Built 1788, closed 1848, reopened 1963, restored and extended 2003
GEORGIAN THEATRE ROYAL, RICHMOND
KEYNOTE SPEECH BY THE ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, GIVEN AT A STAKEHOLDERS DAY 23 June 2004
We are pleased that representatives of almost every contributor to the working life of the Georgian Theatre Royal are here for the day, as well as people from some potential new organisations with whom we hope to work in future. As the Chairman, Lady Crathorne has said in her welcome, we hope that this stakeholders’ day will enable us to learn more about you, and for you to learn more about this theatre, its aspirations, enormous potential and challenges.
The first point about the Theatre Royal I would like to emphasise is this special space. All practices and our policies radiate from these boards. The courtyard shape and design of the 1788 stage and 214-seat auditorium are the source of the artistic, political and social economy of this theatre. With fantastic new stage technologies, it now has immense new possibilities. Even so, since reopening, our core goals have not changed too much from those of 1963 when the theatre previously reopened: at root, we want to continue to present good shows and to get full houses so that we can balance our budgets within our means. Many performances have played to near capacity since reopening. We have doubled the schedule to 48 weeks’ opening a year and over 122 performances. The theatre is on target to sell 17,000 tickets this year. There is nothing more exciting to us than when this auditorium, the new bars and the foyers are buzzing at a full house.
When we go to the theatre to see a show elsewhere, it is long odds that we know all about the performers who are bathed in the glare of the ballyhoo. It is generally long odds that we know little about the building in which we see them. Theatres, as such, get little or no publicity, except when they are built or renovated, or when there is a funding scandal and the management goes bust. Theatres do very little to commemorate their greatness and maybe this is why they do not catch the imagination of the public in greater numbers.
I believe it is different at the Georgian Theatre Royal. Firstly, it has that impalpable but precious thing called atmosphere. There is a sort of electricity that lingers in the air, from the performers’ endeavours to please and give delight. Secondly, there is an aftermath of battles fought and won. When you come in here alone, after a full house the night before, you can almost feel the reactions of that seemingly inanimate thing – the auditorium itself – to the emotion which has been spent here at the performance. Something of it always remains. This is one of the reasons why the Georgian is loved by our volunteer guides.
Thirdly, the Georgian is imbibed with unusual dedication and friendliness towards the theatregoer and artists alike. This is a most important spirit. In large part, it stems from the volunteer ushers who contribute over 10,000 hours’ work this year. Like our patrons, they come to this theatre for illusion. Even in the multimedia age, this stage is the window to the land of illusion – excitement, danger, adventure, romance, music, melody, beauty and colour, and anguish, tragedy, melancholy and torture as well. That is show business and is the purpose of theatre. One challenge we have is to keep at bay from the audiences, the unholy trade of the so-called ‘arts’ and the dreariness of the new language of arts policy. We cannot avoid ‘arts management’ of course, and therefore – excepting the appearance of Lady Crathorne – we don’t promise too much glamour on stage at today’s proceedings!
But there is a fourth intervention at the Georgian: the stage-audience relationship is always a battlefield on which numerous fights have been fought – fought to a finish. For every new performance is a battle between audiences in pit, boxes and gallery, and the allied forces of theatre management, author, composer and performers on this side. All this adds to the theatrical atmosphere. No other kind of building can produce quite the same thing, and the Georgian Theatre Royal does this acutely well.
There is very little sanity at the Georgian Theatre, at least the sort of sanity which belongs in the business world. We don’t deal in an ordinary marketable commodity or ‘product’. We deal in something which might be of great value or worth nothing at all. Nobody can predict with certainty which it will be, but it is Vaughn Curtis, our theatre manager, who has the impresario role of selecting the professional shows. Our amateur companies, Richmond Amateur Dramatic Society and Richmond Operatic Society, are self-selecting in their repertoire, and these companies are the backbone of this theatre as a community playhouse. For professional productions, Vaughn does not merely react to a number of outside pressures and possibilities from promoters. As can be seen in several attractions this year, there is room for imaginative dramatic and musical choice; he has to be a critic as well as a manager.
