David Dawson: "We have great facilities and we want the community to use them."

King's Court Theatre, IOM Arts Council venue
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Set within the historical King William's College in the south of the Island, King's Court Theatre has quickly become a popular community venue to see a vast array of live and encore screenings.

David Dawson is the Theatre Manager who has been an active participant in the performing arts for many years both on and off stage. Since David joined the college he has developed the theatre's live screening programme. He has also helped to modernise the facilities and generally raise the profile of the theatre. We interviewed David to find out more about the live screenings as well as what makes King's Court Theatre an integral part of our arts community.

Q. Hello, David! Can you tell us how you got into the Arts and why?

I've always loved the arts from a very young age, I've been involved with film on the Island but theatre was always my passion. Having something like the Gaiety on the Island was a big part of it and was such an incredible way to be introduced to the Arts. When you walk in it's just like a palace!

I distinctly remember watching the big names at the time in the amateur shows and being blown away, they were big A-list stars in my mind! I just wanted that buzz and that family feel you get when you're involved in a production. You spend months with good people and they almost become an extended family. I met people I would never normally meet in my day to day life for example I'm extremely good friends with an advocate and a fireman, people I just wouldn't normally bump into.

"I've always loved the arts from a very young age... Having something like the Gaiety on the Island was a big part of it and was such an incredible way to be introduced to the Arts."

From an early age there was just something in me that wanted to entertain. As I've grown older that's changed slightly, I still love performing but I get even more enjoyment now from directing and working with the young talent on the island. Though I'm at King William's College for most of my time, I also work at the Youth Arts Centre with groups aged 11 to 20. For the past 3 years we have been working on the National Theatre connections programme, it's the biggest youth festival in the world and I'm really proud we can get our Island's students involved. It's great fun and I also get involved with the Junior Productions on the Island with JT Productions. I really love it even though it keeps me very busy.

David Dawson at King's Court Theatre in the south of the Island. 

Q. So for you it's about paying it forward?

Yes and there's nothing better than seeing a child who obviously has the talent but lacks the confidence suddenly realise their potential. I want the Arts to improve their social skills and wellbeing, which is something that I think don't consider about the Arts. Seeing a group of ten people standing in an empty church hall and transforming it into a production of great quality is spot on, you can't beat it. It's a great buzz.

"We've found that it's been amazing how much our audience is growing."

People don't appreciate how difficult shows are to put on and so for them to see the dedication that people have to put into it, even if it's on a voluntary level, is so important because then hopefully they'll go forward and volunteer for other thing in the future. It all helps improve our little Island in many ways.

Q. Can you tell us a bit about the live screening  and encoure programmes that you run at the King's Court Theatre?

We are similar to Ballakermeen and Ramsey Grammar in showing Live Screenings. I was originally at Ballakermeen and moved down to King William's College about four/five years ago now and set it up there, it was the best decision I could have made. We managed to get a new screen installed, high spec projector and sound system. We started with the National Theatre, Royal Shakespeare Company, the Royal Opera House and at the time some of the things that Kenneth Branagh's theatre were doing. This year we've started working with Eagle Rock to bring in more of the music side.

"As soon as I arrived at the theatre it was basically a diamond in the rough..."

The majority of screenings we do are live. However, because we are also a busy college and community theatre we also show encore screenings to fit around dates. This can actually work really well sometime because it gives people another chance to see a show at a different time if they can't make it on the same night that it's being shown elsewhere.
We've found that it's been amazing how much our audience is growing.

King William's College in Castletown. Image courtesy of 3FM.

Q. Can you tell us more about the venue and facilities? 

As soon as I arrived at the theatre I saw that it was basically a diamond in the rough, there was so much potential and I was over joyed to be set free on developing a theatre from scratch. The principle at the time had plans for the space to become more community focused. He gave me his full support and trust which was such a great breath of fresh air. He let me guide the development of the theatre how I saw fit. Our current Principal has also been real support and always enjoys seeing how things are improving. We have great facilities now and we want the community to use them.

I don't think they realised how good the facilities are at the college. There's great parking, you're into the courtyard and then into the theatre. It doesn't feel like you're walking into a school, it just feels like it its own place.

"We have great facilities and we want the community to use them."

It's a good sized venue as well. We've got the biggest floor space, bar the Gaiety,and we're constantly improving the area. We had the pleasure of hosting MADF in February with the One Act Festival which was exciting, I know the cast and audience were very happy though that's not to take anything from the Erin Arts Centre because it's a beautiful venue.

"We're constantly trying to improve."

Our first big job was to get a disabled access lift installed, it was a lot of money in the end but we managed to raise half of the cost and the other half was kindly donated by the Manx Lottery Trust, so that's been a big help. We're constantly trying to improve. The next big thing we're trying to get is a Loop System. I want to help support anyone with a hearing aids because I don't think any other venue on the island has this support yet. There are subtitles on some screenings but not everyone wants to have that on and you want to be able to watch what's going on as well so that's the next big project.

