Theatre Orchard

Bringing inspiring, professional live performance to indoor and outdoor settings in North Somerset. They deliver creative opportunities so that everyone can enjoy participating in the arts. Every Life in North Somerset made extraordinary by live arts.

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Theatre Orchard’s flagship festival, Whirligig in Weston-super-Mare, is a vibrant, one-day event in the heart of the town that presents a mix of local, national and international outdoor arts.  Theatre Orchard also involves local organisations such as XR, Weston Pride and Weston College in associated creative activity on the Festival site in order to embed Whirligig firmly in the heart of the community.

The festival is playful and family-friendly, and Theatre Orchard look for content that challenges, surprises, inspires and entertains.   They proactively programme work that encourages people to think about social issues experienced through a creative lens.  They also proactively programme work that demonstrates cultural diversity.

Most of the audiences for Whirligig are local, and represent the wide social demographic of the town. The event also attracts day visitors from the surrounding area as well as some tourists from across the UK and occasional international visitors. In the lead-up to the Festival, they run engagement projects in more isolated communities that broaden their audience and deepen the audience’s experience of the event itself.

In 2019 Whirligig won best UK small event at the National Outdoor Events Awards.

Theatre Orchard Highlights

Why we joined Without Walls

“It is great to be part of a network with organisations who can share experiences and insights. Since joining, we have learnt so much from other organisations across the UK and from Without Walls who know the ropes and how to scale them to reach new heights. The team are approachable, friendly and flexible.

We also value the associated benefits of supporting audience engagement work, a strand that is particularly important to our vision. In 2020 Without Walls supported out desire to translate a live arts engagement project into the digital realm with ‘Holidaying at Home’ (Megan Clark-Bagnall/Ramona Bigwood). The resulting project was showcased as the English example of good practise at a webinar to launch Health & Wellbeing Week exploring Creative Practise in time of Covid and reached an international audience.

Without Walls’ programming offers new experiences to our volunteer body. We wouldn’t be able to do what we do without our volunteers and for everyone to feel part of something bigger is a great mental boost.

In 2020 we launched a new producer role focusing on audience engagement, thanks to match funding from Without Walls. Following the year-long pilot we were able to fund a version of this role on a sustained basis, consolidating a commitment to reaching and working with diverse communities as a core tenet of our programme.”


The Theatre Orchard team

Theatre Orchard’s core team all work on the Festival:

Fiona Matthews – Director.  Fiona largely works on programming and providing a creative offer for the Festival that aligns with Theatre Orchard’s core vision and values.

Tom Newman – Executive Director

Jess Hicks – Festival Administrator

Jasmine Thompson & Sophie Shepherd – Community Producers

Paula Birtwistle – Technical Producer and Green Champion.

Responsible for liaising with artists about technical requirements to ensure the smooth, practical running of Whirligig and upholding sustainable practice in line with Theatre Orchard’s environmental principles.

Julie Peel – Press and Marketing Manager.  Advises on programming, originates copy and oversees the comms strategy to provide a variety of content for press, marketing and social media purposes that ensures continuity of messaging and a widespread reach.

Becky Condron – Community Connector. Responsible for implementing a high profile digital marketing & social media campaign and managing and building the company’s volunteer programme ‘Culture Makers’.

Angela Athay-Hunt – Participation Manager.  Angie is the connector between the artists and the communities in any associated engagement work that the Festival brings, working closely with local groups to enhance their experience of Whirligig and add an extra inclusive and diverse dimension to the event.

Events at Theatre Orchard

Theatre Orchard’s ambition is to grow the Whirligig Festival over time to a two-day Summer event that animates community pride and increases tourism.  They also want arts to cut across less obvious sectors of the town’s daily life, including health and well-being.  In 2020 they developed the inaugural Weston Arts + Health Weekender event with University Hospitals Bristol & Weston NHS Trust, a weekend packed with over 50 indoor and outdoor creative experiences taking place throughout the town, including outdoor arts that shine a light on health and well-being.

Whirligig is thoroughly enjoyed by the town’s population, and the local authority is actively supporting a scenario where culture is the main driver behind the town’s regeneration, and where footfall to the town centre can go hand in hand with a set of out of the ordinary experiences.

Audiences at Theatre Orchard

Most of the audiences for ‘Whirligig’ are local, and represent the wide social demographic of the town. The event also attracts day visitors from the surrounding area as well as some tourists from across the UK and occasional international visitors. In the lead-up to the Festival, the Theatre Orchard team run engagement projects in more isolated communities that broaden participation and deepen the audience’s experience of the event itself.

Weston-super-Mare is a town that enjoyed a Victorian heyday and sunk into post-war decline as more holidaymakers started hopping on aeroplanes to super climes elsewhere.  It boasts a fascinating history, great architecture, broad skies and miles of sandy beach that make it a unique place to visit, just a short hop from Bristol.  Whilst Weston has severe pockets of deprivation, equally a great sense of community pride prevails and there is a tangible desire in the town for an innovative and even slightly subversive cultural offer that remembers and reimagines Weston’s glory days of end of Pier magic.  It’s all up for grabs as the town enters a new phase where Culture is being spotlit as a driver for regeneration.