Could You Run Upstairs?

Volunteer-led venue Upstairs at the Western is looking for a new team to take over the running of Leicester's only pub theatre.

Developed and created in 2012, directors Verity Bartesch, Sally Jack and Gary Phillpott, together with a team of volunteers transformed an empty room above popular Steamin' Billy Brewery Company Ltd pub, The Western, into a successful, professional venue.  With two seasons each year of theatre, comedy and spoken word in the heart of Leicester's West End, over 4,500 people have seen shows or taken part in workshops over the past eight seasons.

The directors of the community interest company are now looking for a successor to continue to run and improve the theatre, and ensure that Upstairs at the Western remains a jewel in the Leicester West End community's crown.

If you are interested in getting involved, there will be a public meeting at the venue on Tuesday 11 October at 7.30pm where all are welcome.

 Upstairs Western banner

This week our theatre expert, Paul Towers met up with Sally Jack of Upstairs at The Western and asked her about the news that she, Gary and Verity are handing over the reins of the pub theatre to new blood.

What were your aims in the beginning when you started the theatre? We wanted to create a professional performance space that was accessible to a diverse community, and with shows that followed our mission of programming brave, inspiring and engaging.  We also wanted it create a space where the local community could feel it was their theatre, and an extension of the wonderful atmosphere created downstairs in The Western.

Upstairs-WesternHave you achieved all you wanted with Upstairs at The Western? Yes and no; we never thought we'd be where we are now when we first programmed the pilot season back in March 2013, with a makeshift stage built on empty beer barrels. It has taken many, many hours of many people's time - freely given - to get the venue to where it is now, along with invaluable support from Steamin' Billy Brewery Company Ltd, Leicester City Council and Westcotes Community First. We've built up a loyal and knowledgeable audience through a team of dedicated volunteers. There is still a lot that can be done though, and a new team can bring fresh eyes and ideas to the space.

What are you most proud of? Which productions? Difficult question as there have been so many wonderful shows! In terms of really satisfying moments,  seeing the comedy workshoppers overcome their fears and create and perform stand up routines to a paying audience has been great. Welcoming performers like Dave Bartram, Jeffrey Holland and Cathy Tyson to the venue has been thrilling and brilliant fun. Overall though, my own satisfaction comes from sitting up at the back of the theatre, watching a show, the lights coming up once the performance has ended and hearing the audience talk about what they've just experienced. A shared experience. 

What do you hope for the future of the theatre? We hope that people will continue to come and be entertained, whatever direction that takes, that it will continue to grow and firmly embed itself into the fabric of Leicester's West End.

Is Steaming Billy committed to supporting the theatre in the future? They have been a great support so far and are keen for the venue to continue; it is such a unique and valuable asset to the pub and the area.

Why have you decided to move on? We, that is Gary, Verity and myself, feel we have gone as far as we can with the venue. Lives change and it is such a big commitment to maintain the standards we have set ourselves. Much as it feels like a big wrench at the moment, we hope to see the venue thrive and flourish with a new team, whoever they may be. This is a great opportunity to develop the space - whether that is continuing to programme theatre, comedy, spoken word and music which all work so well, or to focus on a new direction - but this will be something for the new team to embrace and develop. 

What sort of people are you looking to take over the reins?  Of course, we hope someone with a love of performance and the arts will come forward, but if anyone is interested in finding out more about the theatre and what's involved, come along to the public meeting at the venue on Tuesday 11 October at 7.30pm.

Paul Towers