Father Christmas surrounded by some younger members fo the audience for the Nutcracker live screening in December 2017.

Q. You had a very successful evening showing the Nutcracker back in December, tell us more about that?

With the Nutcracker we usually sell out and it's mostly all adults but this year I wanted to try and introduce more children to the ballet which is why we pushed the promotion of Father Christmas to encourage parents to bring them along. Hopefully that may then encourage those children to go and join a dance group on the island or some other area of the Arts.


It was wonderful as many children starred in the Nutcracker this year. It's important to show that it's not all adults who perform in big ballet shows like this, there a children too. I think that helps inspire the younger members of the audience when they see people their own age.

You can read more about the Nutcracker live screening here. 

Q. Do you think the live screenings are introducing a new audience to the performing arts?

I definitely think so! The majority of the audience seem to be in their fifties but there are different demographics for different types of productions. I think it's about giving a new option of entertainment on the island. We've got some great stuff and I don't think it's going to be detracting or take anything away at all from live theatre on the island or elsewhere. In fact I think it actually makes more people go and see both live shows and live screenings.

Q. What kinds of things to you do to make an event feel extra special?

We do drinks beforehand and during the interval as well. We run the pre-theatre meal with the Abbey so if people want to make it a bit more of an evening they can. 

"In our first year we won the Best Cinema Experience Worldwide with the Royal Opera House in 2015/2016 and that was the best day."

We run competitions and if there's been a wedding or birthday we present a bouquet of flowers or a bottle of bubbly. At Christmas time we give presents out like we did this year for the children. When he's free we have a pianist; one of the students will come in and play at different events for a bit of live music in between. We have a shuttle service so if people can't get out we'll go and pick them up. If people get in touch to say they have trouble with the stairs then I'll get the arm chairs out so they can be seated at the front. We've run a competition to send two people down to London, raffling a couple of tickets to see a show at either the Royal Opera House or the National Theatre and that's our way of giving them a chance to get across if they perhaps can't do themselves.

In our first year we won the Best Cinema Experience Worldwide with the Royal Opera House and More2Screen in 2015/2016, that was the best day. It was so good because it shows the things that we're doing are appreciated. It looks to the audience very relaxed and easy but it takes a lot of work to get these events up to the level that we want them to be.

The Abbey in Ballasalla

"The biggest thing I've tried to do is make people feel like it's their space because I want them to feel welcome."

We have also brought the Bridge Bookshop up so if there is an event where people might want to buy a book relating to the performance then it can be on offer them. It also helps support a local business which I am keen on.

"If it wasn't for the audiences we wouldn't be running so you've got to show some kind of appreciation for that."

The biggest thing I've tried to do is make people feel like it's their space because I want them to feel welcome. I try and get to know every single person by nam and they appreciate that. I think it's the warm welcome people like the most though. Certainly I think this is important for those members who I know don't get as much social interaction as they'd like.


If it wasn't for the audiences we wouldn't be running so you've got to show some kind of appreciation for that.

"It's about people getting out and that's especially good when it's the older generation as a lot of them might just stay at home not mingling so it's just about getting people out and socialising."

King's Court Theatre seats 211 and the seating can be fully retracted in five minutes.

Q. How do you organise the events?

Although there are volunteers who help me as 'Friends of the Theatre', I run everything from the media, to the contracts to the events side of things so it's quite a busy job. Before the event is busy as I set up everything. The audience like to mingle and chat to other people and catch up. They like to have a glass of wine and talk about the performance and catch up with each other too. I think it helps build that sense of community. It's about people getting out and that's especially good when it's the older generation as a lot of them might just stay at home not mingling so it's just about getting people out and socialising.

"We've started trying to do more for the charities now because it's about that community aspect for us."

We get great support from Castletown Commissioners which is fantastic so that's nice to get a space to advertise in the square with them. It's growing, it's going well.

Q. What's next for the theatre?

I've got big plans for the place. The biggest problem is that we don't have dressing rooms, it's just a large room at the back and we usually just use that for the changing rooms so my dream is that we will extend out to the side and have a multi-purpose room for storage and ladies and gents dressing rooms and wash facilities.


We've started trying to do more for the charities now because it's about that community aspect for us. The last charity we helped was The Food Bank. We had a collection and then we add a percentage ourselves on top of that. With that it's about what goes around comes around and that we're all helping each other.

The theatre is proudly funded by the Arts Council. You can find out more about our recently funded projects here

Keep up to date with news!

Find out all the latest events at King's Court Theatre here

Facebook/kingscourttheatre

Find out more infomation about the theatre on the King William's College website

Contact David Dawson on david.dawson@kwc.im or telephone 820400 about any queries. 


A sponsored body of
The Department of Education, Sport and Culture
Rheynn Ynsee, Spoyrt as Cultoor
Isle of Man Government
Reiltys Ellan Vannin
Isle of man Government
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