Chris Bridgman newly appointed Artistic Manager for Kirkgate Arts in Cumbria

Chris Bridgman recently took up his new role as Artistic Manager for Kirkgate Arts, including management of Cumbria’s Rural Touring Scheme, Arts Out West. We asked how he’s settling in…

Well, it looks like I’ve got a Proper Job at last. I’ve spent most of my life avoiding (consciously or otherwise) full-time, long-term employment in favour of a selection box of freelance and part-time work. I don’t want to create an unnecessarily romantic picture of complete fecklessness. I did run North West Playwrights (developing and supporting script-writers) for more than a decade. But that was part-time, allowing for all sorts of forays into acting, directing, teaching…

I’ve just had a very enjoyable spell as Creative Producer for Litfest in Lancaster, curating the annual festival, and developing a range of other projects across the year. But that was also part-time; whereas Artistic Manager for Kirkgate Arts is most definitely full-time. It’s actually two jobs: programming the Kirkgate Arts Centre in Cockermouth, and managing Arts Out West, the Rural Touring Scheme for West Cumbria.

I guess in this role I’m a poacher turned gamekeeper. A theatre company I set up with writer Crystal Stewart – boojum – was the first to be introduced to rural touring through the PANDA/Cheshire Rural Touring mentoring project. Ten years ago. (OMG! Really?!). Now I’m looking forward to the showcase day for the current crop of mentees – the enterprise now involving 6 schemes across the North and West Midlands.

More recently I’ve been back to my acting roots, performing in Rocket Theatre’s adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime. This has had considerable exposure in rural touring schemes, from Hampshire to Aberdeenshire; and rather startlingly, immediately after I was offered this post, we played three of the Arts Out West venues – a great introduction to my new constituency. On the first of those three nights Peter Normington, the seasoned promoter at Ireby, had great pleasure in being able to announce that present in the hall were Caroline Aston, the current Arts Out West Manager, as well as her predecessor, Bob Pritchard. And her successor would be…Chris, who’d just been pratting about in a range of broadly-drawn characters.

I owe huge thanks to Peter, who took me on a grand safari of our region; to Caroline, for an intense and invaluable two-week hand-over process; and to all at Highlights, our NPO partner, who created a very successful joint event for promoters, and are generally being very tolerant of (and helpful to) my getting-up-to-speed process. I’m also very grateful to all at the Kirkgate, who are being immensely supportive and welcoming. It’s been a great pleasure meeting the promoters and seeing some excellent performances out in the villages. Two months in, the autumn menu’s been finalised, and I’ve managed to experience around half of our halls – either just visiting, seeing a show – or performing in one. Plenty more work to be done – and plenty more pleasures to look forward to.