Theatre Manager – Sally

It’s been a long journey and a winding path as to how I arrived at the Blakehay Theatre but I believe that everything happens for a reason and all the skills that I have learnt along the way have come in useful!

Performing has always been part of my life and I was very young when I started performing on stage, although I am not sure of the exact first time.
Throughout my younger years I was lucky to perform in many productions on Stage, Television and Film in both amateur and professional productions.
During this time I was also a part-time teaching assistant and worked in both the retail and care sectors.

I moved away from Weston-super-Mare in 1998 and became the manager of a retail shop and then a community care worker and stopped performing and dancing for about two years. I really missed the life of performing and especially dancing, but with the long hours of working I was unable to fit in classes or rehearsals. I decided that I would change my job so that I could get back to performing, and I was offered a job as a full-time secretary for a small local company in early 2000. Thinking that this would mean that I had evenings and weekends to do what I loved.
I started teaching Street Jazz and Contemporary Dance for a young adult group for a local dance school and we did a couple of local shows. Through this I was approached by the local Stagecoach Theatre Arts franchisee and in April 2000 my teaching skills came into place and I started teaching in Taunton as an Early Stages teacher, teaching dance, singing & drama to 4-6 year olds, on a Saturday. The franchisee then opened the Weston-super-Mare school and I was asked to be the dance teacher for a Sunday morning.

I then stopped teaching at the local dance school as within six months of being at my full-time job I had been promoted from secretary to office & sales manager. The company made to order hand-carved four poster beds and furniture for very wealthy and famous people all over the world, and I built the company website and managed the customer orders, deliveries and designs. I learnt a lot about business during my time at this job including import and export and we branched out into supplying the film and television industry with set pieces (but this is a whole other story!)

A year later Stagecoach opened the Bridgwater school on a Thursday evening and another Weston-super-Mare School on a Wednesday evening, and I was offered the post of dance teacher for these schools. In 2004 our Sunday morning school moved premises to the Blakehay Theatre when it was taken over by Weston-super-Mare Town Council.
I was still working full time and teaching part-time. This continued until Mid 2007 when I had my son, and after he was born I made the decision to not go back to my full-time job, but would carry on teaching part-time.

This then opened up a whole new revenue of teaching that came my way across the whole of the South-West and I was teaching for local colleges, Sainsbury’s Active Kids, a local Ballet school and a synchronised swimming team (just dance!), as well as continuing to teach for Stagecoach and provide admin support for them. Alongside teaching I was also producing, marketing, choreographing and directing shows.
In September 2008 I started my teacher training part-time and during this, I also started teaching at Bridgwater College on their new Creative & Media diploma and I graduated in July 2010.

At the beginning of 2011 I decided that as my son was due to start school in the September and I was tired of sitting at the M5 junction trying to remember what day it was and whether I should be going north or south! That I would start looking for a full-time job by the end of the year.
I had seen that the Blakehay Theatre was going through a lot of changes with the foyer and bar area being renovated and could see the potential in the building. So I contacted the Town Clerk and Town Council and asked if I could be involved in anyway and I would love to be involved in anyway with such a lovely building.

It turned out that there was a position coming up for Theatre supervisor, (although this was a bit earlier than I was looking for and i had no experience in running a venue), I decided to go for it. At the same time I was approached about buying the franchisee for the area for Stagecoach and so I went to the Stagecoach Head Office to be approved as a principal and to look into the possibility of becoming a franchisee.

Well you all know the end to this story, I got the job at the Blakehay Theatre at the same time that I was approved as a franchisee and I decided that the pull of the theatre was the right way to go. So I have now been at the theatre for just over nine years and if you would like to know how my first day was, then please do read my anniversary blog!

I still love the theatre and I’m still working through all of those ideas that I had at the beginning and I hope that we will get back to being together and the building being filled with people laughing and crying in the not too distant future.

For now, take care and stay safe.

Technician – Tim

My first professional job as a technician was at Butlins for a summer season carrying out various tasks within the Entertainments Department. My next job was back in my home town at the Theatre Royal Windsor.

Then came my first real break into the glitzy world of showbusiness when I went to Chichester Festival Theatre for a summer season – which lasted thirteen years!
It is here that I really learnt my trade, not only as a sound engineer and designer, but also as a lighting technician. The resident maintenance engineer also taught me the basics of electrical installation. From Chichester, I worked as a freelance sound engineer and designer – mostly in the West End of London.

After a short sabbatical in Israel, I ended up in Stratford upon Avon working for the Royal Shakespeare Company. Again, I only went there for the season and ended up leaving twenty four years later. At the RSC, I was a part of the Sound Department as sound operator, engineer and designer. Over the years there were many changes in performance spaces in which I was involved in remodelling the sound systems. The technology in recording and playback also evolved in this time from analogue to digital. Again, I was deeply involved in the redesigning of the dubbing room installations. The RSC has a major programme of large and small scale touring and I designed the touring sound rigs for many other venues.

