Volunteers are the backbone of community theatre which has so much to offer
Archant © 2017
From box office to bar, set building to costume design, the 50 or so volunteers at Pakefield’s Seagull Theatre carry out a variety of vital roles to ensure the show goes on.
The small theatre, which is run as a Community Interest Company, plays host to a regular stream of local talent, regional and national touring theatre companies, offering a diverse range of show, classes and workshops.
But without its dedicated team of volunteers, manager Karen Read says the theatre wouldn’t be able to run.
“I am so grateful every day for all of my amazing volunteers who give up so much of their time to commit to this lovely building,” she said. “They are without doubt the reason that ten years after reopening we are here and still able to serve the community.
“They are the backbone of the Seagull and an amazing group of people.”
Angela Freakley, 66, and her husband Derek, 72, have been volunteering at the theatre since 2007 when the Save Our Seagull campaign was launched to keep the theatre from closing.
And with a professional background in theatre, Mrs Freakley is an asset to the team.
She said: “I’ve worked professionally in theatre all my life, right from dancing as a child to professional acting, and then having my own dance school in Bury St Edmunds for 35 years.
“I concentrated on child parts because of my size. I was in The Amazing Mr Blunden, Alice in Wonderland - the Fiona Fullerton version of that with Michael Crawford as the white rabbit - and various things on television and in theatre.
“When I retired from my dance school we moved down here and within a few months we saw the advert in The Journal for Save the Seagull, so we thought we would come along and get involved and we are still here.
“I stage manage a lot of the shows and work with the various societies and clubs that use the theatre.
“I’m down here pretty much everyday and I also help administer the youth theatre on a Wednesday evening.
“The communal spirit here is brilliant and the theatre gives the community and children in particular such an amazing opportunity with a wide variety of theatre-related activities from shows to workshops.
“We are definitely a family, when I walk in the door I feel like it’s my second home.”
Mr Freakley helps out with props and set building, skills he picked up when his wife ran yearly dance shows.
He is part of a small team of volunteers who bring the sets to life, working in a workshop at the theatre.
“It’s not very big, but it’s big enough to build sets as long as you can remember what they are going to look like in the end, as there’s not enough space to put it all up at once,” he said.
“I enjoy doing it, it’s quite therapeutic. And it’s nice to see it all come together when it is finished. More often than not the cast don’t know what it will look like until we put it up so it’s nice to see their reaction and of course the public’s reaction as well.
“Having been married to Angela for 45 years, the theatre is a huge part of our life.”
In addition to the auditorium, the Seagull Theatre has three studios upstairs that provide space and opportunities for groups to learn, rehearse and perform. It also offers its own theatre company, The Seagull Rep, which Mrs Read hopes can start touring again in 2019 if enough funds are raised.
And community is at the heart of everything it does, with a range of charity collections and concerts held each year, along with activities for those with disabilities and additional needs including close links with the Warren School, Topcats centre and its resident ‘Fabba’ drama group.
For information on upcoming shows, visit www.theseagull.co.uk or call the box office on 01502 589726.
Jan Ball, 62, designs and creates the costumes and props for shows at the Seagull.
She used to work for the Ministry of Defence running a graphic media studio, and her work included painting designs on cakes for the royal family, military and the government.
She moved to Pakefield from Hampshire with her husband, and wanted to use her skills to make a difference.
She said: “We came up here and I needed to become part of the community and make friends so I looked around for something I felt I could make a difference with and that my skill set would help improve.
“I walked in and there was a really friendly atmosphere and Karen is amazing.
“When I started the wardrobe there was a big pile of clothes in the middle of the room, so for three years we’ve been putting them on rails, labelling and mending, and it is still ongoing.”
Mrs Ball said the trick is to upcycle and recycle items, with the team often rummaging around charity shops. The theatre has also now started hiring out its costumes for community use.
Jo Sarter, 71, has been helping out on the box office and bar for the past two years.
She joined the Seagull team after moving to the area on her own, and now helps out regularly selling tickets twice a week as well as offering up extra time behind the bar when needed.
She said: “When I moved down here I wanted something to do and someone mentioned the Seagull so I came in to see Karen.
“I love the whole atmosphere. I’ve not worked in theatre before and I just find it fascinating the things that go on - seeing all the performances, rehearsals and how much people put into it considering they are all volunteers. It’s just amazing.
“We always need more volunteers and more people to know about the theatre. It’s surprising how many people have lived here for years and don’t know about it, but I don’t know why. There’s so much going on and there’s all the community stuff and workshops upstairs.”