Crowdfunding and keeping theatre alive in Bungay for generations to come
In 1828, Thirteen people bought Fisher shares to build Bungay’s Theatre and, after years of varying uses, our ‘Famous Five’ got together in 1996 and brought the theatre back to the town by creating the Bungay Arts and Theatre Society charity which oversaw the renovation and purchase of the building with support from the Architectural Heritage Fund.
We have been told by the Architectural Heritage Fund that if we can raise £150,000 by the end of the year, we can own the building outright, slashing our overheads and making us far more sustainable. An unprecedented offer, but then these are unprecedented times.
This Crowdfunder is PHASE ONE but we're really hoping it'll raise a large chunk of the money. We're relying on anyone interested in theatres, history and providing a sanctuary for youth theatre, new theatre, travelling theatre and gigs, as well as Meet-ups for the lonely, Vintage cinema for the elderly, Cinema and craft sessions for toddlers, Gallery shows for local artists, Folk sessions in the cellar, Town dinners in the auditorium as well as Weddings and Wakes (yes, we're licenced!).
Oh, and we do our own Panto too:
There's often no way many local folk can afford a trip to London and the cost of seeing a West End show so our Livestreams from the National Theatre and The Royal Opera House are a way of bringing the West End to Bungay!
The Fisher Theatre has no outside revenue funding and we rely solely on our ticket sales but we manage to provide all of this on a shoe-string. The theatre has so much potential to be able to undertake more vital projects in this rural community, but we really need to stop looking over our shoulder. Crowdfunded 'future-proofing' is now the goal.
If we can raise the cash and pay off this loan for good, we can concentrate on developing all of our budding offerings to the community.
We are determined to engage the whole community and beyond, to safeguard the theatre forever, reduce the day-to-day struggle and improve our offer to the community.
We are the last Fisher Theatre, we are rural and we are little, but we are really, really important!
Please help us.
Messages of support:
“The Fisher Theatre is a wonderful enterprise. It is a genuinely committed art centre established and created by individuals with passion and dedication. It is in itself a fine building that has been beautifully adapted for the modern age. It has a terrific buzz about it.” Jonathan Dimbleby
“What makes theatre so unique is its ability to bring people together. The Fisher Theatre does this in abundance, and we are thrilled that through our NT Live screenings we can be a part of the Bungay community, alongside their youth theatre groups, meet-up Mondays and cinema screenings. This important campaign to future-proof this historical venue is one I wholeheartedly support.” Rufus Norris, Director of the National Theatre
“The Fisher Theatre is a beautiful building with a great history, and the Royal Opera House is proud to play there year-round through our live cinema relays from Covent Garden, alongside a vibrant mix of other screenings, performances and events. It’s a terrific asset to the local community and I fully support their hugely important campaign to secure its future. Good luck!” Royal Opera House , Alex Beard, Chief Executive
About The Architectural Heritage Fund (AHF):
The Architectural Heritage Fund (AHF) is a registered charity, working since 1976 to promote the conservation and sustainable re-use of historic buildings for the benefit of communities across the UK. The fund supported the return of the Fisher building to the Bungay community as a theatre, after years of various other uses.
In order to make funds immediately available to support at-risk historic places in other communities, the AHF has generously offered The Fisher Theatre the opportunity to own the building outright. For this the theatre needs to raise £150,000 by December. The AHF believes that better places can be built through community enterprise. Historic buildings and places play an essential role in our everyday lives, our cultural identity and our economy. Our historic environment can inspire creativity and enterprise, it brings communities together, and it makes people happier about where they live. For 40 years, they have been supporting people to achieve viable community-led solutions for the re-use of historic buildings at risk.
David Fisher - East Anglia’s own “Greatest Showman”
Bungay’s Fisher theatre was built in the 1800’s by East Anglia’s own 'Greatest Showman'!
It’s the last of an impressive thirteen Georgian theatres built by the talented Mr David Fisher (1760-1832). Fisher was the first of at least five generations who made their name in the theatre. Starting out as a carpenter and joiner, he indulged in a bit of part-time acting and singing on the side. As his passion for theatre grew, Fisher turned his hand to building up a theatrical empire and became actor-manager of a theatre company and, eventually, a whole circuit of theatres around East Anglia. Fisher’s work at an early version of Norwich Theatre Royal with an East Anglian touring company in the early 1800's led him to start his own touring company with, predominantly, his own family members; 'The Norfolk and Suffolk Company of Comedians'. The company toured the towns of East Anglia, appearing wherever they could, and played to the whole social spectrum of the time, both gentry and workers from the field. He eventually got it together and started hand-building theatres, and re-purposing a couple of buildings, across thirteen East Anglian towns from Sudbury up to Wells-Next-The-Sea, so that he could use his same exquisite hand-built and painted sets, traps and rudimentary special effects in each theatre on his circuit. He's said to have regularly dished out generous poor-relief in the towns he visited too and, despite being a driven businessman, theatre was his passion and most of his profit was ploughed back into building new theatres and paying his staff better wages. He was quite an astonishingly all-round good and honourable chap.
