We caught up with Luke Marquez, Artistic Director of the Shoebox Theatre to find out a bit more about his work, what has happened since launch, and what the future holds for the Shoebox...
What were you doing before the Shoebox Theatre?
Learning. I was making theatre in empty office buildings, community halls and fields on the rare sunny day. I trained at Central School of Speech and Drama. I then spent some time working at Pegasus Theatre in Oxford, I lectured at a college and setup evening classes in acting, for adults. I learned the importance of making mistakes, taking risks and always being open to what others can teach you.
What inspired you to open a new theatre in Swindon?
Creating theatre on little to no budget, in a rural town where funding for the arts is almost non-existent is a challenge but, not impossible. We spent years working from borrowed spaces, or rooms too small for theatre. The alternatives were far too expensive.
I also found myself hopping on a train to London, Bristol or Oxford if I wanted to see exciting contemporary theatre. Much of which wasn’t taking place in big theatres but in small found spaces, or studios.
Swindon has an abundance of talented young performers and emerging artists but, like me, they were seeking theatre out of town and more importantly they relied on creative opportunities further afield. We needed an affordable creative space to create new work and so do the other amazing talents in the town and that’s what we want to achieve with the Shoebox Theatre.
Since opening what have been the highlights?
There are so many to choose from! One of my highlights for the past year would have to be the week that theatre maker Bee Daws spent in residence at the Shoebox, creating a new performance, which explored mental health through clowning and puppetry.
Of course, our launch event was a fantastic night; the very talented Billie Piper spoke passionately about her formative experiences in Swindon, which inspired her to perform but better still was an event that was considerably more low key. Billie joined us, along with young and emerging actors from Swindon for a cup of tea and a chat about what it’s like to work in the industry. It was such a rewarding experience, to sit down together, an award-winning actor and a room full of young local performers and just share experiences so openly and honestly.
What's the secret to running a successful theatre?
I think success means something different to everyone. For me, success means a theatre that inspires people, that brings communities together and nurtures talent. One of the biggest challenges we face as a theatre is balancing a programme of performances that audiences know they want to see, with performances that offer something new and challenging. We want to challenge perspectives and support new work but, that relies on a regular audience. Running a rural theatre comes with some considerable challenges, so it’s important that you surround yourself with supportive, positive people and people who are willing to challenge you, to ask the difficult questions and help you refine your ideas.
Who are your creative role models and what other theatres do you admire most?
Early on in my development, companies that inspired me were south west based Kaos theatre company and DV8. I admire the work of Complicité, Punch Drunk, Gecko among so many other smaller scale companies creating challenging contemporary work up and down the country. I admire the Wardrobe Theatre in Bristol, Hope Mill in Manchester, The Yard, BAC and the Royal Court.
What piece of advice would you give any budding local Theatre makers out there?
Make theatre as often as you can and make work that speaks to you creatively – don’t follow the money. If you start by shaping your work to fit the criteria of fund-givers, you’ll never find your own creative language. Work within your means, create quality work and before too long you’ll find you have regular audiences and the money will take care of itself. Work with people who inspire you and take opportunities that excite you. If you find a nurturing venue offering to help you create your work, grab that opportunity with both hands; supportive creative spaces are a rare and important part of any artistic community!
Can you tell us a bit about the educational programme at the Shoebox?
The Shoebox education programme has been an astounding success. It now boasts weekly classes for beginners, more advanced classes for experienced performers, as well as weekly stage combat classes. We have also been able to offer some amazing masterclasses, run by experienced theatre professionals. What makes these even more exciting, is that they are subsidised by the Shoebox, which means you get some fantastic training at affordable prices.
What is the Shoebox up to at the moment and what does the future hold?
We’ve been very busy over the last year developing the space, hanging lights installing seating and making the Shoebox as welcoming as possible for both performers and audiences. We’re now looking towards the future and developing our programme of professional performances and finding new ways to engage with emerging theatre makers in and around Swindon. One of the events that we’re currently working on, is a festival of original performances, offering rehearsal space, guidance and support to young and emerging performers and companies.