I had the pleasure of spending time with the creators of the Brighton theatre venue The Rialto last week, Roger Kay and Lauren Varnfield. We were exploring their ambitions to move to being an essential, recognised, and commercially viable year-round theatre for drama and theatremakers. For two years they have revitalized an old club venue in a listed church building at the head of Brighton. It is already attracting great publicity and companies as one of the hub venues during Brighton Fringe, and offering a welcome home to a number of professional fringe theatre companies mounting work for a Brighton audience.
The challenge for anyone creating a business model for an under 99-seat theatre in a town with a plethora of creative things to do, is to give the space a very special feel, a unique voice that can be heard by the right people amongst the noise of competing messages and invitations. Having spent time with Jermyn Street Theatre in its early days, and Pleasance London at its mid-point, plus theatres like the Traverse in their old Grassmarket days, this is a common challenge. Make enough noise, don’t sent too much money, attract a very specific audience to exciting new work, and build a reputation with theatremakers and producers to show that The Rialto, or the Traverse or Jermyn Street is the place to go.
If you’ve never been to the Rialto, then you are in for a treat. It feels caring for theatre companies, and one of the classiest fringe spaces I’ve been in. The challenge now is, outwith the festival in May, to build supply and demand in quantity, quality, loyalty and distinctiveness.
Like the business model of Wiltons Music Hall created by Frances Mayhew when she reopened the building, The Rialto is in demand at weekends and special times as a venue for high earning dance/music events as well as wedding receptions. There is little cross over between that customer base, and the theatre base, but there is the chance for maximizing income in one part of the business and support the growth of the theatre side. There is a need to make sure that the music events don’t overspill and reduce the chance for prime theatre time and space. A delicate balance. However it is possible.
I’m hoping new theatremakers, independent theatre and arts producers, and emerging touring and co-producing companies will check out the Rialto – with a desire to make work and build audiences in Brighton. Next week one of the Authentic Artists, Joanna Rosenfeld, who introduced me to the venue, will be running a series of performances of Motherhood (un)speakable (un)spoken – so do try and grab a ticket for this powerful show co-devised and directed by Kath Burlinson with inspiring design by Ellan Parry and music by Sioned Jones. Creative artists of the highest order making work in and for the Brighton community, which will be seen in festivals and as part of developmental programmes across the UK.
If you are going to Devoted &Disgruntled in Bristol in January, then lets see whether there are some of the right Brighton people there to engage in discussion. If you are at the next Producers’ Pool meeting in January, lets explore collaborations. If you read this blog and wonder where you might tour your show, or take a punt as a member of the audience at a new show, then check out The Rialto. If the welcome I received from the owners over a cup of tea and a biscuit, is matched by the rest of the staff and the service when the bar and theatre are open for events, then you will have a great time.
Let me know what you think when you visit.