Like all good theatre people, Vaughn gets on with the job and what you see on stage is the result of his labour. The best theatre managers are those who began their careers backstage: Vaughn is a former stage manager in production companies and repertory theatres, and so unlike many arts administrators today who have not worked the show, he is not given to articulating policy in hyperbole. Like his predecessor, producer-manager Bill Sellars, he is a practical person and when you get him to one side, is loquacious about the future of this theatre. What he is charged with, as are the trustees, is to sustain and satisfy four separate interests: artistic integrity, management necessity, sponsor demands, and audience enthusiasm. These four interests rarely run in harmony but the constant juggling of priorities is Vaughn’s forte. Sometimes, sponsors’ demands could result in a loss of artistic integrity; too forward an artistic policy might excite one stakeholder but cause the manager problems as audiences dwindle and losses mount. He does not have enough money and certainly no programming reserve on which to gamble an imaginative adventure; a small theatre like the Georgian must constantly negotiate with artists and visiting company managements to ensure that we retain as much of the box office income to pay for the Georgian’s operation, which now has a turnover of £240,000. Hardly a glossy commercial theatre enterprise! Hardly a well subsidised local authority theatre like nearby Darlington Civic. He has to keep the artistic side vibrant, the stakeholders happy, the public enthused, and the theatre financially stable. It’s the old chestnut: the balance between the art of the theatre and its commerce, together with your expectations; these are possibly the key phrases for stakeholders today.
Meanwhile, it is not unusual for theatre managers to attempt to describe the future instead. My part-time job here is associate director, which means I help the board, the theatre manager and the other two fulltime and part-time staff with anything they put my way, such as developing and writitng the business plan, scouting for attractions and, specifically, to develop a higher education programme at the Georgian by promoting pride in our theatre inheritance as a living theatre museum.
For the art of theatre, we have several goals that are a combination of idealism and reality that are worth enunciating today. Their realisation could transform the Georgian into much more than a great theatre. They descend from our tripod of policy as, 1) a community playhouse, 2) a professional touring theatre and 3) a living theatre museum.
The goals, and some of our recent responses, are:
- To programme more innovating drama, opera, ballet, dance, pantomime and music. The 2003 Christmas Pantomime was a near-sell out for one week; we hope to meet demand by presenting a three weeks Christmas show in future.
- To identify new long term partnerships with professional theatre-makers and promoters whose artistic vision we share; a start has been made with Northern Broadsides Theatre Company: The Merchant of Venice and The Bells in 2004. We also have the benefit of a professional theatre company in Richmond, the North Country Theatre, with whom there are opportunities for collaboration in future, as there is with Swaledale Festival. These partnerships should not merely be surrogate signings; our aim is to create a programming reserve to make small investments in artists who whose potential or accomplishments we revere. One plan is to commission a new play about the clown Joseph Grimaldi, from Tony Lidington.
- To find theatregoers for different art forms from all sectors of our population; we now have our first marketing officer on staff. Laura Hannaway was appointed in March, thanks to a National Lottery grant and a generous sponsorship from Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, the theatre should now be able to promote itself through more sophisticated means, assisted by market analysis.
- To adopt a new education programme, involving members of our communities of all ages as audiences and participants. For stakeholders here today, the education programme may be our most significant ambition: the Georgian Youth Theatre was reformed last year. We have a partnership with Richmond School, now a designated performing arts college, and we have the opportunity to refurbish a space in Fryar’s Wynd to be a studio and much needed office space. Later, we need proper housing for the theatre’s substantial archive.
- To make available the Georgian Theatre Royal as a resource for all people of Richmond and our communities. These communities also include theatre artists and musicians of the future, from vocational drama schools and conservatoires who we would like to see gain experience in reviving the repertoire of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century that is so suited to this stage. In this regard, we have exciting plans to collaborate with the Theatre Royal at Bury St Edmunds.
- To develop the theatre museum space behind the stage and other heritage potential, such as the Butler circuit at theatre sites in Kendal, Northallerton, Beverley, Harrogate, Whitby and Ulverston.
These aims may at first seem to be disparate activities. On closer examination, the three policies (community playhouse, professional touring house and living theatre museum) and their descending strands are interlocking, so as to make for a cohesive and forward-looking vision, which is ultimately of a community where everybody in our catchment area enjoys and values this theatre. These aims were set in motion before the refurbishments; there are few objectives that will come as a surprise to most of you today. The aims are not entirely our invention because many stakeholders here today helped to frame them. These aims were the reason for restoring and extending the Georgian. With so many of them in their infancy, it would be indulgent to offer even more new initiatives. They have become a strategic necessity; an unstoppable momentum attributable to stakeholder expectation that propels the Georgian willingly into the twenty-first century.
As Lady Crathorne has said, Richmond has inherited one of the top European heritage theatres. We are the first UK member of the Association of Historic Theatres in Europe. This is one of only nine Grade 1 listed theatres remaining in Great Britain. Before refurbishment, the Georgian was a very well-managed theatre in the old school; it was successful because of modest ambition and a sensible, commonplace schedule and survival strategies. The Board of Directors showed that it could run the theatre on an even keel and, recently and more significantly, managed to bring the £1.6 million capital project in on budget and on schedule. This is unique amongst complex theatre reconstruction projects of recent years. A new economic and benefit for the town is poised to take root. Today, stakeholders rightly expect these new ambitions for artistic, social and educational vibrancy, with, I hope, the emphasis remaining firmly on the art of the theatre.
