We caught up with resident stage manager, Penny Griffin. Penny has been touring to village halls throughout her professional life, first with Pentabus and then with Eastern Angles. She can create a theatre pretty much anywhere, and loves a challenge!
Can you remember the first Village Hall you toured to? What was it like?
I actually can't remember the first! It would have been in the rural West Midlands when I was with Pentabus, and I think I set off without closing the van doors properly and they swung open as we left the base!
What do you like about touring the village halls?
It's still the sense of creating a shared experience for the community, even though village life has changed so much ... maybe that makes it more important than ever, because so much else that creates community has been lost.
Why is it important to tour to village halls?
See above! It's magical to transform a village hall into a theatre! There are sections of the community that can't, or would rather not, drive into town to visit theatres, and it's great to provide an amazing experience on their doorstep.
Left Image: The get in begins! Taken at the beautifully restored Boxted and Hartest Institute, originally dating back to 1888.
Right Image: Crowfield Village Hall, our lowest ceiling - observe that the lights are actually pointing up at the actors rather than the more traditional pointing down!
What was the last thing you watched in a village hall and where?
(Does "Signal Fires" count? Doing it at Harkstead ... actually outside a village hall! .. was brilliant!)
Other than that, I think the last thing was the dress rehearsal of Common Ground's "Sherlock Holmes and the Hooded Lance" ... also at Harkstead! Huge fun!
What does the future look like?
So many village hall events have until now been run by just a small handful of volunteers ... sometimes it's really just one person, who has taken on the hard job of promoting and organising the event, and they tend to be of an older generation who are likely to have been a bit shaken by the pandemic. Hopefully once things get easier there will be a huge appetite to get back to normal, but we have to hope that others will come forward to carry the torch.
We play in some really tiny village halls, and although I sometimes dread them because it's hard to fit both the audience and the set in, they often turn out to be the best fun and some of the friendliest venues!
Left Image: Syleham and Wingfield, our smallest at only 18ft wide, but it has a lovely bar!
Right Image: Boxted and Hartest Institute, the tiniest dressing room, actually it's the boiler room/ playgroup store (can you spot the toys), but Jo Pask always sets it out so nicely for us!)