The theatre circuit connected: Norwich, Beccles, Sudbury, Eye, Woodbridge, Newmarket, East Dereham, Swaffham, Halesworth, Lowestoft, Thetford, Wells-Next-The-Sea and of course Bungay:
Map of East Anglian theatres from “Rogues and Vagabonds” by Elizabeth Grice
Last Fisher theatre standing
About a third of David Fisher's buildings are still standing but NONE are still in use as theatres; one is a restaurant, one is a nursery, many are gone without a trace other than leaving a Theatre Street or Theatre Road behind. Lowestoft's was last to be developed, as flats just recently finished. Ours is the only one which remains a theatre, as David Fisher envisioned, we believe it to be the fourth oldest theatre still in use in the UK. In further research, we have found that the Fisher collection, which was displayed in The Theatre Museum, Covent Garden, went to the V&A and they have sent us a list of items they have, the UEA also have items pertaining to the build and shareholders in Bungay.
Here's a scan of the original deed showing the thirteen shareholders - scanned for us by the kind people at University of East Anglia's archive
Carenza Lewis, former Time Team presenter and archaeologist with Lincoln University paid a visit in March 2019. She's a local girl and has seen the theatre develop and change over the years. She was really excited to see our artefacts down in our Cellar space. The Cellar is used for a weekly Folk and Acoustic club and is a useful (and atmospheric) breakout space for the Bungay Writers group.
Children's Book Illustration workshop in our Gallery space in January 2019 with author and illustrator James Mayhew #bookillustrationoftheday and co-creator of Gaspard the Fox with Radio 4 presenter Zeb Soanes.
Our Gallery is used for a monthly exhibition of local artists as well as a weekly Fisher Arts and Social group for older people living with dementia and their carers. It's a great additional space and we often use it for our pre-show meals - our "chef" Ben, who also manages our volunteers, is the guy with the jumper on in this video - he's an artist too!
The Fisher Youth Theatre Group
The Fisher Youth Theatre Group was established in March 2000.
The group has up to 80 active members every year. Students range in age from 3-19 years . Students come from all over Norfolk and Suffolk .Specialist tutors are hired to provide members with learning activities across a range of theatrical disciplines such as acting, dancing, singing, stage fighting, film and production and technical aspects of theatre. Each of the 4 age groups produces up to two full-length plays, musicals or showcases of a variety of work each year.
FYTG has seen over 1700 children take up their opportunity over the years. Children of all backgrounds and abilities are welcomed into the group. We have been a lifeline to a number of young people who have found the education system unresponsive to their personal needs, such as those required of autism and other conditions.
Not only is being part of theatre activities fun, but through team work and peer support, it provides a good environment for increasing self-confidence, learning about communication skills, developing creative thinking skills, opening up young people’s minds and freeing their creative potential.
FYTG also run a programme of drama and performance examinations from LAMDA. LAMDA exams are UCAS accredited and students can choose from a range of theatrical disciplines.
FYTG have performed at various local, national and international venues over the years have had 5 members successfully win places at prestigious drama and dance schools. One member is an acclaimed Actor in London, and many more have entered careers in the arts, film and performance. FYTG have helped members gain Drama scholarships to leading schools.
My name is Emily. I am 27 years old and I am a solicitor practising Family Law in London. I grew up in Bungay as a member of the Fisher Youth Theatre Group (FYTG) and what a huge part it played in my life! I joined FYTG when I was seven and was a member through to when I left Suffolk for University when I was 18.
With the FYTG, I performed in over fourteen productions, passed five LAMDA Acting exams and assistant directed two shows. I worked hard with the group, and in return Darren, Laila and the team helped me build my confidence, pushed me to explore new things and set me up with skills for life, not just for theatre! At university and in job interviews I was often asked to “demonstrate a time when: I have worked in a team; shown tenacity; overcame a challenge; or have taken a position of responsibility”. In response, I regularly talked about my experiences at FYTG. For example, pulling off an opening night after a particularly difficult tech/dress run; or supporting fellow cast members through a crisis of confidence – those moments will always stick with me.
One of my fondest memories was playing Marlene in Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls at the age of 16. This was the first play I had performed which tackled adult subject matter. We explored feminism, politics, domestic abuse, and the roles of women across history. There were tricky and countless lines to learn – and I loved it. The whole cast did. By casting us in this production, the FYTG had given us the opportunity to make the transition to ‘grown up’ theatre and to achieve something even better than we had done before. They believed that we could do it – and we did!
I feel very privileged to have been a part of the FYTG throughout my childhood. Without it, I strongly believe I would not have the confidence and resilience to do the job I do now.