returned, while Talkaoke was shifted to prime position in front of the Hippodrome theatre.

DSCF1891In place of the Rugby Player Duo, Rannel‘s Stereomen pumped up the volume, encouraging party-loving passers-by to dance along with them.

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Taking over from Ida Barr, Circus Mash set up early in Arcadian, showing off some amazing circus skills and calling on audience members to participate in workshops in Float, with a great response from lots of enthusiastic kids and parents. At 2.30 and 5.30, Company Chameleon‘s Push examined the complexities of human interaction and power balances.

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At the end of the night, audiences were invited to grab themselves some gourmet hot dogs and dance to tunes chosen by Summer in Southside’s guest DJs, The Smoking Dogs, before settling down to watch Southpaw Dance Company‘s Faust. A lively reimagining of the harrowing tale of a man who sells his soul to the Devil, Faust saw the story’s arrogant scholar transported to 1920s Speakeasy, with drinking, gambling and illegitimate boxing all set to cool big band music. Members of the company moved fluidly and faultlessly across a blazing stage, performing complex stunts and energetic dance fusions all with apparent effortlessness.

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DSCF2034Finally Arcadian’s Le Truc played host to a late-night festival wrap party where the Summer in Southside team finally got to relax, enjoying a well-earned rest accompanied by more music. It was fun enough to make some of us miss the last train home….

If you attended any of the shows, please let @brumhippodrome know what you thought on Twitter using the hashtag #BHOutdoors.

Summer in Southside, Day 2: Euro Stars

 

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After a successful launch with Live and Local last Saturday, Summer in Southside 2014 got well underway this weekend. On Saturday 16th August, Euro Stars showcased some amazing live acts from across Britain and Europe.

From 1pm, The Museum of Everyday Life took over Hurst Street, offering passers-by the opportunity to “transform [them]selves into a work of art” as part of an interactive photography exhibition, designed to “make the ordinary extraordinary”. Meanwhile in Arcadian, the Hippodrome Plus Youth Ambassadors busily prepared for Talkaoke and Tea, ready to engage audiences in interesting conversations about the shows they’d seen or hoped to see throughout the day. Discussion kicked off with a family-friendly chat about birthday parties, in advance of Wet Picnic‘s “funny” yet “sad” show The Birthday Party, scheduled to start up nearby at 2pm.

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At 1.30, the first performances of the day began. Outside the Hippodrome theatre, Acrojou wowed audiences with their poignant, physical exploration of our unhealthy obsession with productivity in Frantic. The show scrutinized our determination to give up all our time and energy to jobs and other less important aspects of our lives that all too often leave us unfulfilled – a topic which would later emerge in conversation around the Talkaoke table. At the same time, in Arcadian, a trio of three acrobats showed off their skills in Mattress Circus‘s comic Heights, a fun, lighthearted performance that proved a favourite with family audiences.

 

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At 2, slapstick clowning gave way to moments of dark humour and brutal honesty in The Birthday Party, while in Inge Street, the De Fakto Company from France presented dance spectacular Le Petit Bal 2 Rue, blending inspiration from French films of the 50s and 60s with contemporary dance and hip hop to tell the story of two performers at a very important audition.

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Described as a “funny and funky” sound experiment, Radio Patio was performed by Spanish artist Pere Faura at the Hippodrome Dock at 2.30, combining movement with radio noise to create an entirely unique experience. From the Netherlands, Gijs Van Bon‘s sand-writing robot Skryf roamed the streets, leaving behind a long trail of words soon blown away by the breeze. At Summer in Southside, Skryf’s ephemeral tracks were made up of poetry written by Hippodrome Plus youth ambassadors Sipho Dube and Cassandra Wiggan.

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Following this, in Inge Street, Haywood Hix‘s comedy play Works told the tale of two would-be inventors, mixing ramshackle engineering with a dry sense of humour. Finally, a partially improvised version of Les GoulusThe Horsemen popped up late in the day, after an unfortunate loss of baggage at Paris airport! Three aspiring Olympic equestrians were spotted riding through the streets on broomsticks as part of their…er…training. Let’s hope they eventually retrieved their missing horses!

