The Rise of Independent Theatre
Sophie Shaw talks to John Knowles about how the independent theatre scene is on the rise in Hastings and St Leonards in advance of his latest show Hitleria Pizzeria, Parts I&II
John Knowles moved to Hastings in 1999. Many HIP readers will be familiar with his work: he has variously been involved in running Coastal Currents, setting up the St Leonards Festival and running the theatre in the Observer building during its time as a community hub.
‘The pub theatre scene is usually where independent theatre thrives,’ he tells me, ‘but that hasn’t been the case here. There is such a strong pub music scene, where bands play for free, and it has been difficult for paid for shows to gain any traction. I strongly believe that theatre is for everyone and prices should be accessible, but equally it costs money to put shows on and that has to come from somewhere.’
So, what is it that’s changing? ‘The influx of people to the town. Theatre is a collaborative art form and needs a community of practitioners to flourish. Theatremakers have been arriving in numbers and are willing to take risks, making it easier to put on new and experimental shows. We haven’t solved our problems, but we are becoming a more powerful group. We are in the process of setting up a steering group to look out for the sectors interests, lobby local government and provide support.’
And the future? What lies there? Knowles wants to push the town as a great place to develop new writing. ‘The quality of actors coming into the town makes it much easier to put on new plays here.’ He is talking in the run-up to his show Hitleria Pizzeria, which opens at The Garage on 9 November. Set in a non-specific eastern European country, Part I of this absurdist comedy sees the owner of a local bar start wearing a Hitler moustache. The entrance of a young revolutionary soldier provides a catalyst for a series of interactions about life, death, loyalty and sacrifice. Audiences may remember this from last year, but the show now comes with a new second act. Part II picks up the story five years later, in the age of the Oligarchs, where PR and control of the media are on the agenda. Starring Sidney Kean (an award-winning actor new to the area), the show has gained interest from the post-Soviet bloc, with readings at the National Theatre of Serbia under discussion and a producer in Belgrade looking to turn it into a feature film. Catch it in St Leonards first though.
Hiterlia Pizzeria, Parts I & II, 9–11 November 2017, The Garage, through the Horse and Groom, 4 Mercatoria, St Leonards on Sea, tickets £12 (£10 conc.) from https://hp-parts1and2.bpt.me
And if you’re a theatremaker interested in a steering group for the local scene, Knowles would like to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org