Mini-shows could be a big success at Bognor’s Alexandra Theatre

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New managing director Mike Stevens hopes mini-shows will set the stage for a big success at the Bognor Regis theatre.

He intends to launch The Little Alex venture soon to make greater use of the Alexandra Theatre at the Regis Centre.

The aim is to use the space on the stage behind the safety curtain for small-scale productions or workshops to increase the building’s usage.

He said: “It will be an ideal environment for shows which have an audience of 60 to 80 people.

“It will bring them closer to the performers and will suit groups who want to use the theatre but don’t want to hire all its 364 seats.

“The Little Alex would have all the backstage facilities of the theatre to ensure shows put on there will be professional.”

He hopes to start what he terms the ‘exciting departure’ in the coming months.

It is one of many plans to make sure Bognor’s only live entertainment venue thrives in a building which is just into its fourth decade.

Central to those proposals is a cracking Christmas panto and the deal has just been signed to build on the festive successes of the past five years.

Dorothy and Toto will be the stars as the Wizard of Oz brings its magical story to enchant theatre-goers of all ages from mid-December onwards.

The show will again be put on by Spiller’s Productions to continue a partnership which has gone from strength to strength.

But there is plenty of work – with a programme of productions to arrange – to keep Mr Stevens occupied in his new role before then.

He has become the Belmont Street centre’s MD after some three years as a trustee of its charity operator, Arun Arts. He wanted a greater involvement because he was keen to see the building’s potential more fully realised.

The 64-year-old Bognor resident and grandfather of five has put his two business ventures on the sidelines to concentrate on a five-day-a-week attendance at the centre to provide continuity to its operations and a figurehead.

His immediate emphasis behind the scenes has been to put in place a structure for its 95 per cent volunteer workforce to function more effectively.

He has created a public relations, sales and marketing role along with those for the box office, a human relations function, health and safety, IT and fundraising.

He wants the some 60 volunteers, who have kept the building open against the odds at times, to feel as welcome the customers.

Their enthusiasm can be seen by the fact ten of them have volunteered to be trained to work in the centre’s bar.

Whitbread, the owner of The Regis next door, has offered to provide the back-up to ensure the theatre can once again boast the ability to serve refreshments to those who watch its shows.

It’s all part of his mission to make watching a show in the theatre a regular part of residents’ lives.

“Our mission is to make the place a better place to come so people leave feeling happier than when they came in,” said Mr Stevens.

“A lot of people know this is a great place but a lot of people don’t. When you open the door to the auditorium, and people see it for the first thing, they can’t believe how nice it is.

“We would be crazy to let this go. This has to be so much better than a multi-use function which is just a space with its seats folded back out of sight a lot of the time.”

That threat of redevelopment always seems to hang over the centre. It’s been four years since Arun District Council invited the latest in a series of developers over the past two decades to produce ideas for the building and its prime seafront location next to the Place St Maur.

None has come to fruition and Mr Stevens is fully focused on making sure the building is irreplaceable.

“We need to get the support galvanised for the centre,” he said. “I’m sure there is as much support for it as there is for the Picturedrome, but we need to get people showing their allegiance to us.”