FEATURE: Alphabetti Theatre | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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At the tender age of 23, Ali Pritchard launched what many theatre aficionados recognise as one of Newcastle’s most important creative institutions. As a hidden bonus, he would also become one of the UK’s youngest Theatre Founders (and Artistic Directors) in the process.

“I started Alphabetti Theatre in 2012, in a room above The Dog & Parrot pub.” He gushes. “The floors were sticky, we had no money – I spent the first week cleaning muck out of the stage after a particularly raucous gig – one that led the landlord to agree to let a long-limbed eccentric turn his upstairs room in a theatre! On a shoestring budget of £700, myself and a lot of friends cleaned the space, painted it, decorated it, sourced some chairs and stage lights, and we were off!”

Luckily, this humble, singular room that could seat just 35 punters was only the beginning, as he goes on to explain.
“After 18 months we decided to move and look for our own premises, aiming to have a bar generating income that would help support the art. In December 2014, we found a space – The Basement of The NewBridge Project.”

Of course, this space had seen quite a few rather dramatic transitions over recent years: before Ali and his team got their hands on it, the premises had been home to a printing workshop, an independent film set, and even a short-lived (slightly illegal) night club.

“By March 2015, I had got the space cleared, licensed and we were finally open!” Continues Ali. “Thanks to the TyneBank Brewery and Northern Alchemy, we had two great local beers on sale as well a really good selection of bottles. Our 50-seater space (or 70 standing, for slightly less tame performances) also included a small second-hand bookshop.”

After the new and improved Alphabetti was finally unveiled, it played host to a number of memorable performances – morphing into the small, independent theatre that many of us across the region now know and love.

“For me, many of the personal highlights were our own shows – productions such as The Frights by Louise Taylor and The Rooms. There were also some some cracking co-productions: we helped out local folk band Holy Moly & The Crackers, who aimed to revive their folk musical – If The River Was Whisky (where every member of the audience over the age of 18 got a free shot of whisky, no less) and launched another co-production with Gary Emily IngramKitching & Co called Bacon Knees & Sausage Fingers.

There were plenty of visiting production highlights, too – Greyscale’s Gods Are Fallen And All Safety Gone by Selma Dimitrijevic, as well as An Evening with an Immigrant by Inua Ellams.”

Before long, NewBridge became a well-known hub for each and every art form, from visual arts to literature and theatre. Unfortunately, Ali and the folks at Newbridge Project were aware that this was to be a temporary arrangement.

“In March 2017 – as we had always suspected – we were given our marching orders from the landlords, as the building was prepared for demolition. It’s a bit of a shame, but all the organisations in the creative quarter always knew it had a end date.” He explains. “What those buildings have done for the arts and culture in the region is incredible – they have allowed organisations to grow and take risks. Without the NewBridge project, Alphabetti would not be able to be where we are now. As for our theatre, it was always welcoming hidden gem: obviously I am slightly biased, but it was a testament to the place that in the lead-up to our departure, we had performances where on one row we had the demolition crew (employed to take down the building) sitting alongside members of the arts council, with individuals who were struggling with homelessness sitting up front.”

Both Alphabetti and the Newbridge Project have now been forced to move on to pastures new. Luckily, both groups have found new homes and are able to continue their creative work within the city – with bigger rooms, a more centralised location and plenty of resources, these new spaces have much more promise than their predecessors could offer.

“In May, we got the keys to our new place on St. James Boulevard – just up the road from Lane 7 bowling alley, opposite the discovery museum. We have two floors of a huge building that we are currently in the process of turning into a bar, cafe, second-hand bookshop and a 100 seater performance space! On the other floor, we have offices available for hire and a great rehearsal room.”

With this new-found sense of stability, Ali can now focus on the complete fulfilment of Alphabetti’s original mission statement.

“Originally, I wanted to create a space to experiment, evolve and discover excellence for both artist and audience. We believe that great art should be for everyone, not just those who can afford it: so we will continue to try and make a space that is economically accessible to all, with tickets under £10 and plenty of Pay-what-you-feel nights. Most importantly, we want run a theatre that is welcoming for all, including non-regular theatre-goers!”

Alphabetti Theatre will formally re-open on Friday 1st September, but if you wish to view the new premises beforehand, be sure to visit their fundraiser on Friday 4th August – featuring performances from Dansi and Holy Moly & the Crackers.

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