Stamford Shakespeare Company at Tolethorpe launches £240,000 fundraising bid for survival
“Without help from the community, we will not survive.”
These are the words of Stamford Shakespeare Company’s (SSC) chairman as the board today launches a desperate appeal for support.
Caroline Stephenson revealed that cancelling this season's shows has cost the company £240,000 in lost ticket sales and said: "We need to recover this money to survive. We hope people can help us in any way they can."
The highly-regarded company, based at Tolethorpe since 1977, has been entertaining theatre-lovers for more than 50 years.
But the Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact, forcing the board of directors to close the hall in March and postpone the entire season of performances until next year.
The loss of revenue, combined with the huge costs of maintaining and insuring Grade II* listed Tolethorpe Hall and its grounds, has brought SSC to the brink of collapse.
Launching the ‘Save Your Theatre’ campaign, Caroline said: “We have been putting on Shakespeare plays for over 50 years and we are determined that Covid-19 will not put an end to this, but without the help from the community, we will not survive.
“We are all so lucky to have this theatre on our doorstep. To date, we have welcomed over a million audience members, to share experiences with friends and family through theatre, giving volunteers a place to be valued, and inspiring young people to dream big.
“Losing this wonderful, unique and special place would leave a void in our community.”
As an amateur theatre company and registered charity, SSC receives no funding from any arts organisation or formal sponsorship. Instead it relies solely on the income from ticket sales to fund productions.
The box office opens in October and the cash provided by advance ticket sales allows the theatre company to construct sets, make costumes and prepare the hall and grounds for the public.
Directors, actors, technicians, backstage crew and front-of-house staff are all unpaid volunteers.
“The impact of Covid-19 on SSC has been enormous,” said Caroline. “We are now having to try to survive on a third of our annual revenue over a two-year period, which will prove impossible.
“We are applying for a grant from the government’s Culture Recovery Fund and without this, our future looks grim.”
She said that although the Government lifted some of the restrictions on theatres, allowing outdoor venues to re-open with social distancing, it came too late for SSC.
“We had not been able to rehearse, we had not finished the construction of our sets, or the costumes for our actors and therefore our productions could not proceed,” she said.
Tolethorpe Youth Drama (TYD), the drama group for children aged five to 16, also had to close in March.
Caroline said: “We needed to make alterations to the teaching area to comply with government regulations to keep students Covid-19 secure and all of this takes money - money we simply do not have.”
This year SSC had also launched a ‘Theatre Makers’ production, which was to be performed by members aged 16 to 20 who had been learning the skills to stage a play.
“There was to be an evening performance open to the public plus two matinees with educational workshops, to be attended by 300 students from schools in the area,” said Caroline.
“It was heart-breaking to have to delay this, but hopefully it will resume next year.”
Caroline said tickets for the 2020 season were valid for 2021 but hopes people will donate their ticket price and repurchase for next year.
She added: “We are enormously grateful to our patrons and overwhelmed by their continued generosity and kindness. We need you more than ever, now.
“Please visit our Just Giving page and donate what you can; no donation is too small, anything you give will make a difference to our survival. Please, Save Your Theatre.”
People can donate via the Just Giving page at www.justgiving.com/campaign/SSCsaveyourtheatre or send a cheque made payable to Stamford Shakespeare Company to Tolethorpe Hall, Little Casterton, Stamford, PE9 4BH.
History of Stamford Shakespeare Company and Tolethorpe:
Stamford Shakespeare Company was founded in 1968 by Jean Harley, with a performance of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ in the Monastery Garden of the town’s historic George Hotel.
It was created under the auspices of the Stamford Arts Centre Committee in aid of the proposed new arts centre and restoration of the Georgian theatre in St Mary’s Street.
In 1971, with the arts centre programme well under way, the theatre group became independent and was named for the first time, the Stamford Shakespeare Company.
Open air Shakespeare plays continued at The George for nine years until the last performance in 1976. The hotel could no longer accommodate the summer open air theatre because of building work including a new car park and in August 1976 the company had to look for another location.
By chance, Tolethorpe Hall came on the market in a near derelict state early in 1977 and it was acquired by the Stamford Shakespeare Company with the help of a generous private loan later repaid.
The main interest was a natural amphitheatre in the grounds which was quickly converted into a concrete stepped, raked auditorium covered by a temporary canvas canopy. The first season opened in May 1977 with performances of ‘Macbeth” and “The Taming of the Shrew”.
Tolethorpe Hall has origins going back 800 years to the early 11th century when the first manor house was built on the site by a Norman family who came over from France after the Norman Conquest of 1066.
The setting of the hall overlooking classic English parkland in the attractive Rutland countryside has changed little over centuries.
The River Gwash flows gently by providing water for the historic mill built in the early 18th century on the site of a previous mill recorded in the Domesday book. The mill, just 200 yards from the hall, was part of the Tolethorpe estate until 1967.
Early nineteenth century country poet, John Clare, is said to have walked with his girlfriend from Great Casterton to Ryhall along the banks of the river on summer evenings after a day working at the lime kilns in Pickworth.