Jonathan Church Masterclass

Jonathan Church Masterclass


Location, location, location

Like many respectable men in his field, Jonathan Church has had an unfashionable journey to become the Artistic Director of the Chichester Festival Theatre. Church started backstage in youth theatre in Nottingham and regional theatres. Back in his day, a forgotten age when regional theatres were artistically fruitful, the Artistic Directors of said theatres were all Oxbridge educated. So Church did what many would do with an ordinary education, start from the bottom and work their way up.

Location, location, location. Church was fortunate in his roots, watching Richard Eyre manage the Nottingham Playhouse which he described as ‘the most exciting place to go in the city’. Eyre put on bonkers shows as well as classics, but more importantly, Eyre over saw a fantastic youth theatre and educational departments. Like I said, this was back in the golden ages when the Arts Council had money and valued the education of youngsters, taking chances on the next generation of makers, but also saw arts as a way of building confidence. The Nottingham Playhouse mixed the personal with the theatrical development of its youth theatre, so much so, they took shows to Edinburgh and there is now a theatre in Edinburgh called the Nottingham due to the high level of quality work being exported from Nottingham. I was born in the wrong place! And time!

Church acknowledged his dumb luck and rarefied theatrical childhood. But his first few jobs were not glamorous, roles included roadie, loading of vans, electrician and sound guy. He was quite the ‘jack of all trades’ but that got him involved in a lot of different types of theatre in a lot of different places and meeting all the right people. He’s meet all the big cats in today’s industry by working for them at some point, once again proving, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. From the odd jobs guy and a series of happy accidents, Church worked his way up to a stage manager to an assistant director to who he is today.

So what about us poor sods born in the wrong generation? What about people like me, not only in the wrong time, but in the wrong place? The Labour Government put a lot of money into the arts, the new government are taking that away and it is the regional theatres and small companies that are suffering. But Church argues that if we restrict regional theatres, we are restricting the growth of the national theatre and the next generation of art makers. We need to fuel these small companies as they are the training ground for the West-End’s biggest directors and actors. For example, director of the Opening Ceremony Danny Boyle started his career in small publicly funded theatre company and honestly, where would we be without him? Trainspotting-less and Frankenstein-less to name but a few.

Although it’s nice to hear some talk about the importance of regional theatre and the journey they’ve had, it still doesn’t address the issue of funding for the arts today. There’s nothing to stop you asking, the Arts Council are still sympathetic to deprived areas of the country and projects that reach the maximum amount of people with new skills and challenges. Unfortunately, it’s just not the time to be taking risks on anyone or anything but there’s no harm in trying.

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