The Shoebox Theatre, an innovative venue for cutting edge and challenging contemporary theatre in Swindon, is celebrating its first anniversary.

In February, just a year ago, the theatre space rose like a phoenix from the ashes of a flood-damaged former post office foyer – to become the go-to venue for new works, for training and development, and as a creative hub right in the heart of the town.

Since its launch, Shoebox has been completely transformed with new lighting, sound and raised seating - all made possible by Swindon Does Arts, Wiltshire Community Foundation, Tesco Bags of Help, crowd funding campaigns and volunteers.

It has hosted over 25 shows, eight acting courses, three stage combat courses and six masterclasses. As well as supporting numerous young and emerging artists, Shoebox has been the setting for the development of new theatrical works and premieres - including plays by the resident theatre company Wrong Shoes, who will be touring their powerful new show The Unbinding this year.

Actor and theatre producer Hannah Marquez said that even the team behind the project could hardly believe how much had been achieved in a year.

“As a charity the aim of the theatre is clear - to make contemporary theatre more accessible to the local community,” she said. “With Billie Piper as an avid supporter and patron, the venue has gone from strength to strength in achieving this.”

The theatre is managed by Wrong Shoes Theatre Company in collaboration with Artsite.

“It was an old Post Office foyer, then a gallery. The post office counters are still behind the curtains,” Hannah said. “We also wanted to prove you could produce theatre anywhere. It’s a found space you can transform.”

A host of helpers and supporters made the project possible.

“It was all hands on deck. We could not have done it without the help of the community. It’s a really community spirited affair, and done for the love of theatre – it’s in our blood.”

Luke Marquez, the artistic director at Shoebox, trained at Central School of Speech and Drama, then worked at Pegasus Theatre in Oxford. He was a college lecturer, set up evening classes in acting for adults, and made theatre in a variety of unusual locations, such as office buildings, community halls and even fields - before establishing the Shoebox Theatre.

“I learned the importance of making mistakes, taking risks and always being open to what others can teach you,” he said.

“Creating theatre on little to no budget, in a rural town where funding for the arts is almost non-existent is a challenge but, not impossible. We spent years working from borrowed spaces, or rooms too small for theatre. The alternatives were far too expensive.

“I also found myself hopping on a train to London, Bristol or Oxford if I wanted to see exciting contemporary theatre. Much of which wasn’t taking place in big theatres but in small found spaces, or studios.

“Swindon has an abundance of talented young performers and emerging artists but, like me, they were seeking theatre out of town, and more importantly, they relied on creative opportunities further afield. We needed an affordable creative space to create new work and so do the other amazing talents in the town and that’s what we want to achieve with the Shoebox Theatre.”

Luke said the first year had many highlights.

“There are so many to choose from! One of my highlights for the past year would have to be the week that theatre maker Bee Daws spent in residence at the Shoebox, creating a new performance, which explored mental health through clowning and puppetry.

“Of course, our launch event was a fantastic night. The very talented Billie Piper spoke passionately about her formative experiences in Swindon, which inspired her to perform, but better still was an event that was considerably more low-key.

“Billie joined us, along with young and emerging actors from Swindon for a cup of tea and a chat about what it’s like to work in the industry. It was such a rewarding experience, to sit down together, an award-winning actor and a room full of young local performers and just share experiences so openly and honestly.”

Luke said he measured the theatre’s success in terms of inspiring people, bringing communities together and nurturing talent.

“One of the biggest challenges we face as a theatre is balancing a programme of performances that audiences know they want to see, with performances that offer something new and challenging. We want to challenge perspectives and support new work but, that relies on a regular audience.

“Running a rural theatre comes with some considerable challenges, so it’s important that you surround yourself with supportive, positive people and people who are willing to challenge you, to ask the difficult questions and help you refine your ideas.”

Remaining true to your own vision and creativity is key for success, he believes.

“Make theatre as often as you can and make work that speaks to you creatively – don’t follow the money. If you start by shaping your work to fit the criteria of fund-givers, you’ll never find your own creative language. Work within your means, create quality work and before too long you’ll find you have regular audiences and the money will take care of itself.

“Work with people who inspire you and take opportunities that excite you. If you find a nurturing venue offering to help you create your work, grab that opportunity with both hands; supportive creative spaces are a rare and important part of any artistic community!”

The Shoebox education programme has been a great success, with weekly classes for beginners, more advanced classes for experienced performers and weekly stage combat classes.

Experienced theatre professionals have led masterclasses, which are subsidised by the theatre to make them more affordable.

As the theatre’s second year unrolls, new ideas are coming to fruition.

“We’ve been very busy over the last year developing the space, hanging lights, installing seating and making the Shoebox as welcoming as possible for both performers and audiences.

“We’re now looking towards the future and developing our programme of professional performances and finding new ways to engage with emerging theatre makers in and around Swindon,” Luke said.

“One of the events that we’re currently working on, is a festival of original performances, offering rehearsal space, guidance and support to young and emerging performers and companies.”

Accessibility has always been a guiding principle for Shoebox.

“With ticket prices set at no more than £10 and a subsidised educational programme, it has become a hotbed of creativity and is leading the way for contemporary theatre and actor training in the town,” Hannah said.

Next up on the education programme is a masterclass called An Introduction to Screen Acting, a one-day workshop led by Matt Cross on February 17 - which is fully booked.

The next performance will be a play called Autobahn, by Neil LaBute, an immersive production by The Scullions on February 24 and 25 at 7pm, suitable for ages 14 plus.

To find out more about the Shoebox Theatre visit