It’s our 40th anniversary year!  An achievement worth celebrating for a small independent Exeter-based theatre.  Cygnet Theatre’s founders Monica Shallis and Mary Evans, met at the first Exeter Arts Festival and then went on to start Cygnet Actor Training.  Having a festival once more, is recognition of where it all started, but also a genuine desire to connect with other arts organisations in the city and bring a little joy after a tough few years for everyone.

Why is the festival called Exeter DREAM Festival 2022?

Exeter Dream Festival 2022 falls over midsummer, and the festival will be peppered with Mid-Summer Night’s Dream references – Avanti School is putting on a shortened version of the play at Cygnet.  It was the favourite play of our Founder Monica Shallis.  The festival theme is ‘finding your creative spark’.  Inspiring people to connect with their creativity and take the first bold steps towards reaching their creative dreams.  We were also inspired by the Martin Luther King ‘I have a dream’ speech.  There are so many ways that DREAM resonates.  The words also stand for Drama, Resilience, Exeter, Arts, Music.  I think the pandemic gave people time to think about their ‘dreams’ and consider changes that they might want to make in their lives.  Not necessarily massive dreams, but sometimes something as simple as joining a creative writing class, taking walks in nature with Emma Welton’s Sound Walks or signing up for online ballet with Tara Smith, can turn things around for people.

Southwest Dance Hub (Cygnet Theatre)

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Some festival events

London-based Multi-Story Orchestra are performing at the underground car park at IKEA on Friday 1st July with 30 school children from Isca school.  They performed at The Proms in 2016 and are regulars on BBC Radio 3/BBC Radio 4. 

We have a singer/songwriter competition with Brazen Studios.

The Hall in Stepcote Hill is hosting a PechaKucha event – 7 minutes and 20 slides to talk about any topic (the extreme opposite of a TED talk) on 14 May.

Exeter College is performing Romeo and Juliet at The Yard Theatre (from 11 May).  The College are also hosting an Oscar evening (30 June), a dance show at Corn Exchange (17 May) and a Musical of Musical evenings at Barnfield Theatre (From 19 May). 

St Petrock are holding an art exhibition at John Lewis of the artwork of some of their homeless clients, which will be incredible to see.

  • We have flash mobs planned in Princesshay – 14 May
  • Live music and workshops on the Cathedral Green – 9 June
  • Roman Storytelling evening at RAMM – 17 June
  • Renowned theatre director Richard Digby Day will be talking to Artistic Director of the Northcott, Daniel Buckroyd – 14 June

St Nicholas Priory, one of our biggest supports for this festival, also have an incredible programme of Dream Festival events from Baroque Love Songs from 16th and 17th Century (9th/10th June) to a production of Shakespeare’s ‘All’s Well that ends Well’ on 24 June by a young theatre group, who are running a series of confidence-building workshops for us in the city’s Libraries.

We even have a life coach running a session ‘Realising Our Dreams’ on 21st June at Exeter Central Library to encourage people to try something new and connect with their creativity.  It’s all about discovering the confidence to take that first step out of your comfort zone.


John Lewis and IKEA, Harry’s restaurant, Topsham Brewery, St Petrock’s shop at 19 Paris Street, The Mint Methodist Church, the historic Guildhall and Princesshay.  The festival is all about bringing art to unexpected places and I think we will certainly have hit this marker.  We are also super grateful to be working with Exeter Northcott, Exeter RAMM, Exeter Phoenix, Exeter University, St Nicholas Priory, The Corn Exchange and so many other arts venues.

Paddleboat Theatre (Exeter Library)

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Famous faces

Jack Ryder

Director Jack Ryder, Jamie in Eastenders many years ago, who has worked with many great actors including Sir Kenneth Branagh, will be on a panel talking to young aspiring actors. 

‘If sharing my story helps one young person be a step closer to achieving their acting dreams, I am more than happy to give my time.  It’s such a great asset to have a training theatre in Exeter.   I am totally behind Cygnet’s aim not only to get more people into the theatre, but also to bring creative experiences to less conventional spaces.  Creativity makes the world a brighter and better place.  A festival might be the tonic we all need after this pandemic’.

