Our History

1980 - 2000

Barbican Theatre was set up in September 1980 as a professional outreach Theatre-in-Education organisation (called Rent-a-Role Drama Service) touring new work to schools in Plymouth, Cornwall and Devon.

In 1986 the city council bought the Barbican Theatre (then Serenade Arts) as a home for the company on peppercorn rent.

In 1998 the theatre was re-furbished with a capital lottery grant bringing the whole building back into public ownership.

In 2000 consultants were engaged to further strengthen the company’s position by examining what constituted a core sustainable proposition anchored through delivery of a prosperous café/bar trade.

2000 - 2020

During these decades Barbican Theatre evolved the role and function of the venue to respond to the needs of young people, emerging and professional artists in the city and SW region.

As a small-scale touring venue it has been  a first house for companies such as Adventures in Motion Pictures (now Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures), Frantic Assembly and Peeplelykus before moving on to the Theatre Royal main stage. It has been the focus of community theatre, youth theatre and youth dance activity as a way of bringing forward new talent and potential and it has been a vital lifeline for local and regional artists as a creative space for making new work.

At the same time, the theatre has continued its thirty-year history in socially engaged practice specialising in making new theatre and dance in response to needs identified from communities and the statutory and voluntary sector. This has included new performance works, training, advocacy, awareness raising and conflict resolution tailored for specific audiences and participants.

Previous work includes commissions from education, police, prison service, social services, drug & alcohol services, health (including adult mental health), trade unions, probation, youth offending, BME groups and youth service.

The company was the first in the SW to argue and achieve arts funding for health and welfare initiatives from The National Lottery Charities Board.

The company was the first in the city to achieve significant resources from Big Lottery Fund to use the arts as an integration tool for young people from the global majority and white young people in the city.

Each piece of work has served as action research, evolving the organisation’s understanding of contemporary issues and the role of the arts in contributing to civil and national life.

2020 onwards

Following the retirement of co-founder and CEO Sheila Snellgrove in 2020 (40 years after Barbican Theatre began) our current CEO & Artistic Director, Laura Kriefman joined the company 4 days before thew first Covid-19 lockdown in March 2020, "one of the ultimate baptism of fire"
The Lockdown Year(s)
During the first lockdown, and despite 5 of our team being furloughed, we worked hard to continue to support our freelance practitioner community and all the young adults who participate in our classes. We  had over 70,000 engagements in our online materials and classes.  We also delivered 3 projects across the city over the summer:
Singing In The Rain care home flashmobs
Digital ReBels Project 
Coxside Cafe Acoustica at Teats Hill (2 events)