From Chicago to Coventry

by Dan Burton

Coventry’s Shopfront Theatre, located in City Arcade, is an innovative theatre space located in the heart of Coventry city centre. The theatre was set up in 2009, after artistic director Chris O’Connell paid a visit to Chicago to watch the performance of a play he had written.

Located in City Arcade, Shopfront Theatre is in the heart of Coventry

Located in City Arcade, Shopfront Theatre is in the heart of Coventry

“We wanted to create a permanent space,” O’Connell says. “And then it became more about how could we embed ourselves in the community.” The Shopfront Theatre provides the community with a platform to watch quality performances. O’Connell himself has written a variety of pieces and he says “we’ve worked with local actors” as well as those from further afield. He also says that The Shopfront Theatre has grown into “a multi-user space that cuts across lots of arts disciplines” and this has helped the space very much become a part Coventry’s vibrant arts scene. This variety has led to The Shopfront Theatre hosting all kinds of eye-catching events; from arts and crafts fairs and dance rehearsals to dynamic performances. What is impressive is that the space is, as O’Connell describes, very “low-fi”; the space does not have a lighting rig for example, however this is not an issue and is one of the main attractions of the space. One of the most outstanding features of the theatre is its windows.

O’Connell describes how a similar space in Chicago was “a lot smaller” than the Shopfront and only had one window, however the windows and the location of Coventry’s version have made it a very popular space. “We often rehearse with the blinds open,” O’Connell says and this has led to interest from the passing shoppers and has made the arts more accessible to the Coventry community. “We are an unfunded company and we run the space voluntarily,” O’Connell points out. Despite this, The Shopfront Theatre has still produced astounding works. Two of these have stood out in O’Connell’s mind, one called Arcade and the other called Breathe. Breathe stood out because “it felt very communal” according to O’Connell and encouraged the audience to be a part of the performance. Arcade, performed in 2010, took theatre to a new level. The performance was created based on The Shopfront’s own history and the actors performed against the backdrop of the city outside the theatre. In addition to this, a scene was then performed out in the street and O’Connell states “it was a bit like a movie… and the audience really liked that.”

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Many events are being planned in the near future for The Shopfront Theatre. A performance called Far From the Sea is due to be performed in June which O’Connell will be directing. Throughout May, Coventry University students will be using the space for their final year shows and various other workshops are being set up. “For us, it’s about juggling that workload,” says O’Connell. “Watch this space. It’s only small, we sit forty or fifty people, but we have built an audience base.”

 

As O’Connell says, watch the space and check out what The Shopfront Theatre has to offer. Have a look at their website for more information about what events are being hosted at The Shopfront Theatre: http://www.theatreabsolute.co.uk/shop-front-theatre/

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