THE Kenton Theater in Henley is recovering well from the coronavirus pandemic.
The historic New Street venue was closed from the first lockdown in March 2020 until July last year and relied on government grants to keep going.
But now it has a full schedule of events again and will host this year’s Henley Literary Festival in the autumn for the first time since 2018.
Muffin Hurst’s Henley Children’s Theater is also back, having previously argued with the theater over dates and rental fees for its Christmas pantomime.
The Kenton will also welcome James Tobias and Rochelle Parry, from Immersion Theatre, with Aladdin in December, after losing money on last year’s pantomime when many people canceled their visit due to the outbreak of the omicron strain of the virus.
Kenton’s annual trustees’ meeting heard the theater has also attracted new clients and events, such as the Maidenhead Musical Comedy Society, which recently presented The Wizard of Oz.
Julie Huntington, who chairs the directors, said: “This past year has been such a rollercoaster with so much uncertainty since the doors opened last July.
“Now we are coming out of the phase where Kenton was fighting for survival and we are very happy to be working on big plans for the future.
“We are committed to building our reputation as a vital and vibrant hub for arts, education and entertainment, both within the local community and nationally.
“We still need the support of all of our friends and colleagues, our audiences and guest artists, but we are really starting to put the Kenton Theater on the map.”
Simon Spearing, Chief Operating Officer, said: “We are still in the recovery phase and we cannot deny that the last 12 months have been difficult and full of surprises.
“The first phase of recovery involved distributing brochures, raising awareness of the theater, and the second phase, the ‘reimagining phase’, involves better engaging with audiences and the community.
“We cannot do this in isolation, it has to be a whole community effort. It takes a village to raise a child and that’s the position we’re in, we can’t just have one or two people with ideas.
Ms Huntington said: ‘What has always surprised me is that some people who live in Henley don’t even realize there’s a theater here.
“So we decided to shout about this place. This is Henley’s crown diamond.
The Kenton Summer Roadshow, a series of outdoor performances last year when the theater was closed, will return this year with five new productions, including Rapunzel and The Penzance Pirates.
Ms Huntington said: “What I take away most from people coming back to the theater is that they were in desperate need of entertainment.
“I realized people would be hesitant to come to the theatre, risking their health in their own hands, and that’s how the Kenton Theater Summer Roadshow was born.”
The theater also wants to become a platform for more artists to create new works.
Mr Spearing said: “The idea is that with the network of contacts that we will establish, we can start producing our own work and taking it on tour and to different venues to just expand our reach and ensure that the name of this theater becomes more widely known.
A summer school will also take place this year with grants available for children from families who cannot afford school fees.
The theater is also continuing its community fund to help schools, theater groups and workshops rent the hall.
Twenty-five pence from each ticket sold for shows goes to the fund, which also accepts
Organizations wishing to use the theater can apply for a grant from the fund to cover rental costs.
Piers Burnell, a trustee, came up with the idea of making theater more inclusive and accessible and started the fund with a donation of £1,000.
From September, ticket prices will be all-inclusive rather than there will be additional charges for catering fund and booking fees.
Administrator Judith Terry, who coordinates the theater volunteers, said: “We need more and more people. You don’t need experience, we can train you
“It’s a great place to work. I don’t live in Henley, but I definitely know more people from Henley than where I live. It’s just awesome.
Nansi Diamond, a former board chairman who has been involved in theater since 1960, said Kenton “gets in your blood”.
She said, “I can’t get over my excitement to see seven directors who all want to be there.
“For years and years it’s been nothing but ‘Oh my God I don’t want to be an admin’ but here you say you’re proud to be a part of it. Thank you so much on behalf of the people of Henley.
But she added that becoming a member was difficult and communication needed to improve.
There was also a problem with hearing-impaired seniors who couldn’t always hear everything during shows.
Ms Huntington said there was membership information in the new brochures and technician Hugh Legh was reviewing the helmets.
About 40 of the 160 members attended the meeting, which was held in person and online.
Ms Huntington was re-elected as Trustee, David Rusman was elected Treasurer and Steph Maxwell was elected as the new Trustee.
Mr. Rusman is an accountant and has worked at Henley for almost 30 years. He has been involved with many local organizations including the Henley Chamber of Commerce and the Henley Theater Organ Trust.
Ms Maxwell runs the performing arts school, Divas & Dudes Dance Academy.
For more information visit www.kentontheatre.co.uk