The building on the left there is the Ramshorn Theatre in Glasgow, a gorgeous converted neo-gothic church owned by Strathclyde University (before I go on, the photo is by a chap called Ben Cooper, who allows his work to be reused under a Creative Commons licence – thanks Ben).
The theatre is home to a community theatre group that anybody can join, regardless their level of skill and experience. The company have staged many productions over many years, allowing amateurs and professionals to come together and share skills and knowledge. It’s been a fantastic way into a difficult career for many actors, particularly those artistic misfits who never saw more formal training such as drama school as a realistic option, and allowed directors, designers, and writers the freedom to explore their craft in new ways.
Not every show has been a success, precisely because of the spirit of exploration and adventure that grew in the place, but there have been many excellent productions staged there. I’ve seen many of them. I’ve even been in a couple. The space is excellent and very flexible – big enough for the show stoppers, intimate enough for heartfelt impact.
For the punter, the Ramshorn remains a comparatively cheap city centre venue, making a huge diversity of theatre easily available. It’s a bit of a treasure, to be honest. A place where audiences and the company can both explore.
Unfortunately, Strathclyde University have taken the decision to shut it down. Neither the building nor the company are being targeted as such – the impending closure is part of a broad severing of most of their cultural or arts based output. Apparently, when you’re training the next generation of scientists and mathematicians, it’s vitally important to keep them away from anything distracting or subversive, like ideas that don’t have sums in them.
Now, if this was a University closing a theatre studies department and facilities, I’d be saddened, but resigned. It’s the unique community partnership that the Ramshorn represents that makes this different. I think it’s a big deal, and that it should be protected. Some of you reading this are personally involved in some form of the arts, be you writers, actors, photographers, artists, etc. If you’ve achieved any personal level of success, I’m willing to bet it didn’t happen first try. As a writer, many of my first short stories were ‘sold’ for nothing, to webzines and small press magazines who had nothing to pay with, and only enthusiasm and energy to make their publications happen at all. In some of those magazines, my stories appeared next to names much better known than mine. The Ramshorn isn’t that different. It’s where apprenticeships happen, and where professionals can go to sharpen their skills, or take risks their paymasters would not ordinarily finance.
I think the Ramshorn should be saved, and I hope you’ll think about giving your support, by signing the petition. It takes a minute or so to add your name to those from all over the world who have a basic belief in supporting the arts, and who think this closure is a critical mistake on the part of Strathclyde University. If you’re so inclined, you could also join the Facebook group, or tweet using the #SaveTheRamshornTheatre tag.