Anger as council throws youth drama group out of Capitol

JPCT-15-02-12 outside the Capitol group against closure of Renee Martin's drama club on Saturdays S12080054a -photo by Steve Cobb
JPCT-15-02-12 outside the Capitol group against closure of Renee Martin's drama club on Saturdays S12080054a -photo by Steve Cobb

‘DON’T let the council close our drama group’ - that’s the call for action issued by members of a Horsham Saturday drama club, left angry after receiving one month’s notice that their beloved club is to be axed.

Held at The Capitol theatre in North Street, the weekly workshop is run by Horsham District Council.

Renee Martin, a drama tutor there for 30 years, said she was ‘sad’ to hear the news and felt ‘terrible letting down those who are midway through their training’.

Last Saturday parents were given a letter from The Capitol’s general manager Michael Gattrell. It said: “Due to our increased programme here at The Capitol, it has not been easy to accommodate a consistent safe space for pupils’ tuition on a Saturday morning therefore 10 March 2012 will be the last drama workshop.”

The decision to axe the club arose when The Capitol was asked, along with other venues operated by HDC, to review its operations in light of the current economic crisis.

Jonathan Chowen (Con, Cowfold, Shermanbury and West Grinstead), HDC’s cabinet member for Arts, Heritage and Leisure, said: “We have been looking at ways to increase income and reduce costs so that we are able to maintain these much loved and valued amenities.

“Recently, The Capitol has introduced ‘Children’s Saturday Morning Cinema’ and its success has lead to a plan to develop more children oriented productions.”

He added that the workshop’s attendance had been falling, averaging only 30 people per week.He also stated the two and a half hour workshops use several rooms across The Capitol for practice and rehearsal sessions, which ‘compromises current and any new initiatives for developing The Capitol’s Saturday programme’.

Many members both past and present have contacted the County Times, as well as voicing their views on a new Facebook page ‘Don’t let the council close our drama group’.

Talking to The County Times, Renee said that as far as she was aware there was no other club like this in the area. Members learned a range of characters which they acted out. There was no show to prepare for and members could come as often as they like, she said.

The drama coach added: “It is free to attend. I realise that teenagers have other things they want to do on a Saturday so they aren’t tied in every week.”

Kate Stredder, 14, has been attending the sessions for nearly two years and loves ‘absolutely every moment of it’. She feels the council’s decision is ‘highly unfair’.

“We believe that the council has a duty to give the youths of today something to do on the weekend. This is the only thing of its type provided for the young people of Horsham and the surrounding areas,” she said.

Cathie Shipton, from Horsham, who has two children who attend the workshop said she cannot afford to pay for them to attend drama lessons with someone else.

“I am not sure the teaching would compare as the classes at the Capitol are improv-based and challenge the children with thought-provoking scenarios every time they attend.”

Ex-student Ben Wilson, 22, Horsham said: “For me personally I am certain that without Renee’s tuition, leadership and friendship I would not have had the skills nor confidence to succeed and develop into the person I am today.

“I am one of many children that this school has helped.”

Renee said she felt incredibly ‘flattered’ to hear the comments left by members and ex-members. She added that she was proud of her students who had gone on to star in plays on the West End, in TV programmes and had become doctors or barristers.

Mr Chowen thanked Renee for all her efforts in the ‘nuturing of young talent’ and recognised ‘the considerable work and commitment which has taken place over the years’.

He added: “We are however aware that alternative group drama tuition is available in other venues in Horsham and a leaflet detailing these will be issued to current users at the next session.”

As for the future, Renee said that if people needed her help with interviews or auditions they could contact her, but the workshop would not be looking for new premises. Sign the petition