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TheatreNI speaks to Roseanne Sturgeon (Riverside Theatre)

 A Profiler: Roseanne Sturgeon (Riverside Theatre)

This August TheatreNI spoke to Roseanne Sturgeon as she settles into her new position as Theatre Manager at the Riverside Theatre in her hometown of Coleraine. The Theatre is forty years old this year but it is where ‘it all started’ for Roseanne. She relives fond memories of being a part of the theatre’s Youth Theatre as a teenager, including a production of A MidsummerNight’s Dream alongside Bronagh Waugh, directed by Zoe Seaton (Artistic Director, Big Telly) in 1996.

Roseanne completed an MA (Hons) Arts degree at the University of Glasgow and a Level 4 Executive Postgraduate Diploma in Management through the Chartered Management Institute.  Her early career began in the Causeway Coast and Glens and over the past decade Roseanne has worked on senior management teams of ‘leading arts organisations in the UK and Ireland’ including The Tron Theatre (Glasgow), The Helix (Dublin) and Young at Art (Belfast). In addition, Roseanne has worked in a freelance capacity in marketing for AudiencesNI, Cahoots NI and Big Telly.

Roseanne will be celebrating the theatre’s 40th anniversary with the launch of the new website and Autumn programme on August 28th. For the first time, the theatre’s digital archives will also be available online for anyone who wishes to explore the Riverside’s production history.  Roseanne hopes the archive will inspire the Riverside’s Youth Theatre, in particular.

Regarding the programme, Roseanne says that she has ‘inherited quite a lot … It will have the same mix of comedy, music and drama but with new bits!’  Roseanne is keen to ensure connectedness across the whole of the Causeway Coast and Glens in terms of arts programming.  She has been in discussions with Flowerfield Arts Centre about programming and funding and see this as an ‘area just waiting to be developed’ which just ‘needs really clever collaboration.’

Roseanne says she ‘learned the most’ in terms of artistic vision from her time at The Tron in Glasgow. Their ‘whole structure and attitude’ is linked to a commitment to joined up thinking –  everything is ‘designed to complement and connect’.  Their ‘cradle to grave approach’ is of note.  The theatre works on developing their audience from a very young age, taking them ‘on a journey’ of audience development. This inspiration is undoubtedly reflected across Roseanne’s programming, beginning with her plans for the redesign and restructuring of the Riverside’s Youth Theatre.

Roseanne tells us it is a ‘major change’: ‘I’ve restructured the Youth Theatre and brought it in house. It’s a back to basics approach with no performing arts experience needed.  Our youth sessions are now divided into 5 different age ranges: 0-4 years, 4-7 years, 8-11 years, 11-13 years and 14-18 years.’

Roseanne reflects on her own experience of Youth Theatre and her awareness that she was ‘never going to be a performer’. She feels it’s important ‘that Youth Theatre examines the different aspects of theatre production and her participants can be involved in writing, technical, costume, design and other areas over the ten-week term’.

Roseanne sees this Youth Theatre approach as somewhere between process and product – focusing both on the creation and showcasing of work. Most importantly, she is keen to ‘open up access’ to the Youth Theatre for all. The new Youth Theatre team includes Alice Malseed, Marty McDowell, Lorna Gough and Joanna Martin.

The first 10 weeks will include the young people coming forward with their own ideas. She tells us she’d like to ‘create a generation of children who are writing their own vision’ and a ‘Youth Theatre which ‘plans to be flexible, responding to the needs and interests of the participants’.  Roseanne sees the Youth theatre as ‘more about the development of social skills and the benefits that come with that’. She hopes to gain additional funding to provide Youth Theatre bursaries, in order to ensure accessibility and openness to everyone.

In addition, Roseanne explains how she’s been working to develop a relationship with the student body, in line with the University’s vision for ‘invigorating the student experience’.  ‘I’ve been working closely with the Student’s Union and Fresher’s Week to develop a programme of activities, including working with Adam Turkington (Seedhead Arts) on a comedy variety club.’

She’s also been working with the Coleraine Amateur Stage Society, and with the University’s ‘fantastic’ media department, who are interested in exploring a ‘live lounge’ idea. Roseanne is keen to build up a programme that allows the Riverside to offer more opportunities. As part of the plan she also hopes to introduce a work placement scheme for performing arts students and is keen for the new look theatre to be ready for students arriving in September for Welcome Week.

Access is key to Roseanne’s plan for the Riverside: ‘I’ve been opening up a lot of conversations with a lot of people’, including Stendhal Festival.  ‘I want the Riverside to appeal to as many people as possible; youth, students and for those attending performances in the evening’.

Roseanne envisions the theatre becoming a ‘bright open space’ for people to ‘come in, create and hang out’.  She plans opening times from 10am-10pm, a new coffee shop and further structural changes including a bigger staff team.  The gallery will be a free exhibition space for artists, with a small administration fee if they wish to sell their work, and she is encouraging anyone interested in exhibiting their work to get in touch.

Roseanne tells us she’s ‘incredibly excited’ to return to Coleraine and to the Riverside ‘to enhance this wonderful venue’, and work with the Theatre’s considerable ‘following’.

In terms of the future she believes it’s about ‘aspiration’, ‘thinking outside the box in terms of programming’ and developing our ‘customers experience’. Roseanne is keen to continue the conversations with those interested in being involved with the theatre and , ‘open to any sort of partnership.’