A very busy period in my life, but twenty four years on I decided that it was time to move on. A stage management colleague wanted to open a Tea Shop and I agreed to take on the role of Manager. This was something very new to me as I was a “backstage” boy! It meant working and interacting directly with customers. I was so nervous – I’d never done that before. I soon learned, however, that I had a rapport with the patrons and thoroughly enjoyed it! Despite the tea shop becoming a huge success, it was eventually time for me to leave Stratford upon Avon and retire.

So, here I am in Weston super Mare. But there was no way I could actually retire: I had to be doing something. I tried quite a few different jobs before seeing an ad in the local paper for casual FOH staff at the Blakehay Theatre. At my interview, the management were apparently impressed with my CV, and so I was employed as a casual technician as well as FOH. Later I was taken onto the staff full time. My past knowledge and experience in commercial theatre has enabled me to suggest many small adjustments to the technical set up.

When the idea of Coffee Mornings came up, once again my experience in a tea shop was invaluable. I had knowledge of food preparation, food hygiene, baking and customer service. This last, of course, is important in all aspects of caring for the patrons of the theatre.

Working as a team, the staff of theatre are constantly looking for ways to make improvements in the customer experience. On the technical side, there are still many projects in the pipeline to improve the technical facilities for incoming productions. Many companies who visit us have complimented us on the helpful and friendly reception they receive. We also have plans to improve audience satisfaction. The staff at the Blakehay and myself have evolved into a close knit team. I hope this is reflected in the overall customer experience of Weston’s theatregoers.

Box Office Administrator – Kevin

I first learnt about the Blakehay Theatre soon after I’d moved to Weston when they had the Comedy Box series of comedy nights in 2012. It has always had a lovely warm, friendly and intimate feel so when I had the chance to work at the Blakehay, I was very excited.

We’ve gone on to host a lot of great comedy events since then at the theatre. I’ve always particularly enjoyed challenging comedy; there’s nothing like laughing one minute and feeling a bit uncomfortable the next. Back in the early 00’s, the Sunday comedy nights at the Bunch of Grapes pub in Bristol were a great example of that, where local comedians tested their new material. Surprisingly, a lot of the acts that used to appear there have gone on to be big names, but the most memorable act from those nights was EricEric, the most provocative comedian I’ve ever seen; none of the audience really knew what was part of the act and what wasn’t, and whether he was actually even funny at all.

I first experienced theatre as an adult while I was studying at Leeds University, and while I didn’t know it then, the Pyramid theatre in the Students’ Union is one of only 9 in-the-round theatres in the UK. As you’d imagine, the Union theatre hosted a range of challenging and experimental productions which I loved.
Despite some peoples opinions, I feel that Weston certainly has enough culture if you just look hard enough. A good example of this was an excellent one night open air performance of Twelve Night by a touring company a few years back – literally touring around in a small van, handing out flyers in the afternoon, then roping off a bit of Clarence Park and performing on an obviously very minimalist set.

Another cultural highlight of Weston was The Wonderful World of Dissocia performed by the College at the Blakehay last year, possibly up there as some of the best theatre that I’ve ever seen, and certainly a lesson not to underestimate or even dismiss any of the College productions. Its a real shame that the team’s production of Comic Potential this year has been cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak, but I’m certainly looking forward to watching their show in 2021. I would thoroughly recommend going to see one of the College shows in the future if you get the chance.

Housekeeper – Naomi

Hi, I worked as a design assistant for a clothing company until I had my first daughter from then on I was self-employed working as an outworker to the same company and also as a self-employed dressmaker.

When my two daughters progressed to secondary school I wanted to return to work part time in a job outside the home. I found a cleaning job working for North Somerset at Weston Museum. The work I enjoyed and it was really great being part of a lovely team and daily being in this fascinating building containing the stories of Weston’s history.
During my time here I started studying Humanities with the OU the combination was perfect and the Museum filled me with inspiration and encouragement during my study. Half way through my study I underwent an assessment for Dyslexia and there on received support to continue my degree.

In 2011 the Town Council took over the running of the Museum from North Somerset and I joined the new team a fun time of trying out many new activities that have continued and grown at the Museum.

In 2015 when the Museum closed for two years for refurbishment I joined the team at the Blakehay theatre as their housekeeper continuing my journey with the Town Council.
I have to admit though while I was aware of the change of use of Wadham Street Baptist church I had never been to a show. Again I joined a great team who love to bring entertainment in many styles to the public. It was a whole new experience being behind the scenes where everyone’s role counts to make the shows go smoothly, getting to know how shows come together and learning from those who have been working in theatre for many years.

