Friday, April 29, 2016

Archiving Ayckbourn: Henceforward...

Archiving Ayckbourn is a regular feature presenting a look at every Alan Ayckbourn play through an object held in the Ayckbourn Archive. Each week, the feature will chronologically move through the play canon highlighting an object, article, photograph or other archival object offering an insight into the play, the playwright or moments of significance.

Henceforward... (1987)
Henceforward... is in no small measure responsible for me writing this blog - and my job as Alan Ayckbourn's Archivist. It was my first introduction to Alan Ayckbourn seeing the world premiere production at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round, Scarborough, in 1987.
It had a profound effect on me and led to a life-long interest in the playwright and eventually the opportunity to work for the playwright himself.
Henceforward... marks the first time that Alan Ayckbourn seriously embraces science fiction within his writing - and which becomes a common recurring theme from this point forward - and also marks the first time retackled the subject of what it is to be an artist and the process of artistic creation; in this case a composer.
The play is set in a dystopian near future inner city, practically over-run by gangs and where androids have become a relatively common feature of life (in this case a second-hand, malfunctioning one). The protagonist Jerome is a composer who creates his music by constantly recording everything going on around him; at the time his final composition was created using the then nascent technology off sampling.
Within the Ayckbourn Archive is a letter to the Stephen Joseph Theatre's press officer offering Alan's perspective of the technology within the play and how, in 1987, much of it was but a step way. Intriguingly, whilst some of it has been realised, other elements are still beyond us. For the moment.
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn
As can be seen from the letter (click on image to enlarge), Alan has some interesting thoughts on the future. The synclavier system mentioned - onto which the music was programmed - was then one of just four such machines in the country with each valued at £250,000! In comparison, Alan has composed and created the music for this summer's revival of the play at the Stephen Joseph Theatre entirely on his Mac and iPad.
Video phones haven't quite materialised in the way Alan predicted in the play, but they've been a part of everyday life for years now via the likes of Skype and FaceTime on mobile phones. The liquid-based computer is, as far as I am aware, still theoretical (but I stand to be corrected) whilst simple androids of the level of NAN 300F have essentially been created; they're not quite on the level of affordability to have as a common domestic aid.
You can see Alan's vision of a possible future at the Stephen Joseph Theatre from 8 September to 8 October at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, in what is the first major revival of Henceforward.... since its award-winning West End production in 1988. Further details can be found at www.sjt.uk.com.
Henceforward... opened at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round on 30 July 1987 and was directed by Alan Ayckbourn. More details about the play can be found here.

If you'd like to meet Alan Ayckbourn, join him in rehearsals for his latest play and get the chance to put your own questions to him, click here to find out about the Premier Patrons week at the Stephen Joseph Theatre from 27 June to 2 July.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Stephen Joseph Theatre announces new Chief Executive

The new Chief Executive of the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, is Stephen Freeman.
Stephen joins the SJT from Arts Council England, where he has been Relationship Manager Theatre since 2011, following five years as the General Manager at the New Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich. During that time he was also Festival Director for Pulse Festival, a showcase of new national and international work. Previously Stephen was producer for Stafford Festival Shakespeare and Artistic Programme Manager at the Gatehouse Theatre in Stafford.
He will take up his post at the SJT towards the end of July; new Artistic Director Paul Robinson joins the SJT on 1 June from London’s Theatre503.
Stephen Freeman
Chief Executive of the Stephen Joseph Theatre
Stephen says: “I am delighted to be joining the SJT, an organisation with a rich and prolific history of producing work with a national and international reputation. It’s a privilege to play a role in the life of this organisation that is much loved by artists and audiences alike. I’m also looking forward to calling Scarborough my home and making the most of its extraordinary setting.
“I believe organisations like the SJT have a vital role to play in connecting the local community and providing a resource for both residents and visitors. The arrival of Paul Robinson as Artistic Director marks a new chapter for the theatre and I welcome the exciting opportunity to help steer the theatre towards an even brighter and more vibrant future.”
Stephen will be succeeding the SJT’s interim Chief Executive, Mathew Russell. Mathew joined the SJT in June 2015 for an initial six-month contract, but has stayed in post to oversee a year of significant change, which has seen the development of a new vision, operating model and business plan. As part of this organisational review, Mathew has spearheaded a range of developments at SJT and will stay in post until the end of June to ensure a smooth handover to Stephen and Paul Robinson. In the meantime, Mathew is also taking up the role of interim Director at Cast in Doncaster.
Richard Grunwell, chair of the SJT Board, says: “I am delighted that the Board has appointed Stephen Freeman as our new Chief Executive. We have been really impressed by Stephen’s confidence in addressing a range of important strategic issues facing the SJT, practical experience in theatre management and the invaluable insight he offers into the 21st century British theatre ecology.
“I’d also like to thank Mathew Russell for everything he has achieved at SJT in the last year and for extending his time with us. The range of changes he has led is making a real difference to the SJT’s sustainability and future success.”
Mathew says: “I'm thrilled we've been able to make such a brilliant appointment to the role of permanent Chief Executive. Stephen is the ideal candidate and I'm excited about how the SJT can continue to grow and flourish with him at the helm.
“I've had a fantastic time at SJT in the last year – thanks to the team, audiences and supporters for making me feel so very welcome.”
Michelle Dickson, Director Yorkshire, Arts Council England says: “While we are sorry to lose Stephen as an Arts Council Relationship Manager, I am looking forward to working with him in his new role as Chief Executive. His experience of working in and with producing theatres makes him a great match for the SJT and for Scarborough.”

