Hope Mill Theatre’s Play Reading Club has celebrated its third birthday having gone from strength to strength during the past year providing a way for theatre-lovers to connect during the ongoing pandemic.
Established in early 2017 the drop-in group, which meets from 11am to 1pm on the last Friday of every month, now has over 40 participants, who enjoy reading aloud a play together.
Participants read a wide variety of different plays by different playwrights, from William Shakespeare to Arthur Miller and anything from adaptions to new plays by Manchester-based writers.
Open to professional performers and non-professionals alike, the group is a positive way for people to come together socialise, enjoy culture and make friends.
Prior to the current Covid-19 pandemic the group would meet at the theatre and enjoy tea and coffee before sitting down and reading a play. When Hope Mill was forced to close its doors in March 2020, the theatre took the group online and since last March has been meeting monthly via Zoom.
In 2020 the Ancoats venue also took their Play Reading Club out into the wider community and hosted a session with charities Mood Swings and Mary and Joseph House allowing their users to participate in, in a safe and fun way – something the venue plans to repeat in the future with other local charities.
Originally the venue charged a small fee for the session, but thanks to a grant from I Love Manchester as well as funding from the Culture Recovery Fund, the group is now free of charge with participants invited to make a voluntary donation if they wish.
Hope Mill has just appointed a new group facilitator to run the sessions, Janelle Thompson, a Manchester-based actress, who said: “I am absolutely delighted to be joining the team and facilitating this wonderful, long standing project. I’m really looking forward to reading new works and seeing old favourites in a different light.”
Joseph Houston, Artistic Director, of Hope Mill Theatre, said: “It has been incredible to see how our Play Reading Club has grown since opening Hope Mill. It has always been, and continues to be, a great asset to our organisation and our charitable aims to inspire, connect and challenge the local community. I am glad that we have managed to maintain the group though the pandemic and have received much-needed funding to make it free for participants.
“Of course there are challenges, and not all of our users are able to access the group online. As soon as it is possible and safe to do so we will be hosting our Play Reading Group live again from the venue.
“It’s amazing to see such an amazing group of people from a range of different backgrounds, ages, races, genders and localities coming together to read a range of works from the world of plays – it is truly inspiring. You don’t have to be a professional actor to attend, although some participants are. It’s about the reading and listening and exploring plays, rather than the performance.”
Members of the Play Reading Club explain its appeal; says Kathy Holland: “It’s a wonderful opportunity to read outside the box and try something new, whilst also celebrating and supporting the arts” while first-timer Charlotte Bennett added: “I’ve not tried anything like this during any of the lockdowns but I’m not sure why I haven’t as that was brilliant. More funding needs to be put into groups like this – they are amazing for people’s mental health, socialisation and confidence.”
The next Play Reading Club is on Friday 26th February at 11am (over Zoom) and Our Country’s Good by Timberlake Wertenbaker. For more information on Hope Mill Theatre and the Play Reading Club visit https://hopemilltheatre.co.uk/events/hope-mill-theatres-play-reading-club.