Exeter’s Bike Shed Theatre prepares to shut its doors after eight years
I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.
I got the very sad news last night, that The Bike Shed Theatre will close its doors on 31 March and I can honestly say that I am broken-hearted.
My passion for the theatre began as a girl; my Nan would tell me stories of my Great-Grandfather working at a theatre in the West End, of meeting Charlie Chaplin and being given a make up box by Paul Robeson. Through my childhood my Mum took me to see everything from Gilbert & Sullivan to Madame Butterfly to West End musicals and local amateur dramatics. I loved acting and writing plays at school and that passion carried on through to University when I trained to be a drama teacher.
Theatre is in my blood.
When I found The Bike Shed, I was reminded very much of a small theatre called The Warehouse in my hometown Croydon, which was championed by Theatre legend Steven Berkoff. The Warehouse Theatre was a magical, intimate space where you could see breakthrough theatre (Berkoff put on one of his first shows there), performances straight from the fringe, comedy and allsorts (very much like The Bike Shed). It had to shut to make way for the property developers and it left a massive hole in Croydon’s arts scene that was never filled.
It was like a domino effect; Croydon went on to lose its festival, indie cinema, small council run theatre space and more recently its largest venue Fairfield Halls (although they are supposed to be redesigning it).
I really hope this isn’t the case for Exeter.
In my glass-half-full, ideal world someone will step up and say: “we can’t let this happen, The Bike Shed is a sacred cultural space that plays a vital role in Exeter’s cultural heritage”. But I fear that won’t be the case.
It is an incredibly sad loss for Director David Lockwood, Kelly Johnson and their team, who put heart and soul into it. It will also be a huge loss for emerging artists, us theatre goers and for Exeter as a city.
One of my first questions to Kelly Johnson (The Bike Shed’s Deputy Director) was whether they will they still be supporting new talent – they do an amazing job of it (see From Devon with love). Kelly said:
We’ll try to find a way to support artists as best we can and that will still be the centre of whatever we do.
I really hope that The Boat Shed will open its doors on The Quay in the Summer and that David Lockwood and his amazing team will be getting stuck in to other projects. Thank you for the energy, the passion and the stories.
A bit of History
The Bike Shed first opened eight years ago as a pop-up, transforming two dank cellars into a make-shift cocktail bar and theatre. The response was overwhelmingly positive with The Guardian crediting the venue as ‘keeping theatre alive in Exeter’. Locals could see some of the most exciting new theatre from across the country and people would queue around the block to get in as the venue’s reputation for dancing and DJs grew.
Having decided to stay in its Fore Street home, the theatre continued to gain national recognition. A Peter Brook Empty Space Award was soon followed by an award for the UK Theatre’s Most Welcoming Theatre. Most recently, the venue swept up two of the inaugural Exeter Living Awards for Best Watering Hole and Best Arts Organisation.
Since then, many new bars have sprung up in Exeter echoing the Bike Shed’s offering of cocktails and late night dancing. The bar, a separate business to the theatre, is no longer able to pay profits over to the theatre. David Lockwood, co-founder and Director explained:
We’re incredibly proud of what we’ve been able to achieve and we continue to believe in a quality of experience. We don’t want to lessen our offer or sell out to a national chain. And so, with a very heavy heart and after a lot of attempts to find a way to keep on going, we’ve decided to close up. However, theatre by its very nature is ephemeral and sometimes there’s a need for things to fall for other to grow. There’s every chance that our exit leaves the scene free for others to create their own things, better things, wonderful things.
The good news is that the company will continue to pursue projects outside of the building, most notably the Boat Shed on Exeter’s quay which is set to become a space for music theatre and start-up businesses.
We’re being supported in our plans by our very understanding funders Arts Council England and Exeter City Council’ said David. ‘In the meantime, we invite everyone who’s ever enjoyed our venue to sing us out and join us for a fantastic programme until the end of March. Powderkeg are putting some lines in for beer on tap, we’re serving pizzas from The Flat and we’d be delighted to host a party for anyone who wants to gather friends and celebrate the end of this extraordinary chapter with us.
To arrange an event or party at the venue, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
As my friend Sarah Brigham (Artistic Director at Derby Theatre) said:
Theatre is the most transformational art form. We sit as a community in direct communication both with each other and the actors on stage in a live experience. It allows us to see the world through another’s eyes or smile in quiet recognition as our soul is displayed by the characters and their stories. The best theatre leaves us with questions and conversations and we have this in the bar afterwards or with the person sitting in the seat next to us or in a workshop or a post show discussion.
No other artform is so Live, so communal, so immediate.
And as a final note, I’m just going to leave this here #FoodForThought