It was an icy January. A bunch of friends went down into the ruins of a cellar that had previously been famous locally as the medieval-themed Mad Megs restaurant. Walls were painted, floors cleaned, a bar stocked and a kitchen transformed into a dressing room. On the 8th February 2010, The Bike Shed Theatre flung open its doors to welcome a curious audience. The first production a new play: The Distance by Craig Norman.
Intended as a pop-up space, within weeks the venue was heralded as “keeping theatre alive in Exeter” (The Guardian). Indeed, such was the appetite for the venue – with successful productions including Shaun McCarthy’s Beanfield – that the joint Directors (Fin Irwin and David Lockwood) chose to expand into an adjacent cellar, allowing the first to become a bar to support the running costs of the theatre.
By the time the Bike Shed celebrated its first Christmas, the organisation was winning critical acclaim for its work, including a new devised production of The Little Prince, whilst the bar was serving the finest cocktails in the city to hundreds of people each weekend. Exeter Living declared that the venue had “electrified the city’s arts scene”.
2012 saw a change of approach, putting the focus on visiting companies rather than self-generated work. Keen to remain a place of creation, a residency model was invented in which exciting emerging companies were invited to use the space to develop a new show during the day whilst performing existing work in the evenings. A handful of brave pioneers took the risk, developing deeper relationships with the city and its audiences as a result. Three of the first are now Bike Shed associates (Third Man, The Wardrobe Ensemble and Rhum and Clay).
The following year, the Bike Shed was named the UK Theatre’s Most Welcoming Theatre, an award decided by public vote, showing the warmth of feeling held by audiences to the venue.
In 2014. the venue was invited to join Arts Council England’s National Portfolio of core-funded organisations. This increase of funding and profile has enabled the venue to attract an ever-higher quality of work. It has also enabled the organisation to better support those who choose to make Devon their home. Support which, in that icy January six years ago, didn’t exist.