Theatre Orchard

Bringing inspiring, professional live performance to indoor and outdoor settings in North Somerset. They deliver creative opportunities so that everyone can enjoy participating in the arts. Every Life in North Somerset made extraordinary by live arts.

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Theatre Orchard’s flagship festival, Whirligig in Weston-super-Mare, is a vibrant, one-day event in the heart of the town that presents a mix of local, national and international outdoor arts.  Theatre Orchard also involves local organisations such as XR, Weston Pride and Weston College in associated creative activity on the Festival site in order to embed Whirligig firmly in the heart of the community.

The festival is playful and family-friendly, and Theatre Orchard look for content that challenges, surprises, inspires and entertains.   They proactively programme work that encourages people to think about social issues experienced through a creative lens.  They also proactively programme work that demonstrates cultural diversity.

Most of the audiences for Whirligig are local, and represent the wide social demographic of the town. The event also attracts day visitors from the surrounding area as well as some tourists from across the UK and occasional international visitors. In the lead-up to the Festival, they run engagement projects in more isolated communities that broaden their audience and deepen the audience’s experience of the event itself.

In 2019 Whirligig won best UK small event at the National Outdoor Events Awards.

Theatre Orchard Highlights

Why we joined Without Walls

“It is great to part of a network with organisations who can share experiences and insights, and also a belly load of laughter here and there of course. We are relatively new hands to the outdoor arts world and welcome the opportunity to listen and learn from those who know the ropes and how to scale them to really reach new heights.   The team are approachable, friendly and flexible.

We also particularly value the associated benefits of supporting audience engagement work, a strand that is particularly important to our vision.  In 2020 Without Walls supported our desire to translate a live arts engagement project into the digital realm with ‘Holidaying at Home’ (Megan Clark-Bagnall/Ramona Bigwood).  The resulting project was showcased as the English example of good practise at a webinar to launch Health & Wellbeing Week exploring Creative Practise in time of Covid and reached an international audience.

Without Walls also help us to skill-up our volunteer body.  We wouldn’t be able to do what we do without our volunteers and for everyone to feel part of something bigger is a great mental boost.

We are really looking forward to a new opportunity to launch a producer role focusing on audience engagement, thanks to match funding from Without Walls.  It will help us to really ensure that we are true to the Theatre Orchard vision which is to “Make every life in North Somerset extraordinary through live arts”, and that our approach to ensuring inclusivity is proactive and resonant.”

The Theatre Orchard team

Theatre Orchard’s core team all work on the Festival:

Fiona Matthews – Director.  Fiona largely works on programming and providing a creative offer for the Festival that aligns with Theatre Orchard’s core vision and values.

Vic Hole – Producer.  Vic also supports programming, and is the main point of contact for artists, liaising throughout the process from initial bookings and contracts to performances on the day.

Becky Condron – Digital Marketing and Volunteers.  Becky runs digital marketing campaigns in the run-up to the Festival, working closely with Julie to implement a planned programme of activity. She also co-ordinates our brilliant team of volunteers and continues to research new opportunities to recruit new members.

Julie Peel – Press and Marketing Manager.  Julie advises on programming, originates copy and oversees the comms strategy to provide a variety of content for press, marketing and social media purposes that ensures continuity of messaging. A series of press stories are planned in the run-up to Whirligig to build interest in the town, encourage visitor numbers and secure high quality, targeted press coverage to promote the event and further establish its reputation as a ‘must-see’ event in the calendar year.

After the event, additional press coverage is gained with a success story and Festival picture spread featuring acts, artists and audiences enjoying the event.

Angela Athay-Hunt – Engagement Manager.  Angie is the connector between the artists and the communities in any associated engagement work that the Festival brings, working closely with local groups to enhance their experience of Whirligig and add an extra dimension to the event.

Events at Theatre Orchard

Theatre Orchard’s ambition is to grow the Whirligig Festival over time to a two-day Summer event that animates community pride and increases tourism.  They also want arts to cut across less obvious sectors of the town’s daily life, including health and well-being.  In 2020 they developed the inaugural Weston Arts + Health Weekender event with University Hospitals Bristol & Weston NHS Trust, a weekend packed with over 50 indoor and outdoor creative experiences taking place throughout the town, including outdoor arts that shine a light on health and well-being.

Whirligig is thoroughly enjoyed by the town’s population, and the local authority is actively supporting a scenario where culture is the main driver behind the town’s regeneration, and where footfall to the town centre can go hand in hand with a set of out of the ordinary experiences.

Audiences at Theatre Orchard

Theatre Orchard’s audience is diverse in every sense.   It is a true cross-section from this town where there is a real appetite to celebrate the irreverent outdoors and to party along to something completely different from the norm.  The two top attending postcodes reflect two fairly isolated areas where we have focused outdoor arts development work, which is testament to the power of artists to paint a very compelling story!

Weston-super-Mare is a town that enjoyed a Victorian heyday and sunk into post-war decline as more holidaymakers started hopping on aeroplanes to super climes elsewhere.  It boasts a fascinating history, great architecture, broad skies and miles of sandy beach that make it a unique place to visit, just a short hop from Bristol.  Whilst Weston has severe pockets of deprivation, equally a great sense of community pride prevails and there is a tangible desire in the town for an innovative and even slightly subversive cultural offer that remembers and reimagines Weston’s glory days of end of Pier magic.  It’s all up for grabs as the town enters a new phase where Culture is being spotlit as a driver for regeneration.