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As the day came to a close, Southside was once again invaded by strange, alien creatures – very different to last week’s curious tourists The Roswells. Close Act Theatre‘s eerie, one-eyed iPuppets seemed to float around above the crowds, peering into faces and investigating the performance spaces. There may be know way of knowing for sure what these serenely silent robots ultimately made of Birmingham, but we’re confident the festival will have made a good impression!

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Summer in Southside continues next weekend with the Bank Holiday Jamboree, featuring a diverse array of shows taking place across Saturday and Sunday. Visitors will be able to experience Southpaw Dance Company‘s amazing Faust, as well as take part in our late-night wrap party, so make sure you don’t miss it! For more information, visit the Birmingham Hippodrome website, or check out the Summer in Southside tumblr.

Summer in Southside, Day 1: Live and Local

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The summer holidays are here at last, and what better way to spend the warm, sunny days (well, mostly…) than enjoying three weekends packed full of free theatre, music and dance? This Saturday (9th August), marked the first day of Summer in Southside 2014, an exciting outdoor performance festival put together by Hippodrome Plus and taking place in streets, squares and pubs around the Birmingham Hippodrome Theatre.

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After the success of Summer in Southside 2013, the festival has this year been expanded from just two weekends to include a much broader range of performances. On Saturday, “Live and Local” kicked off at 1pm with A Haka Day Out in Arcadian and Talking Birds’ Cricketers in the Hippodrome Square. Cricketers is a short, interactive comedy show that sees viewers roped into an amateur game of cricket with some hilarious consequences, while A Haka Day Out allows audiences to learn the traditional Haka war dance in workshops with Maori (New Zealand native) performers. Related arts and crafts activities such as tribal face and body painting also took place alongside the show.

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Next up were 2Faced Dance Company’s Two Old Men, an extraordinary, acrobatic, dance fusion performance telling the story of two old friends over a little journey ending at the local pub, as well as Tin Box Theatre’s Pint Dreams, a blend of folk music, puppetry and traditional storytelling taking place at The Old Fox pub. Following these, Corey Baker’s light-hearted Headphones emerged in Hurst Street, showcasing a plethora of dance styles and musical genres, and at 3pm, Arcadia played host to an hour of hip hop and break-dancing by a series of talented local acts.

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Throughout the day, performances were repeated to ensure plenty of opportunities to catch each show. Every 10-15 minutes, Highly Sprung’s beautiful fairy tale Travelling Treasury was told inside a caravan in Inge Street that had been gorgeously decorated to give audiences the sense that they were walking into the pages of a book. Also by Highly Sprung, alien family The Roswells wandered around the Southside area, taking photos, having a picnic and enjoying their summer holiday on Earth. Meanwhile, Pod Projects and Eye Candy Festival presented an assortment of wares by regional artists, illustrators and designers at the Bicycle Basket Bazaar – a “kind of art fair meets car boot sale”.

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Those who wanted to share their thoughts on the performances – or anything else on their mind – were invited to come and chat to Hippodrome Plus Ambassadors over a cup of iced tea at the Talkaoke table situated in Hurst Street. Talkaoke is a relaxed, pop-up chat show that enables participants to lead a discussion on a topic of their choice. Set to reappear on every day of the festival, Talkaoke will be situated in Arcadian next Saturday.

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As the daytime performances wrapped up and the evening began, budding DJs were invited to bring along their own records and show off their skills in Come Vinyl With Me while enjoying a drink in Arcadian, before moving on to the Hippodrome Dock for a trippy clubbing experience inside a giant white balloon called The Pod.

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If you missed Summer in Southside this weekend, or if you enjoyed the shows, make sure you come along next Saturday (16th August), for “Euro Stars”, where you’ll be able to catch some amazing international acts, ranging from Acrojou’s spectacular Frantic to Gijs van Bon’s sand-writing robot, Skryf. Don’t forget to let us know what you thought on Twitter (@brumhippodrome) using the hashtag #bhoutdoors. For more information on the festival, visit the Birmingham Hippodrome website, or check out the Summer in Southside tumblr.

Talkaoke photos by Matthew Kong.

The Frozen Scream – A New Play by Sarah Waters & Christopher Green

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After their hugely successful collaboration on a recent UK tour of Cape Town Opera’s Show Boat, the Birmingham Hippodrome and Wales Millenium Centre are once again teaming up, this time to present a chilling murder mystery play to be shown in the depths of winter 2014-15. Based on a largely forgotten novel by English writer CC Gilbert, The Frozen Scream has now been adapted for the stage by acclaimed novelist Sarah Waters and Olivier Award-winning writer and performer Christopher Green.

