For Framlingham’s Karen Goddard, community, history and theatre are all part and parcel of the experience of life. “It’s who we are. It’s where we come from and shapes our future,” she explains. 

“It brings us together, celebrates our lives, our diversity, our personalities, our skills and most importantly our stories.” 

Karen is a theatre producer. The person toiling away behind the scenes making sure shows are cast, rehearsed and staged, bills are paid, audiences are safe and satisfied. But she is also a story-teller. 

Her work is nearly always passion-driven, developed from real-life events or centred around characters who have shaped our lives in East Anglia. 

The mum of three has had a variety of jobs during her career, including being a long-running columnist for the East Anglian Daily Times, providing a humorous but insightful look at the joys and frustrations of parenting in a small rural town. 

She was also a marketing officer for the old Wolsey Theatre during the highly successful tenure of Dick Tuckey before moving onto community theatre group Red Rose Chain. 

But it was her arrival at rural touring company Eastern Angles which gave her the tools she needed to make her producing dreams a reality. 

She developed a close working relationship with founder and artistic director Ivan Cutting, gaining experience in all the somersaults required to negotiate her way through endless Arts Council grant forms. 

She joined the group in 2007, just as it was tasked with establishing an outpost in Peterborough. And this became her baptism of fire in the world of project development and producing – something she enjoyed and found she was good at. 

“I don’t come from a theatrical background at all," Karen says. "My dad was a scientist. He worked for BT, my mum worked in HR (although in her day it was called personnel) but we always went to the theatre. I have always loved stories and storytelling, so working in the theatre, working with writers, is a perfect fit. 

"One of the brilliant things about working for a smaller organisation is that you get the chance to try your hand at a lot of different things. This enables you to build-up a wide-ranging skillset and develop projects that you are very passionate about and just run with it. 

“The whole Peterborough experience was lovely but challenging. The reason we were asked to go there was because the city is an area of low arts engagement. 

“Our job was to get people interested in going to the theatre. We did that in the same way that Eastern Angles do with their rural touring - by writing stories about the place. So, we commissioned people to write about Peterborough and we hopped around the city creating venues in people’s work places, pubs, community centres – anywhere we could host an audience. 

“There was a real sense of relevance about the work and people could see themselves on stage.” 

Karen credits her former boss with providing her with the confidence and with the skills to create something different and relevant for Suffolk and Norfolk audiences. 

“I’ve learnt so much from Ivan (Cutting) over the years. He has an indefatigable drive to tell local stories in interesting and unexpected ways. And take fantastic work to people on their doorsteps. Funding limitations and the physical size of spaces like church halls and community centres can drive creativity.

"An Eastern Angles designer is forced to think up clever tricks, and writers and directors have to be innovative and have actors playing many roles or use digital recordings to create more characters. This ingenuity is all part of great theatre-making. It’s this creativity that surprises and delights people.” 

Karen’s final show with Eastern Angles, Polstead, has already become a contemporary classic, earning itself three wide-ranging tours.

“It was later re-mounted as The Ballad of Maria Marten. It was also a gift of a role for the actor Lizzie Crarer who played Maria for more than three years and had a rare opportunity to really get under the skin of a remarkable woman. A part like that doesn’t come along too often.” 

In the summer of 2018 Karen felt the time was ripe to strike out on her own and she started to form friendships with local actor/writer/directors Martha Loader and Natalie Songer, working on Footsteps – a community-led, site-specific celebration of women gaining the vote at the end of the First World War. 

“I think I had gone as far as I could go at Eastern Angles," she says. "I had been getting more and more responsibility. I was Ivan’s deputy CEO in all but name, and we had just secured our latest round of funding from the Arts Council. I remember thinking ‘this is the time. I have to do it now or I never will.’  

“To be honest, I didn’t want to distance myself from Eastern Angles completely because I really love what they do – I still work for them part-time – but I wanted time to explore and develop other projects which wouldn’t necessarily be the sort of shows that Eastern Angles would do. 

“What I am interested in for the future is working with women writers and female creative teams, and Footsteps was the perfect way to make a statement."

Footsteps told the story of Constance Andrews and the Ipswich Suffragettes. It was written by Martha Loader, based on research by local historian Joy Bounds, and directed by Colchester-based Natalie Songer. 

