Pop-up theatre to tour disadvantaged areas of Greater Manchester

A pop-up theatre, complete with canvas roof and cardboard seats, will be making its way across Greater Manchester, taking theatre to the masses as it tours deprived communities across the borough.

The Den – “low carbon and super-lightweight” space – is the brainchild of Manchester’s Royal Exchange theatre and was made possible with a £1m donation from the Oglesby Charitable Trust. It was created to bring theatre to communities who would normally struggle to access the arts.

As part of its community project, Local Exchange, the theatre will be built and dismantled by people in each community it visits. Stops on its trail will include Cheetham Hill and Tameside – historically deprived areas of Greater Manchester.

Inga Hirst, director of creative learning and engagement of the Royal Exchange theatre, who has spearheaded the project, said: “The Den is going to specific communities that have less access to the arts due to there being less provision there. So Cheetham Hill is a great example because the [residents] are one of the least engaged [communities] in our theatre and the work we do here.

“We will embed ourselves in the community and see what they need and we will have ambassadors in each community who will tell us what they require.”

Hirst added that productions from the main theatre would go out into communities and ambassadors would be able to hand out free tickets. There will also be a mobile box office.

In Tameside, the theatre is currently working with a women’s centre and training 10 unemployed women to work as front of house staff for the roving project.

Deborah Gail Leech, a volunteer at the women’s centre, took seven of these women to see Hobson’s Choice at the theatre’s main base in St Anne’s square. Six of them had never been to the theatre before.

Leech, a recovering alcoholic, first became involved in the arts during a stint in rehab.

The 52-year-old from Ashton-under-Lyne said: “While I was in treatment an acting group came in and I made a film, 37 Days Sober, which got shown in Home [an arts cinema in Manchester]. I was in a dark place for a long, long time and this absolutely lit my life up.

“I thought the theatre was for posh people who rock up in a big cars but it’s totally not like that. This theatre is wrapped around people and I don’t think people realise what theatre can do for mental health, you can watch something and get an escape for a little while. It’s beautiful.”

She added: “I want as many people to come through the door and not pay extortionate prices. It is attainable for everyone.”

The project will include workshops, performances and events designed for each community, and the residents of each borough it visits will become the ushers, box office staff, technical team and its audience.

The Den will make its first appearance in Tameside in August.

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