Katrina Henderson has one of the most vital jobs in Portsmouth’s arts world – trying to get more people into the Kings Theatre. She tells Peter Marcus what her plans are.
Walking into the Kings Theatre it can be easy to be overwhelmed by the grandeur of the magnificent Edwardian building.
As I stood waiting to talk to the woman behind a revitalised attempt to bring the theatre closer to the community it serves, I could not help but stand in awe of the building she calls her office.
Katrina Henderson has worked at the Southsea theatre for five years but has only just become community engagement officer.
We sit in the theatre’s Irving Room and she is eager to reveal her plans to get the Kings more involved than ever with Portsmouth people and those farther afield.
‘It all started after I got my degree in photography from the University of Portsmouth,’ Katrina says when I ask how an artist morphs into a community worker.
‘I got funding from the council to bring art to a different area of the city and started running the Art Stop Café, where I ran workshops and exhibitions. I came to the theatre at that point as casual staff.’
It was an exciting start for the artist who went on to become learning and community engagement officer for Portsmouth Historic Dockyard working on the M33 project, turning one of only three surviving First World War Royal Navy warships into an interactive museum piece.
Katrina’s next challenge is to take her experience from Art Stop, the Historic Dockyard and a number of other projects, and embed it at the Kings.
‘I’ve got a love for arts and I’ve also got a love for history and heritage. Working here brings them together. And what a place to do it in. It’s such a beautiful building with loads of history – 107 years of it.
‘You can feel it oozing out of these old walls, but you’ve also got the arts side – the shows, the exhibitions. It’s such a creative environment to work in.
‘My aim is to work with different groups across the community on different projects and to develop our schools’ programme.
‘I want to increase how much schools engage with us with shows and workshops as well as working with adults to develop adult learning workshops in art, creative writing, drama and dance. I just want to make sure we and the community are using this fantastic space to its full potential.’
Katrina, 34, is visibily excited about the possibilities of her new role. ‘There are so many projects I want to do around the theatre’s history,’ she adds.
But it is about so much more than projects and theatre. Her role hinges on community involvement. ‘The community stuff is vitally important for the theatre.
‘There are a lot of Portsmouth people who may not have had the opportunity to come to the theatre or might not have the money to come to the theatre.
‘It’s about engaging with parts of the city which may not be able or might never have considered engaging with the theatre. I want to take the theatre out to them. Or open up opportunities for children and young people to become involved with the theatre.
‘Some kids never come to see a show or even the pantomime. It’s about trying to open up so everyone has these opportunities because I think the arts in all their forms are so important.’
Katrina knows where she wants to take the Kings Theatre. ‘I’ve come in with a fresh head.
‘I have my key objectives to engage with more schools and more adults. I’m in the process of working with the city council’s history centre on a First World War project based around the Kings and what it was doing at that time.
‘I’ve also got other projects planned. There’s a schools’ project around panto; developing workshops; revamping our summer schools and the Arts Award. For me it’s about giving value to learning. It’s about asking what the community wants, what people would like to see more of at the theatre. Let them have their say and let’s try to do something about it.’
‘It’s a big job,’ Katrina admitted, laughing nervously. It certainly isn’t a challenge that scares her. In fact, this is just another step in a long line of community work.
‘While at university I was involved in a project in Somers Town to produce a mural. I was asked if I was interested in doing something like that, got some funding and did this amazing project with young people in the community. I was really blown away with how rewarding doing stuff with the community was.
‘I quite quickly decided that was where I wanted to go.
‘There’s some amazing talent in this city that sometimes gets dismissed and now I’ve got a job which involves celebrating it.
‘Art is a passion of mine. I love working with artists and I think most people, of any age, can engage with art in some form. I know a lot of people say “I can’t do this” or “I can’t do that” but they can. Nine times out of 10 they can do it.’
The artist turned community worker knows where she wants to take the theatre. We talked about touch tours, international work and getting into the community. It’s an exciting and ambitious vision that may take a while to be realised but Katrina is ready to work for it.
‘I want to make art open and accessible to everyone and take it to areas not known for art.
‘I’ve met some really amazing people working in the city.
‘I’ve worked with a wide range of schools and community groups in Portsmouth, Havant, Gosport and farther afield.
‘Now my role is to take the arts to the wider city.’