A NEW platform for theatre pulled in over 10,000 applications when it advertised for seven actors for its first productions.

The Ayrshire based organisation received so many its website crashed and crashed again when over 10,000 sound engineers applied for one role.

The numbers have highlighted the desperation felt by many in the arts during the Covid crisis but Barry Robertson believes his new arts organisation, The Grey Hill, gives hope for the future.

“Events this year have told us that theatre must adapt to survive,” he said. “No longer can we travel miles to see a live performance and lockdown restrictions have meant many theatres have not been able to open.”

Preparations for The Grey Hill, which has already won two awards, actually started last year with the story beginning in North Ayrshire, one of Scotland’s lowest arts participation regions. Other than touring companies local audiences had not had theatre in its traditional sense since the days of Borderline Theatre Company.

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However, Robertson realised there was an opportunity to be tapped through the fast digital transformation of the creative industries.

With support from Scottish Enterprise (SE), he spent the year brainstorming ideas and feasibility for his new organisation. The advent of Covid-19 and its impact on the arts meant the need for change was even more urgent.

“If theatre is to survive it must change, which I find both fascinating and exciting,” said Robertson. “The way we now need to create theatre cannot and should not be done in the same way as before. Some people, especially in my local area, still consider the arts to be elitist and as the majority of our traditional theatre audience grows older, I think we need to do more to welcome new audiences and engage with them to get them into our theatres.”

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Robertson has used data analysis to understand what audiences want to see from the arts industry and has consulted with experts to gain insight on how to make any enterprise successful.

“I knew I had to think bold, think differently, and think internationally,” he said.

“With a population of approximately five million in Scotland, thinking bigger and providing playwrights, actors and creatives the opportunity to work with The Grey Hill and its platform, means that we can create theatre in an online format.”

The fruits of his hard work are already evident. The organisation now has three audible productions available worldwide via Amazon, Audible, and iTunes. Audiences can also listen to interviews with cast members and playwrights through its Insights Podcast.

IN its early stages of development, The Grey Hill won two awards – the Innovative Idea Prize from Robert Gordon University and The High Commended Award from the Scottish Institute for Enterprise.

“Receiving these awards early on in its start-up has allowed the company to be forward thinking and innovative in its plans for a digital cultural sector,” said Robertson. “It has also allowed the company to achieve its goal to produce quality productions.”

He added: “Audio theatre is theatre – it’s the magic of a read through just before putting a production into the space, where we hear the characters come alive. A radio play in its purest terminology but in an ever-changing digital environment built with stores and platforms and an international audience. Audiodrama (audiobook plus theatre) is the perfect place where no matter where you are or what electronic device you use – our content is available to you. The content that The Grey Hill produces supports creatives and allows you the opportunity to take part in our work no matter where you are in the world.”

The three available productions are Mrs G by Mike Tibbetts performed by Sarah Rose Graber and Brent Whitted, sub contract by Bob Davidson performed by John Scougall, Lucie Goldie and Barry Robertson and Signature by Bob Davidson performed by Sakshi Sharma and Lucie Goldie.

Upcoming productions include The Price of A Fish Supper by Catherine Czerkawska, King of Scotland by Iain Heggie, Building Bridges by Marie Dunlop; and Douglas by John Home.

Go to thegreyhill.com for more information.