It’s not every day you get to (almost) stand centre stage at Mayflower Theatre.
Between lockdowns and riding the roller coaster of the 2020/2021 pandemic and its devastating effect on live performances and events, didn’t necessarily feel like the best time to get up there. But to focus on a new vision and to bring it to life, ready for when we all get back together, was exactly the right time and it couldn’t come too soon.
We were asked to help name and brand, Studio 144 in Southampton’s Guildhall Square – part of the burgeoning Cultural Quarter and a bespoke creative space which was no longer in use. At this key point in Southampton’s bid to become City of Culture in 2025 Mayflower it also felt like the time was right to seize that opportunity with all its community’s hands.
The Mayflower Theatre is a huge part of the city and much loved; providing inspiring experiences for audiences of many kinds. The theatre itself providing a strong, adaptable canvas on which to host and stage a wide variety of performances.
To understand how we named the new studios space and branded it, we’d like to set the scene:
We created the Mayflower Theatre brand in 2013 to reflect its chameleon like ability to display at its best, whichever production is visiting and performing on its stage. The Mayflower reputation and brand is a guarantee of quality and strength to support and enhance every performance.
There are eight Mayflower sub-brands, which are used to reflect the types of production on its stage at any given time, and to demonstrate the theatre’s ability to adapt while staying fundamentally constant and strong.
While Mayflower Theatre is one of the most visited and best loved theatres in the UK, it does not create its own productions and by necessity must appeal to and attract, bigger audiences with largely mainstream productions.
Mayflower Engage sits under the theatre’s hero brand and offers a community and outreach programme of events, workshops, projects, and performances aimed at providing opportunities to more people to get involved with theatre.
This has been hugely successful initiative with 26,176 people reached by Engage activity in 2018/19.
But the drive to reach out further, to a wider audience and to become more inclusive, appealing to those currently not interested or engaged in live performance, is paramount. Engaging successfully with those who believe theatre offers nothing for them or is too exclusive, expensive, or simply just not ‘relevant’ is the vision for the former Studio 144 and the new brand.
New Space – Studio 144 VISION
New Space will be a cauldron for arts of all kinds. An opportunity to create and produce new things, as well as host productions not suitable for the larger theatre. Performances from dance to poetry and plays to music – rooted in the arts culture of Southampton but with potential, national appeal.
Thomas Miller Creative ran a three-hour workshop with Mayflower key staff, to work through naming and branding conventions and to prepare to build a brand for the New Space/ Studio 144.
We discussed New Space’s connection to the main Mayflower brand; what we wanted to retain and what we wanted to newly establish.
The discussion began with a general view that the Mayflower brand should be only loosely connected with New Space. However, as we talked more about the brand benefits of New Space and the experiences and inspirations we wanted to facilitate, we came quickly to agree that the brand value inherent in the Mayflower Theatre and Engage brands was huge and if positioned correctly, would only help New Space to establish and grow. We should not compete or ignore the value of Mayflower’s overarching brand value.
Quality, inspiration, experience, confidence, creativity, collaboration, community are the core tenets of New Space.
It was agreed that the trust and reputation inherent in the Mayflower brand would be vital in inspiring confidence in the New Space offering, but we would need to be clear about New Space relative positioning and offering.
An endorsed brand architecture was agreed; one which would give New Space its own differentiated identity, but which would be strongly associated with and boosted by, the main brand strength. Thus, creating a bond of trust and overcoming any barriers related to the past.
We then explored what we wanted the value of New Space to be; to our audiences and the people who will come to work, create, and learn.
We agreed that this is not going to be a place to just visit and ‘watch’, it is to be an involving, inclusive, creative space, to introduce and empower a range of talents, skills, ideas and enthusiasm to create new things for more people from a wider variety of backgrounds and experiences.
We want to be proud of New Space and we want the city to be proud of what New Space will do and will offer to its citizens and visitors and, above all for people to be proud of New Space and its city.
We explored what New Space would be/would mean to people.
We discussed and discounted the use of the word ‘theatre’ in the name, as it did not describe the spaces. Theatre is too narrow, too loaded with preconceived ideas and too close the Mayflower Theatre.
We considered a variety of names under specific themes:
We agreed that classic/traditional names did not represent the forward vision.
Pragmatic names such as Hub or Collective described some aspects of New Space use but did not inspire confidence in the space itself or the power and vision of the brand.
Modern names while being cool now – would date quickly.
Engineered names while seeming clever would not be inclusive, dividing the workshop (and therefore also our audience) with what was perceived as working well and what was not.
The imperative to find a truth and an honesty in a new name enabled us to focus in on and exclude, anything that was not strong, clear, or genuine.
‘Studios’ is both a contemporary and classic description of a creative space. A studio is where any artist creates their art, a place when people come to see and experience whatever is being offered or created. It is open minded, an experimental and a timeless description, implying intimacy without seeming small. Big ideas in a personal space.
‘Studios’ also gives a sense of wider ownership, it makes the spaces feel accessible, like it can be adopted for a personal vision to create art, theatre, music or film, etc. It will encourage people to enquire, be intrigued, there are no barriers. A studio is an empty space for producing something from within. It differentiates beautifully from Theatre but connects perfectly with the hero brand.
Mayflower Studios is timeless.
But to further differentiate and mark New Space, we discussed a way that Mayflower Studios could become a mark of quality and creativity. Of the stories being told in the room to support individual ideas for the new name, the link with Mayflower, the city and the maritime connection inherent, started to emerge more strongly.
A mast is the core of a bigger ship. A tall, strong structure to which many things can be safely and securely attached. A high point to be climbed to see further. A mast has an important supportive job to hold the sails to allow propulsion along a journey. It is the first thing to be spotted on the horizon. MA and ST are also the first two letters of Mayflower Studios providing a pleasing link.
MAST – a mark of excellence for what Mayflower Studios will create for Southampton.
And we cannot wait to visit, take part, and immerse ourselves in the culture of this vibrant city.