the Nightingale

theatre can happen anywhere

Nov 22, 2013: Navigating stormy waters – the future of The Nightingale


The grand old lady, that is the building that houses The Nightingale, is creaking. She is stretching at her seams and taking in water.

We are doing what we can to support her, mopping up during and after each rainfall, but as a part-time team we are a little short on people-power and buckets. The work required to maintain this building is substantial and out of our hands, and so we exercise patience and wait for that work to be done.

Like many spaces supporting the arts we rely on the benevolence of others, such as businesses that look to give something back to the community – Corporate Social Responsibility in some books. In our case, that business is Drink In Brighton (DIB) which currently has a lease on the building and runs the Grand Central pub below us.  DIB’s strengths, in my eyes, is that they recognise that we:

a) are best placed to do what we do (supporting artists in making splendid work on the small-scale, and in unconventional places, and presenting a wonderful range of performances).

b) are part of and embedded in the thriving arts ecology of Brighton as much as a wider community.

c) are a benefit to the pub business itself.

I would like to think that we are a bit more proactive than that – we actively contribute to our local and national communities – but that is for another page.

In April Fullers will assume control of the building, having acquired the freehold. More detailed plans have not yet been discussed with the representatives of Fullers, and so I am not in a position to say one way or the other what The Nightingale will look like this time next year.

That position throws into sharp relief the precarious nature of arts practice, particularly at this end of the scale where benevolence and / or patronage are vital. It is not a new situation – patrons have always been a part of the art community. The depth of their involvement (or say) has varied, and certainly their own tastes have contributed to our sense of precariousness. That, sadly, is the nature of the beast when there are limited funds available.

My quandary is where I should look to find the balance between that uncomfortable sense of uncertainty and perceived complacency. How to convey the importance of what we do so we do not fall off the swing. Of whom we support in creating art. Of how many artists we support in a multitude of ways. Of where we sit within the cultural ecology of Brighton and the UK as a result.

We need the support of others to continue along that path whether that is permitting us to inhabit spaces such as we do with the Nightingale or permitting us to use those that are disused, vacant or created. It may be direct fiscal support from private or public sector sources. Or, just as importantly, the support people show in attending our events. We are grateful for it all because we understand perfectly that not everyone benefits all the time.

I don’t wish to moan, simply to highlight, once more, that we are utterly committed to the arts in all wonderful incarnations, and that we understand that we rely on others to ensure that our commitment manifests itself by producing wonderful theatre. And that sometimes we need to pause while we await those who support us go that extra mile to make it all a bit better.

Steven Brett, Artistic Director

What do you think? Should the arts be less dependent on patronage? What are the alternatives? Let us know.


One comment on “Nov 22, 2013: Navigating stormy waters – the future of The Nightingale

  1. George Dillon
    November 25, 2013

    Brighton has a reputation as being something of a theatrical town, but theatre makers who live here know that this reputation is somewhat misleading. While many famous thespians have lived in Brighton, from Laurence Olivier to Steven Berkoff and beyond, the opportunities for local theatre makers to make work here are actually very limited due to the paucity of suitable venues.

    The Theatre Royal is basically a tryout venue for West End shows, The Gardner Arts Centre closed its doors years ago, The Komedia has long since turned its back on theatre in favour of money-making music and comedy, and the handful of other theatre venues have such irregular theatre programmes and opaque programming policies or such expensive hire charges (or all three) that for local companies to mount a productions there can be about as arduous and as risky (and far less rewarding) than going to Edinburgh!

    In the 26 years I have lived here, I have found only one venue in Brighton has consistently offered local theatre makers a space for the development of new work, supported by a professional and dedicated team of co-theatre-workers, and that is the Nightingale.

    The Nightingale Theatre not only has a unique atmosphere but also has a long history and a vitally important place in the theatrical scene not just in Brighton but in the UK as a whole. After some quiet years, the commitment and vision which Alister O’Loughlin and Miranda Henderson (who as Prodigal Theatre proved themselves exceptional brilliant theatre-makers) brought to the management of the theatre during their tenure re-established The Nightingale as the live beating heart of Brighton’s theatre scene and placed it firmly among the most exciting development spaces in the UK.

    The reality is that with only 50 seats The Nightingale will never be self-sustaining as a producing venue, which is why the blue-print set down by Alister and Miranda was such a valuable one, multiplying the significance of the venue way beyond its small seating capacity.

    It would be a terrible shame if a combination of weather, austerity and interrupted patronage should lead to the loss (even temporarily) of this jewel in the crown of Brighton’s artistic life.


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This entry was posted on November 22, 2013 by in the Nightingale.
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