Film actor Andrew Howard, who trained at Cygnet, will be flying in from Los Angeles to take part in a discussion evening at the theatre.  Well-known for appearing in Tenet, Band of Brothers, The Hangover Part II and recently playing the villain in a big HBO remake of Perry Mason. 

We have received a handwritten note from Imelda Staunton wishing us good luck for our 40th Anniversary festival

Sir Ian McKellen wrote to us a few days earlier to wish us luck and we received an email from theatre director (and Cygnet Patron) Peter Brook

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Ian McKellen at Cygnet

We recently received a lovely note from Sir Ian McKellen wishing us luck with Exeter Dream Festival 2022.  He surprised the Cygnet audience of 30th January 2018, when he appeared in the crowd at a performance of The Long Mirror by JB Priestley, by a company of 6 young actors in training and directed by eminent director Richard Digby Day.  He then spent the following day talking to the actors and discussing the show:

‘In future, when I am asked what an aspiring actor can do to advance their hopes for a career in live theatre, I shall recommend applying for a place at The Cygnet’.

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Imelda Staunton

Cygnet were surprised and delighted to receive a handwritten card of congratulations for their 40th anniversary from well-known screen actor, Imelda Staunton.  Definitely one to keep for the festival archive!

Other Cygnet Success Stories

Former student Kate Godrey, herself a successful actor for ten years, was Head of Voice for the Royal Shakespeare Company, skills which she brought back to Cygnet to the benefit of its young trainees.

Penny McGhie who recently appeared in Dr Who and The Crown and regularly works at The National Theatre, is also an alumna, as is Harvey Robinson who was in the original cast of Jerusalem by Jez Butterworth which opened at The Royal Court, moving to the West End and then went on to Broadway.

One of our Swedish graduates, Hakan Bengtsson starred in TV series Wallander and he plays the lead in a Swedish detective series, ‘The Hunt for a Killer’ that was shown on BBC 4 last year and is available to watch now on iplayer.

Funding the festival

The festival has happened due to the positive partnerships we have developed with the arts community, through funding from charitable trusts and due to the generous support of the Exeter business community, who have stepped in at key points to get the festival back on track (thank you IKEA, One Voice Media, Alder and Alder and TOCO Digital).  The biggest breakthrough was possibly, when InExeter sponsored the festival and enabled us to make massive leaps forward with our website design and branding.  We are so grateful to InExeter for this crucial and timely support.  Pear Marketing have also been big supporters from the early planning stages of the festival.

Exe Squared Ltd recently donated £500 which enabled us to put on an event at Exeter RAMM for the festival.  Likewise, a generous grant from Wild Things Gifts Ltd is paying for a group of vulnerably housed women, to attend a theatre show at St Nicholas Priory and a confidence-building workshop with Troubadour Stageworks.  John Lewis is hosting an art exhibition for the 10 weeks of the festival and IKEA are hosting our headline event in their car park.  Princesshay have provided us with venues and a generous donation to pay for artists to perform in the festival.

‘It is a major challenge getting the funding we need to keep the theatre and drama school going, but we somehow manage to just about, do it each year.  Going strong at forty, especially considering the current circumstances, is quite some achievement’ said Hannah Goodaire, Theatre Manager.

‘What we do is special.  The training the students receive is so comprehensive that graduates are well equipped to go on to work in TV, theatre, or film, and they have done so to great success.  Students learn how to create their own work and build a path for themselves in the industry’.

What has been so good about this festival has been the incredible in-kind support.  Businesses donating their expertise, their marketing support and employee time has made the most incredible difference to this project.  We would love to hear from more businesses about any ways that they might like to support us.  Even sharing our posts on social media is incredibly valuable and can make a real difference to audience attendance levels and revenue.

Multi-Story Orchestra (IKEA Car Park)

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Cygnet Theatre
Ham and Passion at the Cygnet Theatre (c) Maria Falconer

Cygnet is a training theatre with a varied programme of classical, modern and musical plays throughout the year, including new theatre works. The theatre has nearly 40 years experience of helping young actors to develop their individual qualities.  They offer drama training in the form of one day courses, a one year foundation course or three years full time professional training for actors.  Cygnet graduates have gone on to have successful careers in all aspects of stage, film, TV & Radio, to form their own companies and found theatres.



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