Portsmouth theatre director drops bombshell after stepping aside after 20 years

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A LONG-STANDING theatre director who kept an historic venue afloat with his own money for two decades dropped a bombshell after suddenly stepping aside.

Richard Stride says he lived and breathed Groundlings Theatre, in Kent Street, Portsea, for more than 20 years but has now handed over the reins to Groundlings Theatre Trust who will run it as a charity organisation.

The move means Richard will have no further involvement with the theatre but will still own the building and lease it to the trust, who he hopes will be able to ‘take it on to the next stage’.

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The new owners penned a message to members on Sunday announcing a ‘not so grand’ launch due to current lockdown restrictions with a ‘toast to the theatre’s future’.

Artistic director Richard Stride at Groundlings Theatre, Kent Road.  Picture: Chris MoorhouseArtistic director Richard Stride at Groundlings Theatre, Kent Road.  Picture: Chris Moorhouse
Artistic director Richard Stride at Groundlings Theatre, Kent Road. Picture: Chris Moorhouse | JPIMedia

Speaking of the dramatic turn of events, Richard told The News: ‘It’s been in the pipeline for a little while. I’ve been involved with the theatre for 20 years, though it feels like a lifetime.

‘I won’t be involved at all now. I still own the building and will lease it to the trust. I’ve taken it as far as I can. I’m not really able to take things further along - it would only be treading water.

‘It does need funding. I’ve kept it alive with money from my own pocket. It needs money to take it on to the next stage to be able to thrive.’

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Speaking of the timing of the trust’s takeover, Richard said: ‘It’s difficult times but at least there will be no debt. I’ve taken on all the debt which hopefully I will be able to pay off.

‘The trust will have a clean slate to come in and make it work. Hopefully they will get grants and push it forward.’

In its message, the trust wrote: ‘We are delighted to inform you of the official launch of Groundlings Theatre Trust. Though this is not the celebration we had planned for, we hope you will join us in a (self-isolated) toast to the theatre’s future.

‘This is not the grand opening we were hoping for. We had planned a day of food, music and entertainment using the whole theatre space, but

unfortunately that was not to be.

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‘The theatre remains closed until further notice so there will be very little opportunity to earn an income.’

As reported, the trust has been awarded a £15,000 grant by Portsmouth City Council. Staff, meanwhile, have been furloughed and are volunteering some of their time by working from home.

The message continued: ‘In addition to Portsmouth City Council I must thank Richard for his help and forbearance, Tobias (Robinson) for his untiring support to the trustees and the staff of Groundlings Theatre who have hung on in there.’

Richard’s departure will allow him to focus on acting and directing opportunities. He said: ‘Hopefully it is exciting times and I will be acting, directing and teaching across the UK and abroad.

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‘It’s nice to have people, including past students who have gone on to have success, compliment me on what I’ve done.’

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