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Big cash for seaside entertainment heritage project

PUBLISHED: 11:00 07 October 2009 | UPDATED: 14:31 06 July 2010

Seaside theatres around the region's coast have brought summer fun to generations of holidaymakers and locals.

Audiences have belly-laughed at famous comics, marvelled at stunning speciality acts, tapped their feet to dazzling dance routines, sung along with popular tunes, and been gripped by tense drama.

Seaside theatres around the region's coast have brought summer fun to generations of holidaymakers and locals.

Audiences have belly-laughed at famous comics, marvelled at stunning speciality acts, tapped their feet to dazzling dance routines, sung along with popular tunes, and been gripped by tense drama.

Now the rich tradition and heritage of venues from Hunstanton to Frinton is to be captured in a project by young people, backed by a £25,000 lottery grant.

They will dig into their history, talk to stars who appeared in their spotlights, and chat to showgoers about their memories, to produce a touring exhibition and film.

The results will add to the county's archives, but also spark an interest and understanding about seaside entertainment among today's young people.

It is being driven by Sheringham Little Theatre, but will involve youngsters from further afield - and they will need the help of other generations to provide anecdotes and memorabilia for their research.

Theatre director Debbie Thompson said the venue, which marks its 50th anniversary of hosting seaside summer repertory theatre next year, wanted to get young people more involved and to understand the concept of “rep” where actors performed one play at night and learned another during the day.

But ideas of having a summer school expanded to taking a broader look at seaside entertainment, and they were thrilled to get backing from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Young people would research and film at venues such as Cromer Pier, theatres at Yarmouth and Lowestoft, as well as look at the “rep” at Sheringham, Southwold and Frinton.

They aimed to interview stars who had cut their teeth in seaside shows, such as Bradley Walsh, as well as people who remembered some of the heydays of big name shows at Yarmouth featuring the likes of Morecambe and Wise, Bruce Forsyth, and Jim Davidson.

The aim was to have an exhibition and film ready by next October. Norfolk Museums Service was helping with the project, and would keep the resulting work once it had finished its tour.

There was also scope to get involved in performance workshops and masterclasses by leading directors.

A core group of young people called the Seaside Arts Society was already planning some of the work, but it would expand to include local schools, and youth groups - including at the venues being featured - said Mrs Thompson.

She hoped the young people would become more interested and involved in live seaside entertainment which would be a boost for audience numbers in the future, though places like Sheringham and Cromer had turnouts which were the envy of some West End theatres.

Robyn Llewellyn, head of the HLF in the East of England, said: “It is so important to get young people involved in the heritage that surrounds them by bringing it to life and making it relevant to them. This is a wonderful project that will do just that by enabling them to learn all about the unique heritage of seaside theatre.”

Anyone wanting to get involved in the project or with anecdotes and material to offer, should contact Debbie Thompson on 01263 826171.

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