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Survey on future of Garrison Theatre

Is there a future for the Garrison Theatre? - Photo: Shetland Arts
The Garrison Theatre. Photo: Shetland Arts

A SURVEY has been launched to garner the public’s views on the future of the Garrison Theatre amid increasing financial pressure on the Lerwick venue.

The 112-year-old theatre is suffering in an age of reduced public funding and a specially created steering group is keen to know how the community thinks it should be used in the years ahead.

The group, mainly comprised of regular users, is due to report to funders Shetland Charitable Trust and managers Shetland Arts later this month and the survey will influence its findings.

It asks a range of questions, including whether the public would pay higher ticket prices or if they would consider volunteering at events.

Film screenings no longer take place in the Garrison since the launch of Mareel in 2012, while touring theatre productions are on the decline due to the cost of travel and accommodation. A reduction in public funding has also affected bookings.

Shetland Arts is involved with the steering group and head of creative opportunities, Bryan Peterson, said the consultation is the first stage in a longer process to decide how best to use the theatre in the future.

The organisation’s grant income from Shetland Charitable Trust will reduce by nearly £100,000 to £603,000 a year from 2019/20.

The Garrison Theatre steering group (left to right): Robert Lowes, Bryan Peterson, Izzy Swanson, Debbie Nicolson, Martin Summers, Sheila Manson and Raymond Mainland

“A survey we carried out in 2015 highlighted that, together with continued support for youth drama activities, a well run, well maintained theatre space was the top priority for respondents,” Peterson said.

“Financial pressures mean we are having to think how best to achieve that, and the steering group is hoping to be able to galvanise members of the community into helping us find a way forward.”

The Garrison opened in 1904 as an army drill hall before being converted into a theatre in 1942.

While the building is in good condition, there are ongoing maintenance costs and these outstrip the income gained from hires and tickets, with Shetland Arts covering the deficit.

Since 2012, an average of 36 events a year have been held, with 6,480 tickets sold per annum. The building meanwhile costs £240 a day to hire.

President of the Shetland County Drama Festival committee Izzy Swanson is also member of the steering group. She implored the public to get involved.

“We have a shared pride in the theatre and all that we have been able to do on the stage, and now need to draw on that to maintain our strong tradition of drama,” she said.

David Grieve, vice president of Islesburgh Drama Group, added: “There is no other space in Shetland with the backstage facilities and wing space to put on a major show – panto, musicals, bigger plays, so it’s vital that we find ways to keep the Garrison going.”

To take part in the survey, visit here.
The results of the 2015 survey on the future of theatre in Shetland can be found here.