A week ago I was in Plymouth to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the opening of the doors of Plymouth Theatre Royal to audiences for the first time. On Tue 3rd May 1982 a friendly audience came into the building to help us test audience flow, see some local acts on stage, help us with acoustics, and even get themselves evacuated. Two days later all was set for Princess Margaret to meet all the Civic “chain gang” who basked in the applause of what they had achieved for the City. We all rushed around opening doors and making sure everyone was happy, and then got back to the main job of running a theatre and growing a reputation for this amazing building.
What was wonderful last week was the meeting of the old and the new. James Mackenzie Blackman, the new CEO and his amazing staff and senior management welcomed a group of 18 of us. Many of us had not met each other for 35 to 38 years. Some of the guests had not been back inside the building in all that time because we had moved on to jobs around the UK. There were joyful reunions, scurrilous memories, and most importantly some ghosts of unhappy times lain to rest – which come from struggling to open and then run a major new arts building.
James created a wonderful series of small events through the day which allowed us also to celebrate people like Gordon Stratford (the original General Manager/boss of the building), Chris Hayes (the original Artistic Director of the Plymouth Theatre Company) and others who are no longer alive to meet up with us all. Very special to have Angela Lanyon (original Theatre Manager and acting general manager after Gordon) with a wealth of stories, Andrzej Blonski (lead architect) revealing to us why the famous backstage tiles are bright green, and Becky Stratford (Gordon’s daughter) who spent her teens in/around the theatre, all there to share memories.
38 years since we finished working as a marketing/press/publicity triumvirate Mary Price, Howard Sherwood and I explored the old marketing office we shared. (Still the marketing office in fact). Although Howard and I have worked often since, and I owe my CGO logo to his design skills, Mary and I picked up where we left off, and I hope we will meet again soon.
As I was travelling back home I thought around other moments in my theatre life where there must be Anniversaries coming up (and one I found I’d just missed)
5th July 2024 – 50 years since the doors opened at Christ’s Hospital Arts Centre [although the royal arrival and dignitaries event wasn’t till 2nd December 1975] [I was one of the original resident stage/lx team but a dancer in the later gala]
19th August 2024 – 25 years since the first performance of the summer season at Theatre by the Lake in Keswick [I was co-project manager for the design, fundraising and development of the building]
And oh no I missed it – April 2022 – the 30th anniversary of the first UK Festival of Musicals at Buxton Opera House where we went from 491 musical submissions from 16 countries, down to sharing around 25 works in full production and in professional showcase. I want to take a moment to look back at the cast lists from those workshops. So many memories and maybe Roger Haines (Artistic Director) and I should have a 31st birthday party.
As you go through your career, do think about celebrating anniversaries. And do them before its too late. Gordon Stratford sadly died before he could be part of a re-falling-in-love with the theatre last week. James made the best possible speech to Angela and to all of us, thanking us for helping to create the theatre which he now leads into the future.
Now to mark 5th July in my diary for next year and alert CH that some very old techies will want to explore the building.