First published in 1928, The Frozen Scream was initially well-received, but its popularity began to decline after a series of mysterious deaths resulted in a superstitious belief that the book was cursed. It tells the story of a group of friends who find themselves stranded in an abandoned lodge after setting off for a costume ball in the middle of a snowstorm. There, they attempt to entertain themselves with terrible tales of Jack Frost, until their fantastic fictions seem to turn into horrifying reality. According to ccgilbert.net, it became known for its “brooding, chilling, vision of bleak spookiness, occasional bursts of ultra-violence and eccentric characters”.

149667884_165635dd95_mThe same year, CC Gilbert also caused something of a stir when she was “outed” as female by the radical Ladies’ League, who accused her of “withholding her sex to the detriment of all femalekind”. The fact that she had opted not to reveal her sex perhaps seemed a step backwards to many women at the time, particularly as The Frozen Scream was published in the same year as Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness and Djuna Barnes’s Ladies Almanack.

Known for her evocative historical fiction, Sarah Waters is a fantastic candidate to rekindle interest in this lost tale. Her best-selling books include Tipping the Velvet, Fingersmith, The Little Stranger, Affinity and The Night Watch, four of which have been adapted as television dramas, though this is her first foray into writing for the stage. Said Waters:

“Chris has been great to work with – really inspirational – and it’s been incredibly productive having someone to brainstorm with. I wasn’t sure how I’d take to writing for the stage. I’m a great theatre-goer, but plays and novels are such different things: working on The Frozen Scream was a bit of a leap into the dark for me. But it’s proved to be a real adventure, and tremendous fun. I’m thrilled to be working in a new medium, with such a talented writer and performer as Chris. I’m looking forward to giving our audiences some scares, and some fun. I’m also excited to be working in my homeland, Wales.”

Christopher Green, on the other hand, is no stranger to creating unusual stage productions. His often experimental work has included the likes of Office Party, VIP, The Razzle and This Show Has No Name, in addition to character-driven comedy centred on creations such as country music singer Tina C and rapping pensioner Ida Barr. Said Green:

“When I started thinking about the show, my ideas kept resonating with my memories of Sarah’s book, The Little Stranger. Having been a fan of Sarah’s work since reading Tipping the Velvet, I was very keen to collaborate with her. Although this feels like such a new way of working for us both, it’s remarkable how smooth the creative process has been so far.  As long as the curse doesn’t kick in, we’ll be rocking, I reckon. I love to constantly surprise my audiences and The Frozen Scream will definitely do that, sending good old-fashioned chills up the spine!”

Both the Wales Millenium Centre’s Artistic Director Graeme Farrow and the Birmingham Hippodrome’s Creative Programme Director Paul Kaynes expressed their excitement to be presenting a production created by “world-class artists” and “writers of the highest calibre”. Said Farrow:

“It’s thrilling to be premiering this unique production…and to be able to offer an exciting, alternative form of Christmas entertainment for our audiences. I believe there is a great deal of synergy between Wales Millennium Centre and Birmingham Hippodrome, and I am hopeful that the present collaboration will help nurture a creative partnership that will see many more exciting collaborations.”Kaynes added, “Christopher Green  – already presenting Ida Barr’s Mash Up at our forthcoming Summer in Southside – and the award winning novelist Sarah Waters  is an extremely exciting creative combination providing an alternative evening out at the theatre over the Festive season.”

The Frozen Scream will be showing at the Wales Millennium Centre from Thursday 11th until Tuesday 20th December 2014, and at the Birmingham Hippodrome from Wednesday 7th until Saturday 17th January 2015. Audiences are asked to come prepared, wear sensible shoes and, perhaps most importantly, to ‘beware the ice’!

For more information on the show, visit the Birmingham Hippodrome website.

Photo of Sarah Waters by annie_c_2 via Flickr, used under Creative Commons Licence 2.0.

Hippodrome Volunteering Opportunities – Minimum Monument & Summer in Southside

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As part of its education and outreach programme, Hippodrome Plus, the Birmingham Hippodrome is offering two exciting volunteering opportunities over the summer, perfect for those with a passion for the creative arts or looking to add to their CV.

