Sudbury’s Quay Theatre celebrates 25 years of summer school

The Quay Theatre's Summer School in Sudbury is celebrating its 25th anniversary. Sheena Shaw and Rob

The Quay Theatre's Summer School in Sudbury is celebrating its 25th anniversary. Sheena Shaw and Robin Hodgkinson are pictured. - Credit: Archant

Every summer for the past 25 years, a community theatre in west Suffolk has played host to dozens of aspiring young thespians.

Russell students rehearsing for their show, 'GlobalWarnNing', during their five-day workshop at Sudb

Russell students rehearsing for their show, 'GlobalWarnNing', during their five-day workshop at Sudbury Quay's Summer School.

In fact, since Sudbury’s Quay Theatre started its summer school in July 1991, more than 500 children, keen to learn about everything from acting to set design, have passed through the stage doors.

Some had never even visited a theatre before and used the experience as a way of building their confidence or making new friends, while others have applied what they learned to help them forge careers in the industry.

Each year for five days during July, the community based theatre in Quay Lane, which is almost entirely run by volunteers, becomes a hive of activity with up to 45 youngsters aged from 10 to 15 attending the annual summer school.

Most of the time is spent learning and rehearsing scenes which are specially written by summer school staff including Sheen Shaw and Robin Hodgkinson, who between them have devoted around 43 years to the cause.

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Each year they pick a new theme for the production and over the years these have ranged from global warming, the Olympics and the seven deadly sins to the supernatural.

Alongside rehearsals and performances, there are specialist workshops in everything from voice work, improvisation, directing and singing to stagecraft topics such as costume, set design and makeup.

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At the end of the five days, the students put on a performance for their parents on the Friday evening.

Mr Hodgkinson said: “For the first two years we used scripted plays but it soon became apparent that the number of those on the market for this age group with around 40 reasonable parts was somewhat limited.

“So in 1993, the summer school staff devised their own modernised version of Romeo and Juliet, entitled Quayside Story.

“Since then, we have used the well tried and tested formula of choosing a theme, devising nine scenes around it plus an opening and closing scene.

“That way with between 30 and 45 children at each summer school, we can split them into three groups and they each perform three scenes.”

According to Ms Shaw, a school teacher with a background in theatre and drama, the idea of the summer school is to “hand over the entire performance to the students”.

She said: “It’s up to them to organise themselves. They get to learn specific skills, and they do everything from designing and producing the programme to picking their costumes for the final show.

“It teaches them stage discipline as well as working as a team, which are both very important qualities to learn.”

There are no restrictions on who can enrol at summer school. It has given many young people in the Sudbury area their first taste of theatre while others have used it as a career booster.

Ms Shaw added: “We work with whoever turns up – sometimes this may be budding actors, dancers and singers who have experienced theatre before, but sometimes they may be complete novices.

“Some have gone on to have careers in the industry such as Joel Sams who is now a professional actor, and another has started his own puppet theatre. One has gone on to work with Steven Spielberg.”

For the 25th anniversary celebration, summer school staff would like to hear from former students to see what career paths they decided to follow and if their experiences at the Quay influenced their choices.

Mr Hodgkinson added: “This year we have picked some of our favourite scenes from the past 25 years including ‘Western Macbeth’ from 2012 where Macbeth fights Macduff in Dodge City outside the saloon and the ‘Art Gallery’ where famous portraits come to life, which was first performed in 2004.

“For the first time this year, the summer school will be extended by one evening with a second performance on the Saturday. The idea is that we would like to invite former students to come and see the Saturday show and renew some old friendships.

“Ideally it would be great if they could send photos of themselves now and when they came to summer school, along with a short biography. These will be displayed in the foyer on the night.”

This year’s summer school runs from Monday, July 27 to Saturday, August 1. Monday to Thursday 10am to 4.30pm, Friday 11am to 9pm and Saturday from 4.30pm to 8pm. Places are £95 for the week or for two children from the same family, £170. Tickets for the performances are £6 for adults, £4 for children. Call 01787 374745 to book. Former summer school students are asked to email

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