There’s no business ‘without’ show business
Julianne Watling -McCarthy is the Artistic Director for Southampton’s popular fringe theatre, The Stage Door. The theatre is perfectly nestled in the heart of Southampton’s cultural corner, in the Guildhall Square. Julianne has been a great community supporter for vulnerable groups by using her venue to support people with learning disabilities and LGBTQ+ groups. Unfortunately, like many other theatres across the city, and county, The Stage Door has become another victim of the pandemic.
Julianne explains: “We have hosted such a vast assortment of shows including touring theatre, musicals, stand-up comedy, adult panto, cabaret, burlesque, drag, live music, poetry, murder mysteries, bingo, children's theatre, dance, showcases - the list really does go on! I feel like we've contributed to bringing the city together and offering a diverse and inclusive space, where people can come and be themselves, let their hair down and have some fun.
“I first became involved with hosting Southampton Pride after the Orlando shootings in 2016. A vigil was held in the Guildhall Square and lots of people were asking why Southampton didn't have a Pride event. So, a group of us got together to plan our first Pride. It's such an important event to not only make the local LGBTQ+ community feel accepted and valid in their hometown, but to also showcase this to the rest of the world and to stand up to discrimination. There is still such a long way to go to fight for LGBTQ+ rights even in this country. There are still true horrors happening across the world, so if we can stand in solidarity with the community, and show that we are proud allies, then hopefully that will go some way to inspire others to do the same.
She said: “I think it's so important to support groups that work towards improving the lives of others. I also think that the theatre space is a lovely, creative atmosphere to work in and I know that lots of people find it engaging and inspiring. That’s why we love to have people from all walks of life using the venue. And, if it weren't for reduced prices or offering the venue for free for charity fundraisers , then those people's lives would be less enriched. If there are little things that we can do to help, then we do them.
The last five years have been a struggle for the business, but nothing has compared to these last few months with COVID-19, which has seen the venue completely closed since 20 March. We were just about to launch a Southampton Football home-supporters pub downstairs a week after lockdown was enforced. We were hoping that this would help to sustain the upstairs theatre space, as we have always struggled financially to keep the venue afloat. Sadly, the news of fans not being able to attend was another big blow after hearing that theatres also couldn't stage live entertainment. To open the venue under social distancing measures is nearly impossible for a small venue like ours. I also think that people are really missing going to the theatre and engaging with the Arts. We have hosted a few online shows, which have been popular, but it's not the same as a live show in front of an audience and we can't wait for a time that we can welcome our audiences back into the venue!
“I think the city would be a much bleaker place in the future with no art or culture. Already with the closure of the two NST theatres, we really can't afford to lose anything else or there will be such a reduced cultural offering for our communities. It’s not only the financial side of things to consider, but also the health and well-being of our residents and visitors. I think being involved in the Arts can really help your health and wellbeing.
It’s great that Solent NHS Trust are engaging with us and having conversations about how we can all work together in the future. Using venues as much as you can and helping to spread the word about what we do is also a big help. Increasing income is always a priority for organisations like ours, so that we can survive and continue to offer a service to our city.
“If I were to pick a song that describes how I feel right now in the it would be, 'There's no Business like Show Business'... because there really is nothing like it and imagine our world without the Arts... it doesn't bear thinking about! Or, how about 'There's Gotta Be Something Better Than This' from Sweet Charity... that kind of sums up how I've been feeling!“