Image: Franci Donovan-Brady

On the 31st March, the Bike Shed Theatre opened its doors to the public for the last time. What started as an ambitious theatrical venture back in 2010 has grown over the last eight years to become a hub of talent, leading the way for creativity to flourish across Exeter. The small theatre on Fore Street not only put on hundreds of affordable pieces of theatre over the years but also hosted talks, parties and boasted a fantastic cocktail bar. Unfortunately, with the bar not bringing in enough money and difficulty in funding the theatre, the Bike Shed management made the decision to close.

As not only a regular attendee to the Bike Shed’s shows, but also a final year drama student at the university, it’s safe to say the news has come as a blow. The shows they staged were exciting and memorable; from watching a man cover himself with labels to being cast as a communist to dancing on stage to acid house, I truly had a varied experience. I was lucky enough to work with the theatre myself as part of their ‘From Devon With Love (FDWL) Festival’ back in January of this year. I experienced myself the professionalism and friendliness of the staff, and was blown away by the support they offered to me and my friends as a relatively unknown theatre company.

The FDWL Festival is just one way in which the Bike Shed supported young artists and theatre companies over their eight years in operation. Their support of emerging talent within the Exeter community was fantastic and their Graduate Residency scheme, in conjunction with the university’s Drama Department, supported many emerging artists including Scratchworks and Worklight.

For a drama student who’s about to graduate, the gap the theatre leaves regarding support for students will certainly be felt.

Members of the theatre company, In Bed With My Brother, Exeter grads themselves, admit that the Bike Shed were a massive support for the company in their early career, giving them ‘’a sturdy and nurturing platform to explore new ideas and take risks with work’’. Although the theatre will be missed by the company, they also see an exciting future for work in Exeter – and, as they say, they’re all still kickin’ about and ready to join in.

Image: Bike Shed Theatre

This summer, the team behind the Bike Shed were set to open a new venue at Exeter’s quayside, the Boat Shed. David Lockwood, owner of the Bike Shed, says that he hopes the project will still come to some sort of fruition and although it won’t be open this summer, the multi-million pound venture still has potential. While the building on Fore Street may be headed for a close, the ideas behind the Bike Shed certainly aren’t. Moving forward, the team will be continuing to, as they put it, plot creative adventures across the city. Lockwood says he hopes that people will begin to take ownership of artistic projects for themselves and that creativity in the city as a whole will continue to thrive.

Theatre and creativity in Exeter is certainly not going anywhere fast. With the Northcott, the Barnfield and the Cygnet continuing to programme fantastic shows, and the Phoenix acting as a creative hub that pioneers music, performance, film and art, Exeter is still a leading creative city in the South West. That said, the closure of the Bike Shed comes as a warning; the arts are not safe. With a Conservative government that de-prioritises arts funding, it may be up to the rest of us to save them. So if you take anything from the closure of the Bike Shed, let it be this: keep going to the theatre, keep being creative and keep the arts alive.

bookmark me