Will Whelton and Hope Mill Theatre

January 25, 2019

I was first introduced to Will through my wife, then I was lucky enough to sing at the opening of his theatre. I knew then that he was going to do something amazing!


He has done incredibly well with his husband Joe to make their theatre one of the best in Manchester. I just had to ask him to take part in my guest posts!



What do you like most about theatre?


What I love most about Theatre is being able to surround myself with usually the funniest, most creative and talented people I know. I count myself incredibly lucky to do something I just love! Although it can be very tough, and there is usually no money to be made, I think I am fortunate to do something I adore everyday. I believe in Theatre and the good it can do to others, not just in entertainment value. It can change stereotypes, it can give people a voice whose stories would never have been told, it can provide escapism from the challenges of life, if can inspire and educate the next generation, it can help loneliness and it can help build equality.


What are the challenges of owning a theatre?


Well owning a Theatre is a lot of fun but a pretty big challenge. When I think back to 4 years ago when I thought it was a good idea and I could just do it no problem, I do have a chuckle to myself. Although I have done it, it hasn’t been without its challenges. I always say to people if I knew now just how hard and sometimes impossible it was gonna be, I wouldn’t have bothered. But I didn’t know, I just had determination and passion and knew it would work out. The challenges are that no day is ever the same, but then that is also one of the things I love about it. We have built a Theatre, Audience and reputation from nothing and that Is something very special. Finances are always a challenge, and any money we have made had been ploughed back into the business to improve our facilities and improve our audiences experience. We knew going into this, to have a Theatre that produces incredible shows is one thing, but the main factor is ensuring audiences want to come back again and again, which is why that has been a major focus for us.


What made you switch from performing to theatre owner?


The decision I have always said to move away from performing was one I believe was taken away from me, and I really believe it comes down to fate. I had done a few lovely jobs in the 2 years out of drama school, but it was in one, one that basically paid me nothing but was a passion project I got ill and did some damage on my voice. I had a pollup on my vocal folds, and it wasn’t going away on it’s own. I required surgery, laser to be exact which was incredibly scary as with one mistake I could of ended up losing my speaking voice, let alone my singing voice. The surgery was a success but fate would have it that within 6 weeks of my operation it came back, so I had lost all my savings and had to have the operation done again. This had a massive impact on my mental health at the time and meant I had an entire year out. Around 4 months of which were on complete vocal rest. There is nothing worse than having to write things down in order to communicate, and I did lose a little bit of myself at this time.


Having said that, this is what forced me to do something. I wasn’t going to give up that easy, at this time performing again was still questionable, so I was contemplating what to do with my life? I loved the industry but didn’t I want to be surrounded by people who could sing, when I no longer could? So I decided put on a pantomime at a theatre near where I grew up in Cheshire. I produced Cinderella and fell in love with creating theatre and giving opportunities. I loved producing and I actually choreographed the show as well.


Anyway as it turns out I did get the all clear, and I did work again, but something had gone for me. The magic and passion to be on stage was dead. I decided to take a break and move back home to Cheshire/ Manchester to take some time out and decide what I wanted to do with my life. Then one day… I decided to open up a Theatre in Manchester… a few people said it was a good idea… so I did it!




What's the most fulfilling aspect of owning a theatre?


My absolute favourite thing about owning a Theatre is seeing audience members love what we put on, whether it’s something we have programmed in, or something we are producing I love when people laugh/ cry or leave thinking after a show we have in our Theatre.








How do you decide what shows to put on?


We have a very high standard when it comes to programming, we simply want the best, but we also love our diverse programming. We obviously have a passion for musicals as a venue, but I love programming all sorts of things so there is something for everyone and people might try something new. As I write this we have a performance in the Theatre of ‘Club Mex’ an immersive club night musical based on Love Island meets Benidorm! Diverse! In a few weeks we have a play written by Jack Thorne, the same writer as ‘This is England’.


What are you most looking forward to in 2019?


This year I am looking forward to so many things, it is a big year for us… We have an amazing Programme and we have 3 in house musicals which are going to be spectacular… ‘Rags’ written by Stephen Schwartz (Wicked) then ‘Mame’ starring Tracie Bennett finishing with ‘The Astonishing Times of Timothy Cratchit’ which is a new musical and the sequel to ‘A Christmas Carol’.


This year is also incredibly exciting because our production of ‘Hair’ which started in our Theatre over 2 years ago (which I choreographed) is going on a Number 1 UK tour this April- July. It is coming back to Manchester to the Palace Theatre in April. This is the biggest scale we have ever produced on and a dream come true to have a show of mine in the Theatre I went regularly as a child, where it all began.


When did you and Joe come up with the idea of running your own theatre?


I think answered above?


Do you ever look at the shows that are on at Hope Mill and want to be in them?


I never look at performers in shows I watch and ever miss treading the boards anymore really, which is why I know I have made the right decision for me. I am happier having some control over my own career now, and I love the diversity that comes from what I do everyday. I often wonder where their energy comes from now be honest, I do feel 100 years old sometimes. Don’t get me wrong I still have dream roles but they are spared for me, my car and my stereo nowadays.


Apart from putting on great shows, what else do you want Hope Mill Theatre to achieve?


This year is a big year for Hope Mill Theatre and something we have thought a lot about. We have decided to transition Hope Mill into a Charity, for many reasons but mainly to protect what we have built for the long term as our dream is to leave the Theatre to Manchester long after we are gone. I also truly believe in the good theatre can do, so by becoming a charity means we can become more accessible, more affordable and help people in our local community. I want Hope Mill Theatre to be a Treasure of Manchester that many people experience and enjoy for many years to come.



How involved do you get with the shows that are on? Do you help cast/help with rehearsals?


I am very involved in the in house shows we produce, I have choreographed 4 of them, so usually around for the entire process when that is the case.  I have been in many auditions over the years for our shows, but casting is a team job, and usually involves everyone from creatives to producers, and of course our casting director. Sometimes on the shows I will do more general management jobs like payroll (everyone needs to be paid). All our shows are passion projects so when the budgets are tight because we insist on paying our artists sometimes you have to paint, source costumes and use a drill. Everyone we work with is passionate about what we do and we all have the end goal of making the production the best it can be. I have had many a night in a Theatre at 4am painting a floor but the show must go on.


What do you think makes a good performer/performance?


A good performer is someone who obviously is very talented, but has something about them, a spark or something special. I am personally drawn to big characters and people who are just nice people! Ultimately you want to work with people you want to be around for long periods of time. I believe the best performers are usually people who have experienced life, whatever that is, but people who can connect easily with emotion and empathise with others. I think this is why a lot of people in our industry suffer with their mental health, which is why it is so important we talk more in our industry about it.


If you could put on any show, what would it be?


My dream shows to put on (as I cant just choose one) would be RENT, TABOO or BRIGHTSTAR.



Check out the websites below for more information on upcoming shows and opportunities:




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