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Theatre charity Stagetext moves to Colchester in Arts Council shake-up

A charity providing live theatre subtitles has relocated to Essex as part of a national shake-up of the arts.

Stagetext has moved to The Mercury Theatre in Colchester as part of a government scheme to take arts groups out of central London.

The "deaf-led charity" provides subtitles of actors' spoken words and displays them for the audience.

Stagetext's chief executive said The Mercury was a "natural fit".

The charity said the move formed part of its "ambitious plan" to allow people in the regions more equal access to the arts, while also continuing its work with existing London venues.

Arts Council England (ACE) has funded the move after the government announced in February 2022 it wanted to relocate arts money to "overlooked places" in its Levelling Up plan.

Stagetext, established in 2000, said it wanted to offer more services to new audiences who felt excluded.

The subtitles it provides are displayed either on screens flanking the stage or on handheld phones and tablets.

The text scrolls down at the speed of the actors' dialogue so all of the audience can follow the show together.

'Cultural hub'

Stagetext chief executive Melanie Sharpe said a study was carried out before it plumped to move to the city.

"The Mercury is a key cultural hub in the region and has demonstrated its passion and commitment to accessibility," she said.

"[It] will help us put access at the heart of the creative process.

"Our research has shown if more captioning was offered by live venues, a third (31%) of the general public would be more likely to increase their attendance."

The Mercury Theatre's executive director Steve Mannix said he was "over the moon" to work with Stagetext.

"There were only seven captioned shows in Essex last year, but there are 1.9 million people living in the county, so we know we have our work cut out to improve access," he said.

Michelle Burrows, Colchester City Council's cabinet member for leisure, culture and heritage, said the charity's work to help everyone enjoy the arts was "essential".

"Their relocation to Colchester will help to make our city a more accessible and inclusive place," she said.

Public money from the government, as well as from the National Lottery, is used by ACE to fund arts and culture offerings.

However, a number of London-based organisations have said their future was now under threat due to the measure.

This has included the English National Opera, which said it could lose its public funding unless it relocates.

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