When Jenn Trethewey’s first theatre venture, Chapel Street Studios (operating out of Manchester’s Black Lion pub) found it was having to turn people away through lack of available seats, it became apparent that she had found her niche.
The productions that Jenn hosted at CSS had earned her a reputation for being risky and innovative. She built up a regular following and realised there was clearly a demand for something in Manchester that offered an alternative to the traditional theatre format. Her approach was to be open to anything the companies wanted to do without being precious about her programme or the space she had created.
Through CSS Jenn had learnt both how to run a company and turn an unused, empty space into a profitable enterprise. She came to the conclusion that she could offer something to the small theatre ecology that many other companies couldn’t. This led her to apply for, and be awarded, arts council funding in order to found her own company, New Playhouse, which is now approaching its first anniversary.
New Playhouse launched its first successful popup, The Great Northern Playhouse, with the help of two of Jenn’s art school friends; illustrator Thomas Moffat and artist Leam Williams. The team set up shop in the disused former railway goods warehouse of the Great Northern Railway in Manchester city centre, where the three oversee all aspects of the project, from design and marketing to social media and brand development. Jenn tells me, “The aim was to let the glamour and atmosphere of a night at the theatre filter through the beautiful industrial Manchester building and provide an elegant but contemporary venue that could cater to any type of performance. The space aims to provide a much-needed mid-size venue for production companies in Manchester, and to give a high-level of marketing support to independent North West talent.”
Throughout autumn and early winter 2014 the venue hosted projects as varied as a one-woman show entitled ‘Little Terrors,’ a platform for new writers called ‘New Live Theatre Showcase’ and unique productions by established UK companies such as the Flanagan Collective. There have also been standup nights and film screenings. New Playhouse has continued Jenn’s philosophy of placing no limitations on any production which has come its way, even building an entirely new staging area for a production of ‘A Christmas Carol’ last December.
The team at NP bring fellow creatives’ ideas to life by offering a free platform for young or new producers who have something interesting to say, and who appreciate the fact that their ideas and concepts will be given the support they need. Jenn tells me that her main aim is, “to help in whatever way I can to do interesting theatre that I haven’t seen before”; ultimately to bridge the gap between what is traditionally seen as fringe theatre and more formal theatre.
As is usual for a start-up, Jenn and the rest of the team have intense months of work followed by quieter spells, a well-recognised aspect of life that most creatives will experience. They have, however, turned this to their advantage and used the time to travel; likewise, they are not tied down to one city or one type of location or venue. Jenn has big plans for New Playhouse and anticipates expanding its horizons across the whole of the North of England, perhaps even potentially ‘popping up’ all over the UK.