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Haverhill Arts Centre's new creative director Daniel Schumann, whose career includes West End theatre producing, takes up his post



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A West End theatre producer has turned his focus away from the bright lights of London to take up the role of Haverhill Arts Centre manager and creative director.

Daniel Schumann has an impressive body of theatre production work behind him, not least at the Almeida Theatre in the West End and for some huge shows put on by Bill Kenwright Productions.

But now, the 41-year-old, born and bred not so far away from Haverhill, in Soham, and now living in Fordham, has taken up the reins at the High Street venue.

Haverhill Arts Centre has a new manager and creative director, Daniel Schumann. Picture by Mark Westley.
Haverhill Arts Centre has a new manager and creative director, Daniel Schumann. Picture by Mark Westley.

Daniel is acutely aware of the impact that the pandemic – and now the cost of living crisis – has had on performing arts venues, but the arts centre has, he said, fared better than many.

“Across the country some venues are reporting they are 40 per cent down on what they are trying to do and we are much better off than that, clearly because we have a very loyal audience that sticks with us, and we are very grateful for that,” he said.

Daniel said that since arriving at the arts centre last month he had been working on the programme for September onwards – and looking to find the right mix of live shows and films to put on was key.

Daniel Schumann in the auditorium at Haverhill Arts Centre. Picture by Mark Westley
Daniel Schumann in the auditorium at Haverhill Arts Centre. Picture by Mark Westley

“I have to try to achieve a nice balance of pleasing the loyal and existing audience and trying to encourage new people in all the time.

“You’ve got to have a diverse, interesting and quality programme and you’ve got to keep delivering it because eventually people will get around to it and think better check out what’s on at the arts centre, but that takes time.

“You can’t do that overnight.

Daniel Schumann outside Haverhill Arts Centre. Picture by Mark Westley
Daniel Schumann outside Haverhill Arts Centre. Picture by Mark Westley

“It’s not quite, but it’s almost like you are starting again, because a lot of people have changed their habits. They don’t want to come out or can’t and people have got older and people are not so well off.”

As a 16-year-old, Daniel (who has two children, Rafferty, two and Matilda, nine, with his partner Jessica, a choreographer and dance teacher) founded a charity in Soham called Viva – of which he is still a trustee.

It began small but had, he said, become quite a big organisation that did a lot of work in community theatre and youth theatre and recently raised the money to build its own theatre.

Viva Community Arts Group director Daniel Schumann at Spencer Mill, Soham. Picture by Mark Westley
Viva Community Arts Group director Daniel Schumann at Spencer Mill, Soham. Picture by Mark Westley

With that background and knowing that Haverhill Arts Centre has, as Daniel said, a ‘huge track record of providing access to creative opportunities’, maintaining and developing the connections to community groups and youth groups in Haverhill is paramount.

He added: “All the local groups and the local users; the doors are still completely open to them and I will continue to encourage as much community use as possible.

“If anyone wants to contact me. If anyone has any ideas or has a group that wants to use the arts centre, my door is open and the community can feel it can make contact with me and I will do what I can to react positively.”

Baldrik and Blackadder in the Centre Stage Company's production, Blackadder II, one of the many shows staged at Haverhill Arts Centre over the years. Picture by Billie Fletcher
Baldrik and Blackadder in the Centre Stage Company's production, Blackadder II, one of the many shows staged at Haverhill Arts Centre over the years. Picture by Billie Fletcher

The pandemic, and the closure of theatres and venues that came with it, played a big part in Daniel’s decision to look for a new challenge closer to home.

He said: “I thought, when it (the lockdown) is all over I would try to find a job that uses all my creative experience and contacts but locally, instead of going back to London.This came up and the rest is history.”

Daniel also paid a tribute to Nick Keeble, the town council’s arts and leisure manager who left the role last autumn, ending an association with organising and facilitating entertainment in Haverhill that went back almost 27 years.

Nick Keeble with the 'Face of Haverhill 2000' outside Haverhill Arts Centre. Submitted photo
Nick Keeble with the 'Face of Haverhill 2000' outside Haverhill Arts Centre. Submitted photo

“They are very big shoes to fill, because Nick was here for such a long time and was so embedded in the community and so well loved and he championed the arts centre for such a long time.

“On the other hand its a chance to maybe look at things differently and approach things differently and bring a new set of ideas and contacts and bring all of that to the table.

“It’s clearly daunting to come in and take over from someone who has been here for such a long time.”

Looking to the future, Daniel (who has also been a district and town councillor, a magistrate and a trustee of many organisations) went on to say: “Raising our profile and attracting top level artists has got to be one of the top ambitions for anyone in our job.

“Maybe also doing some more work with young people and looking at the building itself and how we could use it better and how we could make it more vibrant and useful and busy.

“It’s also about looking at who the audience is, who they are and what they are coming to see and what they want and making sure you work for that audience and don’t alienate them.”