Box Office Administrator – Jasmine

Hi, my name is Jasmine and I am one of the two Box Office Administrators at the Blakehay Theatre. I am one of the youngest and newest members of the Blakehay team – I started working here in April 2018 so two years ago now.

It seemed very natural to me to end up working in a Theatre…
I am Weston born and bred, and started my involvement with Performing Arts at the tender age of 2 and ½ by attending ballet classes. This very quickly progressed to tap and modern classes as well, then followed the yearly dance competitions. Dance is still a very prevalent aspect of my life and is one of the reasons I found myself at the Blakehay Theatre in the first place – we’ll come back to that later.

Dancing expanded through my school years to Drama and Theatre. I would always partake in school plays and also enjoyed singing, if the roles asked for it. Up until this point, I had always viewed myself solely as a performer but this was not necessarily the case. By the time I hit aged 14, I realised I had a real passion for Choreographing and creating as well.
I ended up taking Drama and Theatre at both GCSE and A Level and I was very fortunate to see a lot of live theatre during this time at various venues in Weston, Bristol, Bath and sometimes even London. It was therefore an easy decision for me to take a Theatre degree at University. I obtained my BA(Hons) degree in Theatre from Falmouth University in 2016: fun fact – Dawn French was the person to present me with my degree!

So by now it’s 2016 and I moved back to Weston after my degree, not really knowing what I was going to do – the classic post-student phase.
Before getting the job at the Blakehay, I actually started working for The Playhouse Weston as a Front of House Assistant – I still work there now. Working in a theatre environment made me realise how much I enjoyed it and how it never felt like work to me, because it was something I have and always will love.
So, coming back to how dance led me to the Blakehay… I actually attended the Tidalwave Contemporary classes at the Blakehay before I left for University with my younger cousin.
When I came back to Weston in 2016, I wanted to keep dancing and performing. Therefore, I went straight back to the Blakehay Theatre and to Tidalwave. I found a joy for Contemporary whilst at University: the need for both freedom and relaxation but also technique and control. This meant, although I didn’t know her that well at the time, I was seeing the Theatre Manager Sally on a weekly basis.

Then the rest is history: I applied for the job, got invited in for an interview and it was a success.
Considering I started as just a Box Office Administrator, I feel like I have gained and grown so much through this job. You really can’t work in a Theatre unless you truly pour yourself into it: eat it, sleep it and breathe it. I am excited to see how I and the Theatre progresses in the years to come.
Thank you so much for reading this – I look forward to being back in the Box Office, seeing and speaking to you all again soon.

Stay safe!

Theatre Technician – Rob

Hi Everyone,

I hope your all keep safe and well in these very strange times? I’ve been asked by Sally, the Theatre Manager, to write a blog post. Our aim is to keep producing content throughout this lockdown.

I thought I’d start off by giving you a brief history of how I ended up becoming the Technician at The Blakehay Theatre.
So here it goes…… I grew up in Bridgwater and my family were involved in local amateur dramatics and the Bridgwater Pantomime Society. As a youngster, I didn’t have any real interest or desire to be involved or perform myself. As I was very shy when I was younger.

As I got older, I started to become interested in theatre scenery design. I was lucky enough to do work experience while at secondary school at The Bristol Old Vic Theatre School and The Bristol Old Vic Theatre. This brief but enjoyable experience sold it to me. I was determined to work in the theatre!
Upon leaving school, I enrolled on a Performing Arts course at Bridgwater College. While at Bridgwater College, I started to get interested in music. I played guitar and sang (badly). While at college, I met a bunch of like minded individuals and we formed a band.

From then on and for a number of years, the theatre took a bit of a back seat. I was still keeping ‘my toe in the water’ by working on the odd show here and there but the band we had formed started to take off. The bands name was Bukowski. We wrote and recorded all our own songs and ended up on television and radio. One of the most strangest experiences I’ve ever had was walking into Virgin Megastore at The Mall in Bristol and seeing our album on sale in there. Things like that only happen to other people!
After a while, the band broke up and I took on a series of jobs. Thermal Injection Moulder, Carpet Fitter (no, I won’t fit your hall, stairs and landing!) I even worked at my local tip. Which I still look back on with great fondness today.

By pure chance, an old college friend of mine was teaching on the Performing Arts course at Bridgwater College. They were looking for someone to come in and teach Technical Theatre on a part time basis. I enquired about the position, got an interview and was offered the post. I ended up working at Bridgwater College for eight years. Teaching a variety of technical Theatre subjects.

As much as I enjoyed teaching. I missed working in the theatre. Nothing beats the buzz and nervous energy of working on a show. In 2011, The Blakehay was looking for a new technician. It was the perfect opportunity for me to get into the industry and do what I loved. I was lucky enough to be offered the position and have been here ever since.

And there you have it. A very brief history of how I ended up working at the theatre.
I’m sure I’ll be cajoled to write another blog post soon. Best get my thinking cap on!
Stay safe everyone.