The Georgian is at a crossroads in the narrative of this introduction. We have a disproportionately and comparatively low operating investment from public sources. The theatre cannot progress the important education activities and pursue the other integral missions without new stakeholder investments. Strategies to address these challenges will be discussed in the workshops and plenary after lunch; we will all be most grateful for your advice and continuing involvement.
For further details about this speech, see the plan authored by Paul Iles and the Georgian Theatre trustees: Download Georgian Theatre Royal Business Plan 2004-2007
THE GEORGIAN THEATRE ROYAL
Built 1788, closed 1848, reopened 1963, restored and extended 2003
One of the most venerated theatres in Europe
A founder member of the Association of Historic Theatres in Europe
‘A neat house, well fitted up, and the scenery and other ornaments very appropriate.’
THE HOTCHPOTCH PANTOMIME!!!
Programme introduction and prologue for the reopening of the Georgian Theatre Royal, Richmond, 3 September 2003
The PUBLIC is respectfully informed, that during the Recess, the THEATRE ROYAL has undergone considerable Alteration and Embellishment; the whole of the Interior entirely CLEANED, REPAINTED or RETOUCHED and to these alterations are added new ORNAMENTIONS including a NEW GRAND FRONT CURTAIN displaying a PANORAMA OF THE TOWN; painted CEILING and ROYAL COAT OF ARMS; now ATMOSPHERICALLY ILLUMINATED with THREE NEW LUSTRES.
The Audience Department at the Front has been entirely REBUILT, which, it is hoped, will materially add to the Comfort of its Accommodations. The Dressing Rooms, Flooring and Seating have been surveyed and REPAIRED. The STAGE and ORCHESTRA remade with MACHINERY INVENTED solely for RICHMOND.
BY DESIRE and under the Patronage of the Mayor of Richmond, THE THEATRE ROYAL
Under the CONFIDENT and EXCELLENT Management
of The Georgian Theatre (Richmond) Trust Limited
Chairman LADY CRATHORNE
This present Evening, Wednesday, September 3,
And to be REPEATED on Friday 5 and Saturday 6 September, 2003
Will be performed, for the First Time at this Theatre
THE HOTCHPOTCH PANTOMIME!!!
Produced by the favourite Vocal and Instrumental Dance Theatre CHALEMIE
The Programme devised by Miss Sara Stowe, Miss Barbara Segal and Mr William Tuck
With Commedia sequences by Mr Barry Grantham
The amusements to commence with a PROLOGUE given by the tragedian
Mr ROBERT HARDY
At the conclusion of the Performances, should any Ladies or Gentlemen prefer waiting in their separate Boxes until their respective carriages can be procured,
the VOLUNTEER Attendants have Orders to report their arrival in succession as they draw up in Victoria Road.
Alternatively, the NEW REFRESHMENT BARS & ART EXHIBITION remain open until LATE.
The Theatre superintended tonight by Mr JAMES ALLENBY, Acting Administrator.
The LICENSEE, Miss JAYNE DUNCAN, will constantly attend to Patrons’ requirements.
On Thursday, September 4, for the Benefit of Mr BILL SELLARS,
and to celebrate the conclusion of his professional duties here as MANAGER, a TESTIMONIAL PARTY.
The Doors of the Theatre will be opened from Six o’clock precisely. Admission by Donation.
PROLOGUE: AT THE RE-OPENING OF THE GEORGIAN THEATRE ROYAL, 2003
AN ENCOMIUM TO THE STAGE AND SAMUEL BUTLER, Manager, 1788
THE great, the good, in every clime and age
Have foremost stood, to patronise this stage.
Here SAM BUTLER, be it spoken to his praise,
With judgment, taste, his sense refin’d displayed.
The stage, great mirror of the human mind!
Reflects with truth, the features of mankind:
Here their strong traits, may see the knave and fool, –
Here virtue, chief erects her moral school.
To her blest fame, to point the certain way,
To shew the wand’rer when he goes astray,
With great, with gen’rous thoughts, t’expand the mind,
T’inforce benevolence to all mankind,
To amuse, inform, to elevate the soul,
The base, the torrid passions to control,
To instruct the head, to mend the vicious heart,
To form the manners – this the Drama’s part.
Such the great object of the ancient stage,
And such the Drama of the present age.
To reach this goal, be here their first great view,
Who in the race, theatric fame pursue.
For this, the Tragic-Muse affords her aid,
In solemn pomp of majesty array’d;
For this, the vice, tho’ dignify’d detects;
And humble virtue shields, rewards, protects.