First off, from Thursday 17th July until Friday 2nd August, award-winning Brazilian artist Néle Azevedo will be working on a new public art project, Minimum Monument, in Birmingham’s city centre. Designed to commemorate the First World War 100 years on from the event, Minimum Monument will be a striking display of 5000 figures sculpted from ice, celebrating the common man and the bravery of ordinary people – not only soldiers, but also their families and all those who suffered and made sacrifices during the war.

Minimum Monument 2The finished piece will be presented to viewers in Centenary Square on 2nd August, but in order to turn the idea into a reality, Azevedo requires a dedicated team of 20 volunteers to help create the sculptures and to work alongside the exhibition production team. Volunteers will not be required to work every day, but will need to be able to commit to a minimum of 5 shifts between 17th July and the exhibition opening, and must be aged 18 or over. Those interested should fill out the online application form, or contact zaraharris@birminghamhippodrome.com for more information.

Summer in Southside

Following the exhibition, the theatre’s annual outdoor performance festival, Summer in Southside, will be making a return in three weekends packed full of short plays, dance, circus skills, live music and more. Thanks to the success of last year’s event, Summer in Southside has this year expanded from covering just two weekends, and as such, the theatre will need all hands on deck to ensure everything runs smoothly.

There are a range of roles available for enthusiastic volunteers to try out, including event promotion, stewarding and assisting artists and performers directly. In addition, all volunteers will also receive World Class Service training in Outdoor Arts and a certification of their volunteering hours. Those interested should fill out the online  application form or visit the Birmingham Hippodrome website for more information. All volunteers must be aged 18 or over.

The Birmingham Hippodrome Celebrates a Record Year

BIRMINGHAM HIPPODROME - Local schoolchildren enjoying schools matinee performance of pantomime (Parental approval granted)

With over 625,000 tickets sold, the Birmingham Hippodrome has now announced 2013-14 as a record-breaking financial year. The theatre has for been recognised for some time as the country’s most popular single auditorium, averaging around 500,000 visits per year. Representing about 85% of capacity, this year’s increase is thanks in part to a slew of major shows like The Lion King, War Horse and Phantom of the Opera.

The news follows many other important steps forward for the theatre over the last few months, including its successful energy use reductions, its nomination as one of the Sunday Times’s “Top 100 Best Not-For-Profit Organisations to Work For”, and its certification in OHSAS 18001 (Occupational Health and Safety Management), with the Hippodrome believed to be the first UK theatre to achieve the last of these.

stuart-griffithsSaid the Hippodrome’s Chief Executive Stuart Griffiths:

“It’s not very often that these programming moments come together so perfectly, but with more than a little help from our producer partners Cameron Mackintosh, Disney, the National Theatre and Pantomime producers Qdos, alongside others, it looks like we’ve shattered all previous known records.  It’s gratifying too that we’ve seen such a huge rise in first-time bookers with over 48% new to the Hippodrome in the last 12 months.

“Dance received a boost with our resident partners Birmingham Royal Ballet presenting its most successful Nutcracker  at Christmas; and Mathew Bourne’s sell out Swan Lake.   We ended the financial year this spring with two other huge successes, the classics Fiddler on the Roof and Singin’ in the Rain.”

In addition to a surge in ticket sales, the theatre’s Hippodrome Plus outreach scheme has been attracting a lot of attention, with the number of people involved in its creative learning projects having doubled to over 16,000. Big outdoor events like Summer in Southside, Illuminate and the Four Squares Weekender have been key to this growth. Elsewhere, fundraising has also increased dramatically, with generous donations from members of the public, as well as an expansion of the patron scheme and a rise in corporate membership of over 30%.

Neil Pugh - Building FrontEncouraged by this success, the Hippodrome team are now investing in lots of exciting new projects for the upcoming year. Said John Crabtree, Chair of the Birmingham Hippodrome Theatre Trust,

“In keeping with the successful formula created in recent years, the success of the last financial year is already being used to invest in the programme and towards further developing a diverse audience.  The month-long International Dance Festival Birmingham, co-produced with DanceXchange, starts at the end of April, South Africa’s Cape Town Opera return in July with their production of Show Boat whilst St. Petersburg’s acclaimed Mariinsky Opera bring Wagner’s Ring Cycle to Birmingham in November.”

Theatre exterior photo by Neil Pugh.