Stratford Picturehouse’s general manager on why they’re doing things differently
PUBLISHED: 12:00 23 March 2013
After working for 12 years at the Stratford Picturehouse, Dominic Voyce finally took over the top job as General Manager 18 months ago - just as Vue opened across the road in Westfield Stratford City.
Stratford Picturehouse Facts
*Opened in August 1997
*Stratford Picturehouse’s largest screen - Screen One - has 264 seats
*The smallest screen - Screen Four - has 144 seats
*The cafe and bar upstairs is open to the general public with capacity for around 100 people standing
*Art in the Bar is free exhibition space for local artists to exhibit their work
*The walls are currently showcasing the work of painter Alexander Walker from Walthamstow
*It also holds a number of clubs including Silver Screen for over 60s; the Big Scream for parents of babies aged one or under; a Saturday kids club with activities; Autism-Friendly screenings for those on the autism spectrum and their families; and 30-minute Toddler Time shows to get the little ones into cinema
Dominic, who lives with his family in Stratford, found that if he wanted to keep his beloved Picturehouse in Salway Road open, he’d have to make some changes.
He said: “Not everyone is into the kind of thing we’re doing. Since Vue opened, it’s given us the opportunity to change our programme a bit and become a bit less mainstream.
“It’s been tough and it has affected us. But we used it as an opportunity and tried to take the positive out of it.
“It’s difficult to compete with a 17-screen cinema when you’ve only got four and they’ve got Skyfall on 32 times a day and we’ve got it on five.”
A complete revamp of the Picturehouse’s programme followed to include more Q&A events, live streams from the National Theatre and the Royal Opera House, and more foreign and independent films.
Family films were one of the few things Dominic was determined to keep - but as the Picturehouse is not the only cinema in the area nowadays, he believes the quieter atmosphere may be better suited to taming the tearaway toddlers anyway.
He said: “We took it as an opportunity to change our programme a bit and be different and more interesting.
“I think there is room for the two things to co-exist, they have to, but you can’t compete with someone who’s got a much bigger offer than you have so you have to differentiate.”
Dominic explained that he always loved film but he became particularly aware of his passion after his favourite cinema closed while he was at university in Liverpool and he was struck by how much he missed it.
He hopes to cultivate a similar atmosphere in the Picturehouse where people who love the experience involved in watching films will choose to go.
He added: “I like to think we’re trying to preserve the way you see films. There’s a horrible modern way of watching films which is to talk to your friends, text on your mobile, put your feet all over the seats and not care.
“You’re supposed to be there because you want to see that film and you’ve picked it.”
The Picturehouse has also been reaching out to community groups recently by opening the building for free to Newham Bookshop for more spacious author events, the Forest Gate Women’s Institute for a special International Women’s Day screening, Nusho for their Bringer & Fixer festivals, and the Newham Monitoring Project for their screenings and speakers.
Dominic said: “It’s really nice because there’s people in the building. There’s no point us sitting here going ‘what are we going to get out of it?’
“The building is here for people to have and to use.
“So it’s working with local groups as well to give them a space for something they want to do.
“It’s amazing how many Newham groups there are and how enthusiastic they are about what they are doing.”
Dominic has also ensured the Picturehouse plays a role in Stratford’s wider regeneration by taking an active part in cultural advocacy group Stratford Rising, a partnership with other local gems such as the Discover Children’s Story Centre, Theatre Royal Stratford East, Stratford Circus, and the View Tube work out how to keep the arts scene alive.
Dominic said: “The shame of the whole thing, I think, is that there’s lots of great things in Stratford that people who come from out of town to Westfield don’t know about and don’t find out about.
“They don’t come over that bridge and over to this side.
“There’s this great little cultural offer in Stratford of these really professional events happening that loads of people are missing out on.
“During the Olympics, as everybody moaned, no one came down here, no one was in this area. In fact, we were quieter during the summer than we would normally have been during the summer holidays.”
This joined-up approach has led to members promoting each other on social media, collaborating to create complimentary festivals, and discounts for regular customers such as money off in the historic King Edward VII pub or nearby Yobo restaurant.
These members are set to grow with the birth of five new neighbourhoods in the Olympic Park with the first residents moving into East Village this summer and Dominic has been working with their Community Engagement Officer to bring them over to E15 evenings out.
He added: “But when you’ve spent ten or 12 years being a certain thing, people don’t immediately notice the changes you’ve made and also they might not necessarily immediately look to Stratford Picturehouse to see that particular film.
“It’s been a long hard slog but thankfully we’ve got lots of loyal members that have approved of what we’ve done and we’ll have many more in the future.”
To find out more about Stratford’s cultural partnership, visit www.stratfordrising.com.
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