As with many places as remarkable Sterts, our story starts with a vision. There are few people who could look at a pig farm and imagine an amphitheatre, yet that is exactly what founders Ewart and Anne Sturrock did.
Ewart studied theatre at Bretton Hall where he met Anne who was studying music. Many years later when he was teaching at Looe, Ewart became increasingly aware that there was a lack of facilities and resources for creative work to take place. Coupled with this, schools, colleges and universities tended to favour those whose gifts were already manifest. In the process, many young and not so young people whose talents were not so obvious, emerged with little sense of worth and a profound lack of awareness of their own creative capability.
They were convinced that there was a need to provide an arts and environmental centre designed to fulfil a long-existing desire for children, young people and adults to meet and work together in a suitably equipped centre.
In 1982 the Sturrocks took the calculated risk of buying the barns and outbuildings originally belonging to the farmhouse that they owned.
The transformation from pig farm to arts centre had begun...
The opening of Sterts Open Air Theatre on 2nd June 1990 represented a huge achievement for the centre and also a milestone for the arts in Cornwall.
Our first ever performance was Othello, directed by Ewart. With no canopy at this stage, it was performed to 300 people sheltering under umbrellas. Only three performances were stopped by rain that summer. Over the next four years, a variety of temporary canopies were used as an attempt to protect audiences from the Cornish weather!
Sterts gets it's first, permanent canvas canopy! Umbrellas and marquees are no longer required....
The new canopy cost £60,000 and was funded through a Sports and Arts Foundation award. Arts Minister Peter Brook helicoptered down from London, which played havoc with the gravel car park, to preside at the opening along with supportive local MP’s Roberts Hicks and Paul Tyler. Having survived several funding crises and having battles to win grants, a quality year-round arts programme had been established and maintained. This had largely been due to the huge contribution of time, energy and the commitment of hundreds of volunteers from the people of East Cornwall and some from further afield who all shared the dream. As well as on stage and behind the scenes many volunteers were needed to bring quality.
Ewart hands over the batton of Centre Director to musician, opera singer and writer Jonathan Lewsey.
Jonathan was educated at the Purcell School of Music where he studied piano, composition and conducting. He subsequently trained as an operatic Bass and studied all aspects of opera with Else Mayer Lismann. On the latter’s death in 1990 he became Artistic Director of the Mayer-Lismann Opera Centre. He has pursued a busy professional career as opera singer, Director & lecturer. He has also sung widely in concert and oratorio including at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room, Sheldonian Oxford, & Dome, Brighton. He has lectured extensively on opera including for Glyndebourne Opera, & the BBC, and has toured throughout the USA promoting his books on Wagner and Verdi (Ashgate Press).
Jonathan was instrumental in growing the Sterts season and artistic offering, which consistently featured at least one musical, a play and often an opera. In 2003, we produced our first ever youth production - Bugsy Malone.
Director and Educator Peter Woodward becomes acting Centre Director.
Under Peter's direction, the Sterts season grew tremendously. A combination of artistic and business skills was necessary for securing a future for Sterts. Peter continued to build on the season model developed by both Ewart and Jonathan, whilst introducing a wide range of touring visiting theatre companies to the season including renowned companies such as Illyria and Miracle Theatre.
It's time for a canopy change!
By 2014, the original canopy had done a fantastic job at keeping audiences relatively dry over the years, but had had its day. After much bid writing and fund-raising by volunteers we installed a new canopy part funded by SITA trust, Cornwall Council and our army of volunteers. Sterts contniues to thrive, selling 12,823 tickets this summer season!
Peter continued to lead Sterts through times of struggle, particularly 2020-2021 when Covid-19 swept the world and brought the arts and entertainment industry to a devastating halt. With a lot of hard work from staff and volunteers plus three rounds of Cultural Recovery Grants from Arts Council England, Sterts survived the pandemic.
Musician and Educator Kate Rogers takes over as Centre Director
Kate was introduced to Sterts in 2006 and has been playing drums here ever since. She was Musical Director for Sterts Youth's Production of Bugsy Malone in 2017 and is priviledged to be opening the next chapter for Sterts. Taking inspiration from Ewart, Kate is passionate about the environmental side of Sterts whilst continuing to realise its potential for high-quality, ambitious productions that faclitate community art making. Inline with Arts Council England's 'Let's Create' strategy, Kate is committed to making the arts accessible for all and celebrating the creative journey as much as the end goal.
In the first half of 2022, we completed significant, essential works throughout the grounds and theatre. The works largely focused on upgrading the electrics around the site, but we made the most of needing to dig up the grounds. The site now features a new, accessible path, festoon lighting, LED tree up-lights and a new fence that runs around the outside the theatre. The fence replaced posts that had gone in 30 years ago with the original bad. Whilst it was a shame to see them go, sadly it was a necessary upgrade as they were held up by the ivy that had grown around them! The new fence is made of wooden posts to reflect a contemporary version of what was there before.