TAKING the helm at several respected arts venues with a huge amount of heritage between them has offered plenty of challenges for Amanda O’Reilly.
But nearly six months on after arriving to become general manager of Worthing Theatres, she believes the hard work of preparing initial business plans is finally starting to pay off with an ambitious programme of events.
By her own admission, it has been some task to get to grips with the multi-million pound operation of the Pavilion, Connaught, Ritz and Assembly Hall, which are collectively in need of a level of maintenance which far-newer sites may not incur.
However, few would argue that Worthing’s venues have plenty of style and art deco character that have proved a huge asset to the area’s tourism sector, which remains under pressure from ongoing economic instability.
According to Amanda, one of the key ways forward to ensure that the council-owned business remains viable is in seeking to ensure as many direct links with businesses, schools and colleges are forged and making sure the venue’s remain at the heart of the town.
From new comedy nights through to professional touring theatre and household-name music acts including Suggs, Seth Lakeman and The Proclaimers, it’s hard to knock the enthusiasm of the team behind the venues. They are on a mission to break what they claim is Worthing being associated purely with tribute artist acts.
Speaking to a tourism forum meeting at the Dome last week, the general manager, who revealed she is fortunate to be working with a great team, enthused on the positive feedback to her arrival.
She said: “The theatres should be both part of the community and business community. We are trying to reach out to as many societies in the area and we are always looking for new ideas.
“Some of the things that we have looked at include creating “A Wilde Weekend in Worthing” linking up with accommodation providers to create a package for people staying here. We want to make sure that people staying in Worthing want to come back here.”
With continued pressure on the borough council’s finances, the future of all of the town’s arts venues has remained under the microscope for several years. But after putting their management out to tender last year, it was decided that keeping them under local authority control for the next few years remained the way forward.
Having grown up spending family holidays in Worthing, the general manager, who has previously been involved with management of theatre production in Havant, felt she had a strong bond with West Sussex. In her opinion, some of the biggest challenges facing the business revolve around ensuring that existing audiences are retained, while also looking to the future and how to draw in crowds of all ages and interests.
She added: “We’re very lucky that each of the venues has a unique set of qualities which we can use to create the best atmosphere for the audience. We’ve been looking at ensuring shows are in the venue which is most suitable for the production.
“Our new comedy programme, for example, works brilliantly on the new Ritz stage, it’s an intimate space where a full belly-laugh cascades through the audience and everyone is metres away from the comedian. “Then there’s the Pavilion which is beautiful and feels to me like the top tier of a wedding cake, a building the town should be proud to have at its core. It’s a fantastic space which offers lots of versatility. Few towns can boast such a tremendous selection of arts facilities.”