Shine bright like a diamond seems a fitting lyric to accompany the Grand Theatre’s new season launch.
The Rihanna track Diamonds, which opens with these words, is the soundtrack to the theatre’s spring/summer promotional video, and it certainly appears to capture the theatre’s ambition.
That, and its status as something of a gem in Blackpool’s cultural past, present and future.
Which were each themes of the launch in their own way: The past as local performers help the Royal Shakespeare company ‘celebrate’ the 400th anniversary of the playwright’s death; the present with the launch of a new website and revamped spaces in the grade two-star listed building; and the future in developing special programmes to entice more young theatregoers through their doors with special prices for under 26 year olds.
Grand Theatre chief executive Ruth Eastwood said: “At the Grand Theatre we always strive to offer our audiences the best quality and variety of arts and entertainment and, with productions as diverse as the hip-hop musical Into The Hoods and the Royal Shakespeare Company’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, we hope that everyone will be able to find something that appeals to them in our new 2016 programme.”
The RSC’s The Dream project, staging A Midsummer Night’s Dream across the country with amateur actors - in the Grand’s case from Poulton Drama – playing Bottom and the Mechanicals and local primary school children as the fairies, is one of the new season highlights, and will hit the stage in April.
The Arts Council-funded dance programme continues featuring Random Dance and ‘cutting edge contemporary choreographer’ Wayne McGregor presenting ATOMOS, the return of Sadler’s Wells’ international hip hop celebration Breaking Convention.
Musicals will also be represented with the Blackpool return of The Beatles’ tribute show Let It Be and new show Jackie The Musical – inspired by the classic teenage magazine, with music from the likes of Donny Osmond, David Cassidy and Marc Bolan and choreography by Arlene Phillips, while The Touring Consortium (Brassed Off and Brave New World) returns with the classic novella Of Mice And Men in March.
Also set to impress is the UK tour premiere of TV hit favourite, 60s police drama Heartbeat which opens at the Grand, and the world premiere tour of David Walliam’s book Gangsta Granny adapted for the stage.
Bridging the gap between these productions, one aimed at the more mature end of the market and one at families, is the Grand’s Under 26s’ policy, offering 50 tickets to performances of selected shows for just £12.50 – promising the ‘best available seats at the time of booking’.
“Going to the theatre is a bit like going to Marks And Spencer,” Ruth said, explaining the thinking behind the Under 26 scheme, during yesterday’s launch event. “As a child you’re taken there by your parents and think it’s okay, but you reach an age where it’s not so acceptable.
“As you get older, you come to notice it again and walking past think ‘That looks nice and comfy’ and you go in again.”
The theatre has been working closely with Blackpool And The Fylde College’s engagement and enrichment team to develop this concept, and is already seeing results: In 2014 152 tickets were sold to under 26 year olds, in 2015, 755 tickets were sold.
The new website targets browsers through their previous search history, has updated search features by genre or date, and is compatible with mobile and tablet devices – providing direct links to online calendar apps.
Approaching her third anniversary in the chief executive role, at the end of the spring/summer run, Ruth added: “We want to be the theatre of choice for Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre.
“We have been working hard to get local people to come to the Grand and it’s now paying back.
“We have sold 137,000 tickets so far this [financial] year, we did 135,000 in the full last year - and we have three months left to go.”