New theatre chief exec vows to enter the digital age

Scott Ramsay, new chief executive at Portsmouth's New Theatre Royal, is aiming to wake people up to the fact that the venue is fully up and running again following its extensive rebuild and refurbishment.

Scott Ramsay
Scott Ramsay

“It has had a major capital investment into the back-stage area and the new stage, but obviously because it was closed for a while, it didn’t have the audiences coming through,” Scott says.

“There is a lot of work now in building up the audiences and building up the programme, and that’s really exciting – more exciting perhaps than coming into a theatre which has already been running at full pelt for many years.

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“It has got a good-sized venue, 600 to 700 depending how we have the auditorium, and we are perfect for people that like a middle-sized venue but still want a little a bit of intimacy.

“If you are closed for a while, and we were closed for longer than was first anticipated, you do lose ground. Unfortunately, that’s what happens. There is ground to be caught up. We need that general awareness in the city that we are open, and an awareness also in the industry. There is a sense of a bit of a delayed response to us being back. The front of the building has been here since the 19th century, and you can become a little bit invisible. It is interesting that now we need to be really jumping up and making reverberations throughout the city to say ‘Here we are and we are putting on an excellent range of shows for the different communities out there.’ It is about offering dance and drama and circus and music.

“But there is also a need to play a role in artist and sector development. That’s about supporting artists and companies in how they create new work. There is a little bit of a crisis in the industry. I am not talking about London, but drama in particular can be quite a difficult area to make work.

“We are also trying to find ways of encouraging the debate about digital technology in the theatre. If you say to people ‘digital theatre’, they might think you mean a screening of a production from London or New York, but I am not talking about that. We need to take digital innovations and embed them in the theatre. You have got young people who are really engaged with digital equipment. We really need to bring them into the theatre by making the theatre more appealing for them. We need to create the background for that to happen. We need to bring the artists and the technologists together to find out what works. It benefits both parties by bringing them together, and we need to think more cleverly about how we stimulate that.

“What is important is what happens on stage, but we also need to be thinking ‘What next? Where is the industry going?’ so that we always keep it relevant to the next generations.”

Scott inherited a programme through to the autumn and is currently fleshing out the venue’s autumn offering. It won’t be until early next year that we will get the full flavour of Scott’s approach to programming. Before that, though, he is writing and producing the venue’s first in-house Christmas show since its reopening, Scott’s own version of Beauty and the Beast: “But we will be taking a well-known story and setting it in Portsmouth and Hampshire. We will be giving a local edge to it all.”

Scott succeeds Caroline Sharman, who stood down in October after eight years in the role, to lead the historic theatre in its next chapter.

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