“We staged six performances in Ipswich in which Martha told the story of Ipswich and Suffolk Suffragettes and their fight for the vote. The great thing that Martha did was to create capsules or episodes which told their stories in bite-sized chunks. These were then played out at various outdoor locations. The audience were taken on a tour of the town and stories were retold on the very spot where the action originally happened. 

“The highlight for me was the episode told outside Arlington’s, which used to be the site of the original Ipswich Museum. The old museum was a place of great significance in the Ipswich Suffragette story because one of the most significant protests centred around a lock-in on census night. Their slogan was: “If we don’t count then you can’t count us’. The idea being that if they weren’t at home then they couldn’t legally be included on the census form.” 

The play also dealt with the story of two teachers, Evaline Burkitt and Florence Tunks, who were on holiday in the area. They had been in Great Yarmouth and tried to set light to the pier without success, so they travelled to Felixstowe and set light to the Bath Hotel.

Karen said feedback from audiences encouraged her that she was on the right course. “People loved the staging of it. They loved the promenade performance aspect because that was something a little bit different.  

East Anglian Daily Times:

East Anglian Daily Times:

“Community engagement is very important to me – it’s essential – because it is very important for people to feel that they are a part of what they have come to see. Not only does it make it relevant to them, but they are also seen to be part of the creative process.” 

But being an independent producer is not all Champagne and opening nights. “At the end of the run I was exhausted because I was also the stage manager. I went around every morning putting up bunting at the various locations, ushered audiences along, and then went round and took everything down at the end of the day!"

Part of the narrative in Karen’s second show, Gun Cotton, was shaped by suggestions and conversations with Stowmarket’s teenagers. 

It was devised specifically with young people in mind. Karen explains: “I wanted to show youngsters living in a rural place that their stories were worth telling. If you look at drama on telly or at the cinema, rarely is it set in the countryside or in this part of the world. 

“The real impetus for Gun Cotton was (having had three children and seen them grow up in the countryside) recognising the issues they and their friends had come across during their school years. Like poor public transport, lack of opportunities in rural areas hadn’t really been addressed, so I approached The Mix in Stowmarket with a view to getting teenagers and young people involved."

Although the project was eventually blown apart by Covid, they managed to do six workshops. The story revolves around three teens on a Duke of Edinburgh expedition who come across the story of the real-life Gun Cotton factory explosion in Stowmarket. 

“The whole idea of the Duke of Edinburgh expedition came from the kids themselves. One boy told this story about being on a DoE trip, building a camp fire with his mates. During the evening someone tossed a can of Lynx into the fire and there was an almighty explosion – this was perfect because we could then link the camp fire accident with the explosion at the Gun Cotton factory.  

“When this boy saw the piece being acted and this incident came up he was completely gob-smacked. He couldn’t believe that something from his own life was being performed by professional actors as part of a play.” 

Karen’s latest show has been the most ambitious of all – a collaboration with her Footsteps director Natalie Songer who had written a genre-defying show about her family history which had audiences laughing and crying in equal measure. 

Titled Satellites, it was the unusual nature of the play that attracted Karen to produce it.

East Anglian Daily Times:

“Natalie approached me and said I have a great idea for a show. It involves Holland, the Second World War and outer space, and I thought this was a fantastic and unusual combination. It chimed with things that my family and I were interested in, and when I read the script I cried, I laughed. It was quirky. It made you think and it was a perfect bit of theatre. 

“It’s about her great uncles. One, an electrical engineer, died in a Nazi concentration camp having been forced to help build V2 rockets. The other, an astrophysicist, worked for NASA in the States, making use of the very technology that had been created by the V2 rocket programme.” 

She says Natalie is such an engaging performer she could present the surreal or comic elements in a way that would undermine the tragic dramatic core of the story while also making the larger-than-life members of her family come alive. 

Future projects? She is currently working on her first self-penned play which looks at how an autistic youngster deals with the arrival of a new brother or sister.  

Karen is also a keen advocate of teaching drama, music and the arts in schools, not just to bring on the next generation of actors, artists and musicians, but because they give youngsters practical life skills.  

“They give young people confidence, promote creative thinking, teach youngsters to share ideas and work in teams and give them the tools needed to speak in public and give presentations to an audience. 

“Not to mentions that the arts and cultural tourism in general are one Britain’s key revenue creators, so they are not to be sneered at."