from Island Arts to the Sarah Thorne Theatre

There's a thriving theatre in Broadstairs again: the Sarah Thorne Theatre, on the site of the Adult Education and Hilderstone College, is bringing live art to Broadstairs on a regular basis.

The Adult Education Centre in Broadstairs has been part of my life since the late 70s. Dressmaking, upholstery, yoga, art, pottery, dance, creative writing. You name it I've done it; eventually teaching Creative Writing there myself. The Centre also boasts a theatre, at one time known as the Hilderstone Performing Arts Centre, regularly funded by South East Arts, and went on to be known as Island Arts Venue, run by a dedicated group of individuals including Frances Moran and Ruth Cutler who, until 2001 would put on a range of high-impact professional dance and theatre productions including Union Dance, Phoenix Dance Company and Trickster Theatre Company. In 1985 I became part of the Hilderstone Contemporary Dance Group and achieved a very-belated dream of being a dancer. My leap has gone down in history.

I often used the theatre for workshops and performances, including the showcasing of a very ambitious dance-drama, Rainstorm, based on a Guyanese myth,  way back when I fancied myself as playwright, producer, director. Lucky for me I've always been lucky to know of fantastic individuals who work to a vision, who research, support, and lend their talents to produce exciting and credible theatre. Hilary Drapper's Plantation Wife and Francis Moran's choreography added a professional dimension an amateur writer could only dream of.

Alas, Island Arts went on its way to theatre heaven, but after a time in the wilderness the lights are on again, with a new name, The Sarah Thorne Theatre. Michael Wheatley-Ward, latterly Manager of Margate's Theatre Royal, with his small group of dedicated individuals, has, over the past three years swept the dust from the floorboards and flicked the light switch. Michael has got an impressive background and knowledge in and around the arts, marketing, and historical buildings., with un-ending enthusiasm and drive. The Sarah Thorne works in association with Kent Adult Education and Hilderstone College, working towards a vision of giving the public what they want to see as well as including experimental theatre. The aim was also to be independent, in order to be free of the need for funding. The theatre got underway by contributions from members, local sponsorship, and Bar and Box Office sales, and has kept going, putting on a varied programme ranging from classical and folk music to drama, hosts a Youth Theatre Group, has 170 members, with a mailing list of 1000. It also runs classes in Acting for Beginners, and Creative Writing.

The Centre has always supported me in my many endeavours, and the Sarah Thorne continues to do so. Following the tragic eartchquake in Haiti in January of this year, I approached the theatre with a view to putting on a Variety Show to raise funds for Haiti. The Concert also launched an anthology of poems I co-edited with Cane Arrow Press , Sixty Poems for Haiti, with poems by both international and local poets including George Szirtes, Kamau Brathwaite and John Rice. As well as live poetry, the concert included performances by Masque Theatre School, dancer Aimee Watmore (photographed), young vocalist Kanisia Mounty, and the Broadstairs Gospel Choir. More than £800 was raised on the night, and the books are available from www.lambifund.org and www.canearrowpress.com

The Sarah Thorne is now 100% self-funded, with two highly esteemed patrons, Dame Judy Dench, and David Suchet. Summer Rep, (the only Summer Rep in the South-East), will continue next year, and in 2011 also the theatre will host the Dickens Festival. Check out the website www.sarahthorne-theatreclub.co.uk for future gigs. And raise a glass to all those who work so hard behind the scenes, and of course, the audiences, may they keep coming.