Photo Credit: Swale Photography / Aylesbury Town Council

Queens Park Arts Centre’s award-winning storytelling project Unbound is set to reach new heights between now and 2025,  after being awarded a three-year funding grant from the Rothschild Foundation.

The Aylesbury-based venue has announced it has secured a £160,000 grant that will ensure Unbound will continue to offer dozens of projects across theatre, audio, and film every year – created and performed by local volunteers – whilst two new projects will create paid opportunities for professional Bucks-based actors and writers.

Since being launched by Queens Park Arts Centre in 2014, Unbound have worked on more than 100 different projects. As well as many performances at QPAC itself, the production company have taken shows out and about to more than a dozen venues in Bucks and beyond, including many free-to-view performances at local events from Aylesbury Town Council and Buckinghamshire Council.

“The sheer magnitude – and quality – of what we’ve been able to achieve with Unbound has been awesome in every sense of the word,” says writer / director Dario Knight, who has led the project since its inception. “With more than 100 volunteers working on-stage and off, the project has become a powerhouse of telling great stories, and it’s wonderful to have such generous support from the Rothschild Foundation to continue what we’re already doing, whilst developing new projects at the same time.”

The grant means Mr Knight – who has worked primarily as a volunteer to lead the project – will now become the paid creative producer of the company, working from QPAC to deliver the county-wide programme of live theatre, audio, and film projects.

Unbound’s theatre work alone spans original writing, contemporary plays, Shakespeare, improv, sketch comedy, rehearsed readings, musical theatre, and pantomime; whilst audio work includes literary adaptations, original series such as the award-winning Chronicles of Professor Chronomier, sitcom, and behind-the-scenes podcasts. Film work includes lockdown project As You Skype It, which was nominated for the 2021 Charity Film Awards.

“It’s been a privilege to work with so many talented local storytellers in the last eight years,” says Dario. “For the running of Unbound to become my official job at Queens Park Arts Centre is a huge honour. It’s been a tough act juggling it on top of a previous full-time role at QPAC, so the extra time will be very welcome! Thanks to the Rothschild Foundation’s phenomenal support, we’ll be able to maintain the momentum of the last eight years and add even more great projects to our ever-expanding programme.”

The grant will also cover two new flagship projects for Unbound. The first will see the production of a new one-act play each year, penned by an emerging local writer and performed by professional actors based in Buckinghamshire. The first production will debut at QPAC this autumn, with future years set to take shows to additional Bucks venues. A callout for writers to submit their scripts for consideration is due this Spring.

The second project will see Unbound engage with a wide variety of community groups to create a new anthology of short stories written by Buckinghamshire residents. Through the creation of online learning resources, Unbound will encourage people to try their hand at writing tales, some of which will be recorded in a beautiful handmade book for the public to view. The project will be in development in 2023, before launching in Aylesbury in 2024 and another Bucks town in 2025. It will also see performances from local actors to share some of the stories written for each town’s anthology – once again offering paid work to local practitioners.

“These two new projects are a major step in making Buckinghamshire a hub for theatre makers to find work. With so many producing theatres based in the big cities, we want to ensure stage actors and writers living in our county can find work closer to home. There’s no shortage of talent here, and now we can give it a platform.”

Unbound’s many volunteer-led projects will still be continuing alongside these new opportunities, with more theatre, audio, and film work than ever planned for 2023. Upcoming stage projects include a rehearsed reading of Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband in February, a county-wide tour of Much Ado About Nothing in July, and work is already underway on Peter Pan – Christmas in Neverland­  – this year’s magical family pantomime.

“Without volunteers, Unbound wouldn’t have a single production to its name,” says Dario. “Whilst we look to make creative connections with professionals seeking paid work, we maintain a commitment to continue all of the volunteer-led projects (and more!) in years to come. Whilst some of our actors have gone on to seek professional work in the industry, many continue volunteering with us as either a hobby, as a way of developing their skills, or to give something back to the local community. The bedrock of what we do remains unchanged, and we’ve a great many exciting shows ahead this year.”

“The Rothschild Foundation is delighted to make this three-year strategic investment in Unbound at Queens Park Arts Centre,” says the foundation’s Senior Grants Manager Leona Forsyth. “We wanted to ensure that local artists, writers and producers have the opportunity and resource to be ambitious and create projects which will excite local audiences. With Sarah Lewis’ and Dario Knight’s leadership Unbound will go on the road from Aylesbury to other Bucks venues and libraries contributing to a thriving local arts scene.”

Unbound is one of many creative projects running at Queens Park Arts Centre every year. It’s extensive programme of accessible workshops, live performances, free-to-view exhibitions, and special events has continued to grow apace in recent years, in spite of challenges posed by the pandemic.

One of the first arts venues to reopen in the county in September 2020 (with its Limelight Theatre reopening in May 2021 ahead of many larger commercial venues), QPAC has demonstrated great resilience and flexibility in developing its online profile whilst maintaining projects such as Unbound and Artisan (its programme of exhibitions and events).

Queens Park Arts Centre has also established partnerships with a wide variety of groups and organisations, including dance school SDSD, mental health support group Space, national health and wellbeing initiative Sport in Mind, and access-friendly theatre group Jigsaw. It has also worked on collaborative projects with organisations such as the British Film Institute.

“QPAC is adept at nurturing talent, building long-term partnerships, providing meaningful volunteering opportunities, and contributing to a diverse and resilient creative sector,” says the venue’s artistic director Sarah Lewis. “We are delighted that the Rothschild Foundation are supporting Unbound’s new initiatives and future development at the heart of storytelling activity in the county.”

For more information about Unbound at www.unboundtheatre.co.uk or follow @unboundtheatre on social media – including a Soundcloud account full of free audio content.

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