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Stephen Wrentmore on his role as artistic producer at Poole’s Lighthouse Centre for the Arts

PUBLISHED: 15:45 03 November 2016

Stephen Wrentmore, the first artistic director at Lighthouse in Poole (Photo by Hattie Miles)

Stephen Wrentmore, the first artistic director at Lighthouse in Poole (Photo by Hattie Miles)

Hattie Miles 07907 645897

Jeremy Miles meets Stephen Wrentmore, who swapped views of Nevada’s desert for the waters of Poole Harbour to become artistic producer at the newly refurbished Lighthouse Centre for the Arts

It was while he was playing a tree in a Cambridge University production of Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s The Visit that Stephen Wrentmore realised that he was not, after all, God’s gift to acting. “I was rubbish. I really was in the wrong place,” chuckles the man who has just taken over as the first artistic producer at Lighthouse Centre for the Arts in Poole.

Armed with a degree in theatre and education, Stephen abandoned his thespian dreams and embarked on post-grad studies in directing at the Central School of Speech and Drama.

It was a wise move. At the age of 22 he was an assistant director at London’s prestigious Almeida Theatre. It was an auspicious start to a career that has literally taken him around the world. He has directed plays in the UK, the USA, Russia, Kosovo, Latvia, Kazakhstan, Denmark, Sweden and Norway.

For the past five years he has worked in the United States, initially as associate artistic director and director of learning at the Arizona Theatre Company and, more recently, as visiting Professor of Theatre at Oklahoma City University.

It’s been an interesting journey driven, he says, by a constant sense of curiosity and the intriguing realisation that he now has “a life and career based in buildings rather than that of a wandering minstrel.”

He seems rather pleased that, 25 years after deciding that he was simply too wooden to play a tree, he has, indeed, arrived at a rather special building. Lighthouse Centre for the Arts is reaching the end of a major £5.3 million refurbishment project. The improvements include a transformed studio theatre, a new education and rehearsal space, modernised dressing rooms, general improvements to concert facilities and improved security and energy efficiency. There are also plans to develop the centre’s existing commitment to a wide range of productions and events based principally on music, theatre and the visual arts. Exciting times lie ahead and Stephen Wrentmore is very much part of the new Lighthouse programme.

This likeable, fast-talking 45-year-old sees the role of artistic producer as a chance to form partnerships and the opportunity to inspire and mentor. “Healthy arts ecology requires participants, makers and audiences,” he explains. “It’ll give us the opportunity to work with emerging companies, take them under our wing and work in partnership to turn the sum of their parts into something bigger.”

The existing reputation of Lighthouse as a highly successful purveyor of a broad range of arts, including its role as home of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, is something that, he says, will be nurtured and developed. “We’re the largest arts centre in the south west and we serve a very mixed and diverse audience to whom we have multiple responsibilities. We take all of those relationships and responsibilities incredibly seriously.”

He plans to make positive connections with emerging artists and audiences of the future through learning and education programmes in schools. “A seven-year-old may not be buying tickets today but in 30 years time they might,” he adds.

When we met earlier this summer most of the building was still a hard hat area, and as Stephen showed me around he expressed his delighted that Lighthouse managed to secure the necessary funding for such a sweeping revamp. “With a centre like this you only get to fix what needs fixing once every 15 or 20 years and we have to get it right.”

He is wary of false economies, recalling one theatre he worked at where costs were cut on the air-conditioning. The result? An instant and permanent reputation as a sweat-box. Then there was the fixed thinking of the Kazakhstan National Theatre. “There was this enormously long Soviet corridor with a single broken light bulb. I was told: ‘Light bulbs are changed once a year.’ What can you do?” he shrugs.

Arriving in Dorset, he says, has been a real pleasure. His initial attraction was based on the fact that Poole is effectively surrounded on three sides by water. “Living in the desert in Nevada really makes you appreciate and understand water in a completely different way,” he admits.

As we speak generous quantities of the stuff is pouring from the sky and Stephen happily talks about the joys of walking through the Purbecks in the rain.

Though life is a little chaotic right now – he’s moved house three times in the past month, including changing country - his domestic arrangements are now largely resolved and he is reunited with wife Una. They have a shared love of theatre and met as students. “She designed my King Lear,” he says wistfully.

He clearly has happy memories of the past but right now Stephen Wrentmore is looking forward to a bright future. He describes his new job as “….an exciting creative opportunity that is both curious to me as an individual and as an artist.” It doesn’t get much better than that.

lighthousepoole.co.uk

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