Such, on the mind, her wonder-working skill,
The harden’d wretch, she makes, remorse to feel.
At her command, the various passions rise,
Hope, horror, terror, pity, fear, surprize:
But when, slow-pac’d, the urn she solemn bears,
Who feels not grief? Who adds not to her tears?
Here let me pause, to indulge a moment’s thought,
On the sad image, by fancy’s pow’r wrought, –
What feeling soul, the Tragic-Muse can name
Without a tribute to our BUTLER’s fame?
BUTLER, great master of the RICHMOND stage,
To please the mind, and captivate the age;
Well read in SHAKESPEARE’S and wide nature’s page,
His name shall live in Richmond’s future age.
But to return – the smiling Comic Muse
With jocund face, assists the moral views:
Folly, ’tis here, not frailty, to expose,
But all extremes of character she shews.
The fribble, sloven, the loquacious fool,
The pedant, would-be-wit, the bully, tool;
The miser, spendthrift, coxcomb, sullen brute –
All, who the rules of rectitude dispute.
In copious draughts, from folly’s stream who quaff,
Out of conceit, the Comic-Muse would laugh.
Here, let no Aristophanes defame
Of god-like Socrates, the sacred name;
’Twere to pervert the Drama’s upright rules,
To make the just, the good, the laugh of fools –
In this minds mirror, may we look with care!
What tho’ perchance, some wrinkles should appear?
If no worse features mix’d with these we find,
Each may return, well-pleas’d with his own mind.
Theodore Lane (1800-1828), 'Behind the Scenes', a watercolour for Pierce Egan, The Life of an Actor, London, C.S.Arnold, 1825. A satire on backstage 'dramas', this theatre resembles the Georgian Theatre Royal at Richmond, including its reefer curtain that was recreated in 2003.
THE GEORGIAN THEATRE ROYAL
A season brochure introduction, for Manager Mr Curtis
IN CONSEQUENCE OF HIS INCREASING POPULARITY at the Theatre Royal, the LADIES AND GENTLEMEN of Richmond and Environs are respectfully informed that the much-admired Mr Rutter, leading Yorkshire actor-manager of NORTHERN BROADSIDES of HALIFAX, will give THREE more productions this season! THE COMEDY OF ERRORS will be produced in a style of splendour, new musick and high farce, not equalled in a Country Theatre for many seasons. The strolling company of fourteen comedians, whose rendering of the THE BELLS excited a stronger response at RICHMOND than in the industrial towns, will also give a BRAND NEW COMEDY by the acclaimed Northern Author, Mr Plater: SWEET WILLIAM is a beery evening about William Shakespeare himself. FOR THE BENEFIT OF MR RUTTER, his Company’s positively last appearance this season will be a colourful ONE NIGHT STAND of readings, comic relief and catharsis by the New Yorkshire Master himself, famed for the thorough discipline and minutiae of detail to which his NATURAL ACTING and emotional vocal effects are submitted.
The magnification of the Yorkshire circuit companies and playhouses through the INVESTMENT of the ARTS COUNCIL and THE PUBLIC is also represented by Mr Godber’s troupe from maritime HULL. I have prevailed upon HULL TRUCK to perform a ROLLICKING new comedy by Mr Steel: KISSING MARRIED WOMEN. I am also flattered by the return of Mr O’loughlin from the London stage. His rendition of the powers of Mr Kean (in Part II of THE TRAGEDIAN), offers new insights into THE ART OF ACTING. For voice, eye, action, and expression, no actor has equalled EDMUND KEAN. The applause, when I saw the performance, was loud and uninterrupted. There was a lightness and vigour in Mr O’loughlin’s tread, a buoyancy and ELASTICITY of spirit, a fire and animation.
Once again we welcome to tread our Boards the community players, Richmond Amateur Dramatic Society and of course a welcome return for Richmond School with their INTRAMURAL offerings.It would be endless to point out the interesting QUALITIES of the season’s other escapist, soothing and scenic dramas, pantomimes and concerts. THE IMAGINATION and taste of OUR MULTITUDINOUS “NEW AUDIENCES” is the superior influence at the BOX OFFICE. I encourage you all to make your choices, and to savour the COMFORTABLE INTIMACY between actors and spectators, at EVERY PERFORMANCE.
Anti-Napoleonic Ballad (1811), by George Cruickshank (1792-1878). Robert Elliston (1774-1831) in the character of Sylvester Dagerwood in George Colman's New Hay at the Old Market. This London theatre was much the same layout as Richmond:
The Society for Theatre Research hosted an international and interdisciplinary conference, The Georgian Playhouse 1750-1850 and its Continental Counterparts, at Richmond in 2008. See the conference report.