Interview with Karen O’Neill, Director of the Dukes

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The New Director talks about the upcoming theatre season and plans.

Hi Karen, can you give us a bit of background about yourself and what you’ve been up to?

Yes, so I have worked in theatre for a long time. I worked for Live Nation for a while in the Commercial Theatre sector. I’ve worked at the Palace Opera House in Manchester, and I worked on the first Manchester International Festival with Damon Albarn’s Monkey.

I left there and went to run the Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield, where we had a great partnership with the local universities. We used to get involved with their Fresher’s events, and we had a big Fresher’s comedy event every year; it had an excellent programme. Eventually, we celebrated this year by hosting Huddersfield first big Pride event in partnership with the Student’s Union. That was a really good day, took a long time to get there, but we got there eventually.

So, what brought you to Lancaster then?

The Dukes, simply. It was a great opportunity; it’s such a fantastic organisation with a great history and with a bright future ahead of it, it was a no-brainer.

Have you got any plans as the new Director for the future of the Dukes?

Yes, in terms of more extensive plans we are looking at investing in new touring shows to try and bring the best of the live arts to Lancaster. We also plan on working more with local artists so we are launching a new Talent Development Programme where artists can be supported locally and perform locally. We are also going to try and work with national-based artists to bring more different types of performance to the area. We are launching a new space called ‘More Space’ which is going to be a creative learning space. Where people can come and develop their creative practices as well as working with young people and working with the community. Finally, we are going to embed a small Fringe programme for more experimental types of theatre which extend to university students who are working on their creative practices.

What else have you got coming up this year?

This Autumn we’ve got loads happening, as always, we’ve got the brilliant John Godber Company coming back with ‘Gym and Tonic’. So, John Godber is a very well-known Northern-based writer who writes quite gritty, realist plays with a comic twist, so we’re really pleased to be having it here. We are also presenting a new piece that has been developed at ARC Stockton called ‘Alex and Eliza’ which is about the 1947 partitioning of India and Pakistan and what that looks like 40 years later and the legacy of that. We’ve also got the LUNG Theatre in association with Leeds Playhouse with ‘Trojan Horse’ which has been quite a popular show as it’s been held up in the national press. Additionally, we have the Welsh Ballet coming back with ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and then our Christmas production this year will be Cinderella which is a traditional telling with a modern twist, I would say as it takes the story of Cinderella but places it in the 1950s era.

Can you tell me a bit more about the new 16-25 membership?

Yes, so we are launching this new membership to hopefully attract more young people to the theatre, to see it as an alternative night out. Anyone with a card will be able to access loads of new offers which will include reduced ticket prices, special events and for the first year you get a free cinema ticket as well.

For more information visit the Dukes website:

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