On November 1st 2017, I had the opportunity to sit down and interview Scott Ramsay, the new CEO of the New Theatre Royal on Guildhall Walk. Scott started in the role back in March, and already has a lot of tricks up his sleeve to bring the theatre more firmly into the community in Portsmouth. We spent almost an hour talking about this over coffee at Watkins & Faux, the café on the first floor of the theatre, which is open to the public.
As we sat down, Scott began talking about his vision for the theatre. He started by saying that while he wants to develop work for the main stage, he also wants to do more site-specific projects out in the city of Portsmouth (though of course the work on the main stage will always drive the work outside the auditorium and off the stage). Scott believes Portsmouth to be a very international city, both historically and culturally, and hopes to bring that across in his work with the theatre.
Scott has professed his desire to establish links between both local, national, and international organisations to achieve more with his given budget. As humanity ushers in a new technological era, he also hopes to utilise that and draw in more crowds to the theatre. He has also decided to focus on the individuality of the New Theatre Royal, drawing on their audiences and performances to promote themselves.
Challenging ideas of the North-South divide within the city of Portsmouth, Scott wants to focus on bridging the gap and breaking down barriers, to bring theatre to the city as a whole, instead of two halves. Part of this would include the possibility for producing and performing theatre outside of the auditorium, around the city to promote various areas of cultural interest.
During our interview in the café, I had the opportunity to ask Scott about his continued vision for the theatre, and some other questions regarding his theatre experiences, top tips, and plans to push cheaper tickets for younger attendees.
Q: How long have you been in the theatre industry?
A: Well, last Sunday, I celebrated 30 years. It was half a celebration, half commiseration! I started in the 1980’s, where we used to rehearse a play for two weeks, put it on, and it would play for two and a half weeks. Then, on the Monday following opening, you’d go into rehearsal whilst you were playing in the evenings. It was fantastic training, I did everything. You know, occasionally I was in a show, I’d be flying the show, I’d be making scenery, and it was very, very high standard. I did that for four years, then I went into management, then I became a stage manager, production manager, tour manager, general manager, producer, and then venue director.
Q: A bit of a tricky one, but what is your favourite show that you have been in, or seen, or produced?
A: Now that is very difficult. I think your tastes change as you age and as you go through life. So, for me now, the things I get most excited about are pieces that reflect the contemporary world we live in, and feel relevant in terms of having a debate within yourself or with the audience you’re with. I mean, I worked for the Royal Shakespeare Company, and I’m not the sort of person who gets continually excited by doing another production of Romeo and Juliet. In recent years I’ve been a big commissioner of work, which is really speaking to the communities we serve today, you know, what are the issues that they’re interested in today?
And I do really love site-specific pieces, and taking work to places that surprise people. If you’ve got an empty store next to your house, then putting something in there as an installation, which gets people thinking differently about their environment, that’s still at the heart of it, there’s a story to tell, I think that’s tremendously exciting.
Q: Do you have a top three tips for budding performers that want to make it in the industry?
A: Well, my number one tip would be to regard yourself as business and not to take the old-fashioned approach of just going out and expecting an agent to take you up on the books. It’s also important that you develop a set of skills that reflect what the industry needs today, and that’s everything from doing idents to TV programmes to voiceover work. And to not be afraid to package yourself in a way that you can unashamedly do a commercial thing one minute and then do something artistic the next. But the biggest, biggest thing is to be curious, and be inquisitive, and see and read work. I am absolutely flabbergasted that now so many people who claim to be interested in theatre, don’t go and see theatre, they don’t read scripts, and they don’t have a contemporary understanding of what the theatre consists of.
Q: How do you plan to improve the theatre and bring in a wider audience?
A: You have to provide opportunities for people that are not engaged in the arts to come in – that’s one of the biggest challenges we’ve got. There’s always this question about diversity, and in performing arts it’s quite hotly debated at the moment. Everyone likes to blame something else as the reason for lack of diversity, but the biggest problem we’ve got is economic accessibility. And this biggest thing we’ve got to deal with is how do you make it (the theatre) accessible? It’s not just about the money; it’s “Can I invest that £10 or £20 in something I don’t know is guaranteed to be good?” For me, getting rid of the perception of risk is really important, and that people can give what they genuinely can afterwards, after they’ve seen a performance, when they’re engaged in it. That way, you can broaden the range of people coming to see a performance, enormously. We’re taking a theatre piece to the north of the city in the summer, and people can buy £5 tickets to bring a picnic rug, sit and watch a whole theatre show, which isn’t something that’s been easily available. There’s lots happening in the south of the city, but we need to challenge ourselves.
Q: Do you have any plans for further links with the University?
A: Yes, we do. My view on it is that when the building work started, there was an outlook where the building and the University could work closely together, but it’s quite often that when long build-periods go over time, that momentum got lost somewhere. It’s like we’re a year behind where we should be in those conversations. But it is very much the desire of myself and my counterparts at the University to have much more stronger crossovers. It’s not just the performing arts either, there are other faculties we can offer opportunities to, like journalism for example.
Q: Is there anything else you wanted to say?
A: A really, really big thing I’d you to push is the £10 ticket for under-25s. Almost every show now, something I brought in this season, has a certain number of seats that are £10 for under-25s. If you could do one thing for us in terms of pushing this accessibility, it doesn’t matter that it’s a play, or a musical, they’ve all got £10 tickets, and that’s what it costs to go to the cinema. It’s so apt for most students, so please push that.