Sheffield Theatres’ new season launch is one of the most hotly anticipated arts events in the city. Held in the packed Studio Theatre, the evening saw the programme of productions for 2017 revealed for the first time, as well as brand new outreach initiatives.

Robert Hastie was introduced as the new artistic director of Sheffield Theatres, replacing Daniel Evans. Although this has been public knowledge since March, it was the first time he had come face-to-face with the theatre members, many of whom had very high expectations due to Evans’ excellent management.

Hastie has big shoes to fill; Evans’ seven-year tenure has been hugely successful, with unprecedented annual attendance figures of 400,000 and a record five wins at the 2016 UK Theatre Awards. He brought Sheffield Theatres to national attention and widespread acclaim, and the audience at the launch were clearly sorry to see him go.

Despite this, Hastie received a warm welcome, heightened the declaration of his longstanding association with the city’s theatres. While growing up in Scarborough, he often attended productions at the Crucible as a teenager, and his first role on stage was there too. His personal connection to the city was clear, and this must make the difficult task of following in Evans’ footsteps slightly easier.

After introducing himself, Robert Hastie took the opportunity to outline some of his intentions for the upcoming season. These were obviously the result of listening to audience feedback – the decision to abolish online booking fees actually brought a round of applause! Understandable, seeing as this will quickly pay off for regular theatregoers.

Hopefully, these new ventures will create more engagement with the arts.

Hastie also revealed fresh initiatives to attract new audience members, with 10,000 tickets being released over the course of the new season for only £15. There is also a focus on getting young people to the theatre, with thousands of free tickets available for anyone studying drama or performing arts at school or college in Sheffield, as well as a new partnership with Meadowhall that will offer free tickets to children who may not otherwise have had the chance to go. Hopefully, these new ventures will create more engagement with the arts and boost the theatres’ profile both locally and nationally.

The launch also included a brief of the new productions coming to Sheffield Theatres this season. There is an appealing mix of dramatic classics (Eugene O’Neill’s Desire Under the Elms, Anton Chekov’s Uncle Vanya) and modern creations (Chris Thompson’s Of Kith and Kin, Nina Raine’s Tribes) on the schedule, so certainly something to please everyone. And of course, the big announcement of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (directed by Hastie himself next summer) was received very well by the audience and will definitely be popular at the box office.

The launch was indicative of a promising year for Sheffield Theatres’, and it will be interesting to see if Robert Hastie can imitate his predecessor’s success with both quality of productions and audience engagement.

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