Cuts in arts funding, whether it’s the Arts Council or cuts to theatre companies and venues, are constantly in the news, but Gina Frost and John Topliff of 3Minute Theatre in Manchester are bucking the trend by running with no subsidy at all:
We knew once the ConDem government came in that our jobs in theatre studies at a local college were threatened. We also knew that as we were in our early 50s that it was going to be hard to find work so we decided to develop a small theatre and do teaching and learning during the day
Frost and Topliff had a lifetime of experience as performers and teachers so it was at that point they decided to try and set up their own theatre. 3MT is based in Afflecks Palace in the Northern Quarter and is literally inside a shop unit where Frost and Topliff have built a 70 seat theatre with a stage, seating and bar out of donations and recycled items from skips.
They carry on their teaching in the weekly workshops they run on a Saturday:
Anyone can come along to our workshops. We work with actors and non-actors and help them devise a piece that lasts three minutes. Outside in the arcade we set up a stage and then invite the audience to watch the plays and from their feedback decide which we are going to help develop further so that they can progress to the main stage.
At any one time they have up to three plays that they are helping the actors to develop in what they call their Headway Project:
We put a focus on adults who want to have a go at acting, who maybe cannot go to college, but we see it as a part of the community focus that runs alongside the business side of 3MT
Frost comes from Clayton in East Manchester and was introduced to performing through her local church:
It was a great community at St. Paul’s Church and I learnt so much from doing the shows there, not just performing but everything, including making the costumes! It was a lovely community experience.
Like many of the adults who come to their Saturday workshops, she had to combine working during the day with performing at night. Eventually she did a Theatre Studies Degree and became a teacher. She met Topliff in 1990;
We worked in the same band. I was a professional singer and John was the bass player. We got on really well together and our skills and interests compliment each other. We also both wanted to set up our own theatre.
3MT was opened in July 2011. Frost and Topliff have not received any funding to set up and develop the space and depend on a wide-ranging calendar of events to bring in an audience and pay the bills. This includes City Centre Cinema, 24/7 Theatre Festival, The Badly Stuffed Animal Cabaret, as well as esoteric performers such as Ushiku Crisafulli and his performance art. They also run a range of workshops in singing, comedy and theatre, some of which will be accredited to LAMDA from September. The theatre can also be rented out by individuals and groups for events such as album launches and parties.
One of the aims of Frost and Topliff was to combine a community venue with a business that would pay the bills. One year on, 3MT has a reputation for not only being a venue that will encourage small performers and projects but also being a theatre space that is warm and inviting to performers and audience alike:
We are dedicated to the development of emerging local talent and premiering the best new work Manchester has to offer. We wanted our own theatre with writers, actors, singers, musicians and artists, all coming together to create a magic space where anything can happen – and usually does!
Further information see
If you have enjoyed this article and would like to support this blog by making a donation you can do using this button