Chelmsford’s City Theatres
Under new management with an exciting future
Ian Knowles has a strong arts and media background and he’s delighted to have been appointed as the new theatre manager for Chelmsford Civic Theatre. It’s a role he is relishing, with exciting plans for the future.
Ian explains: ‘I’ve spent the last 10 years working for various arts and media organisations in and around London. I was the original general manager involved in the foundation of the New Diorama Theatre in Regents Place. During the last five and a half years I was general manager for the Bureau of Silly Ideas, an Arts Council England funded Combined Arts organisation.
I’ve also been involved in the development and exhibition aspects of Only Fools and Horses, managing and organising events at the Oval, in Southend and Margate. I’ve also undertaken research and filming on documentaries for Network DVD, BBC and SKY, covering diverse subjects such as Charlie Chaplin, The Saint and Dr Who. Given my CV includes Only Fools and Silly Ideas, I thought it about time I come and work for a sensible organisation such as Chelmsford City Council!’
It's quite a challenge to be managing a Civic Theatre and Picture House, so what is Ian’s vision for the future?
‘I think Chelmsford’s theatres are uniquely placed. It’s great that Chelmsford City Council still manages its own theatre. Local councillors decided, alongside its other services, they didn’t want a third party contractor managing their cultural offer in the city. Where so many other local theatres are now under private operation, Chelmsford City Council still has control.
‘The council is very ambitious regarding its cultural offer and is determined the city becomes a place people both wish to visit and aspire to live in. Over the coming months we have many fresh plans, which include opening the building to the public during the day with activities taking place in and around the theatre. This includes complimentary events supporting performances in the theatre which are open to everyone to attend. There is a season of free performances on at our Cramphorn Theatre featuring some of the best acts from the Fringe as well as free lunchtime music concerts.’
Ian is naturally passionate about the arts, but where does his own personal interest in the theatre lie? ‘I have a very wide variety of interests in theatre. I’m especially interested in performances that both entertain and those which provide a shared emotional experience. In this digital age there really is nothing like the experience of live performance, whether it’s live music, drama or a cinema performance with a family or a group of friends. I am hoping over the coming months we can offer something for everyone.’
The Civic Theatre is wellknown for its 1960s style architecture and this is something that has proved to be an inspiration for Ian.
‘Chelmsford Civic Theatre first opened its doors to the public in September 1962’ continues Ian. ‘I realised its fixtures and fittings are still in place and have been maintained in excellent condition over the years. With so much of British culture from the 1960s currently being so on-trend worldwide, it seemed silly not to embrace the spirit here at the theatre. We revamped the bar, if that’s the right phrase, and literally have gone back in time to 1962. Some of the décor now reflects what was
‘I think Chelmsford’s theatres are uniquely placed. It’s great that Chelmsford City Council still manages its own theatre’
originally in place. We have a fantastic new drinks menu with some excellent retro beverages, including everyone’s favourite – a BabyCham. Some of our new programme even supports the 1960s theme.’
And it certainly is an innovative and exciting programme for the end of 2018 and beginning of 2019.
‘The new season is a real mixed bag! If you’ve not been to the Civic Theatre for some time, take a look at some of the new programming we’ve introduced, especially around popular and cult themes. I’m really lucky in many ways as I’ve been given the freedom to try new things to enhance the theatre-going experience for our existing patrons and to attract new audiences.
On December 6 we have performances by Jeffery Holland from TV’s Hi-De-Hi and And this is My Friend Mr Laurel in which Jeffery astonishes everyone by transforming in to Stan Laurel. The play covers the last time Stan met with Oliver Hardy. To complement this, in our Picture House cinema on November 15 there is an evening of Laurel and Hardy shorts with an introduction from Roger Robinson, the well-known author and film historian. To continue the 1960s theme, in our cinema we’re screening classic Thunderbirds episodes, Dr Who and the Daleks (1965) and the classic television series The Prisoner.
‘There is a great Halloween week from Universals’ Frankenstein (1931) to Carry on Screaming (1966), while we have
‘I’m really lucky in many ways as I’ve been given the freedom to try new things to enhance the theatre-going experience’
wonderful new plays including Women on Fire about the Edwardian suffrage movement. Charlotte Keatley’s My Mother Said I Never Should in our Civic Theatre, focusing on the lives of four women during the social changes of the 20th century. We also have talks with TV historian Lucy Worsley about Queen Victoria and, as an Essex theatre exclusive, we have an appearance from Bing Crosby’s Grandson Phil, performing songs from Sammy Davies Jnr, Frank Sinatra and of course Bing himself. We’re extending this offer with free music performances in the bar after the main show too.
‘These are exciting changes, but I am really interested to hear from audience members and find out what they feel about the new season and what else they would like to see in the theatres and cinema in the future. We are creating a cultural Chelmsford for the people of Chelmsford, after all.’
Find out more
You can get in touch with Ian and share your thoughts about the cultural scene in Chelmsford via www.chelmsford.gov.uk/ theatres where you can also sign up to receive the new programme brochure
Chelmsford’s Civic Theatre
My Mother Said I Never Should comes to the Civic Theatre this month
Chris Dobrowolski appears on September 20
Ian takes a central role in a Charlie Chaplin research project
LEFT:Ian with Roger Moore filming a documentary about The Saint at Elstree Studios
ABOVE:Dads Army Radio Hour comes to the Civic Theatre this autumn
BELOW:Ian with Stephanie Powers