Archiving Ayckbourn: A Small Family Business

Archiving Ayckbourn is a regular feature presenting a look at every Alan Ayckbourn play through an object held in the Ayckbourn Archive. Each week, the feature will chronologically move through the play canon highlighting an object, article, photograph or other archival object offering an insight into the play, the playwright or moments of significance.

A Small Family Business (1987)
Between 1986 and 1988, Alan Ayckbourn took a sabbatical from his adopted home theatre, the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round in Scarborough, to become a company director at the National Theatre.
The opportunity was a remarkable one and was offered by the NT's Artistic Director, Peter Hall, at a time when Alan felt he needed to recharge his creative batteries.
As a result, although he remained Artistic Director of the Scarborough venue, he joined the NT and during two years directed four highly acclaimed productions: Will Evan's and Valentine's Tons Of Money, Arthur Mille'rs A View From The Bridge, John Ford's 'Tis Pity She's A Whore and his own A Small Family Business.
It was a period in which the perception of who Alan Ayckbourn was and his plays considerably changed. The acclaimed and award-winning revival of A View From The Bridge had the greatest singular impact as Alan's talents as a director were finally appreciated in London.
Meanwhile his play A Small Family Business helped to cement the fact that Alan was not the farceur he had repeatedly - and incorrectly - pegged to by London critics and audiences. During this period, some of his darkest and most hard-hitting works were produced (Woman In Mind, A Small Family Business, Henceforward... and Man Of The Moment). The view his plays were easy comedies was largely consigned to the bin.
Largely. As one fascinating letter in the Ayckbourn Archive shows, there were some people who had grave misimpression's as to what Alan Ayckbourn offered and wrote. Reprinted below is Alan's response to a letter complaining that A Small Family Business was not the light-hearted comedy expected (and which it was never advertised as!).
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn
The letter reads:

"Even at my most optimistic, and I am rarely that, I have never sought to ignore real life in my plays. Though in the past many have chosen to ignore the underlying sadness and savagery in them and treated them as jolly romps, alas.
A Small Family Business is not a comedy. I don't describe it as that. It is a play. It has humour in it; it also has sadness. And some anger. Above all, I hope it has truth.
It says what I want to say about the state of the nation today. That collectively it is as greedy; selfish, and as lacking in any overall moral leadership, as over-obsessed with the material as opposed to the spiritual as any this country has seen.
The play postulates that even if there was a truly honest man he would be hard pressed not to be corrupted, so ill defined and shaky is our current code of moral conduct, the border lines between right and wrong.
It concludes that not one of us can distance ourselves from the distress and sorrow around us. Nothing terribly original. I think Jesus said it and several Greek Dramatists before him.
Beyond that I cannot console you. I feel like someone who's written a piece for brass band and is told his violins are too shrill."

The letter is a rare but fascinating insight into Alan's perception of his own writing, the themes of this particular play and also how protective he is over his writing. Although quite how anyone thought A Small Family Business would be a comedy is hard to fathom.
A Small Family Business opened at the National Theatre on 21 May 1987 and was directed by Alan Ayckbourn. More details about the play can be found here.

If you'd like to meet Alan Ayckbourn, join him in rehearsals for his latest play and get the chance to put your own questions to him, click here to find out about the Premier Patrons week at the Stephen Joseph Theatre from 27 June to 2 July.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Archiving Ayckbourn: Woman In Mind

Archiving Ayckbourn is a regular feature presenting a look at every Alan Ayckbourn play through an object held in the Ayckbourn Archive. Each week, the feature will chronologically move through the play canon highlighting an object, article, photograph or other archival object offering an insight into the play, the playwright or moments of significance.

Woman In Mind (1985)
Woman In Mind is a hugely significant play in the Ayckbourn canon marking the point at which critics really began to re-evaluate Alan Ayckbourn and what he was attempting to achieve in his writing.
Notably - considering how well the play is regarded now - it premiered in Scarborough where it was not particularly well-received and gave no indication of becoming the piece it is appreciated as now.
It was only with its West End premiere, in a slightly tightened form, that its full potential was realised not least because of the acclaimed central performance by Julia McKenzie as Susan.
Woman In Mind is notable from an archivist's point of view though as it marked the final time Alan Ayckbourn wrote a play to the latest possible deadline. Throughout the first three decades of Alan Ayckbourn's writing career, he was renowned for writing to the latest possible deadline - frequently the day before rehearsals were due to begin!
It was only when he took a two year sabbatical to the National Theatre as a company director from 1986 to 1988, that his pattern was disrupted as he had to submit A Small Family Business to the NT a year in advance. Subsequent to this, all plays were written well in advance of deadline.
Which brings us to this week's archival item (click on image to enlarge), which stands as my favourite piece of brochure copy ever attached to an Ayckbourn play.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
Because Alan wrote his plays so late, frequently the publicity department had only the title to go on and - if lucky - some brief notes as to the possible directions for the play.
All of which is illustrated wonderfully by this brochure copy which acknowledges both the limitations of what the press officer knew but also that it was a well-known fact that Alan wrote so late, frequently no-one had any idea what his plays would be about until they hit the stage.
I suspect you don't get much publicity for forthcoming plays like this any more!
Woman In Mind opened at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round, Scarborough, on 30 May 1985 and was directed by Alan Ayckbourn. More details about the play can be found here.

If you'd like to meet Alan Ayckbourn, join him in rehearsals for his latest play and get the chance to put your own questions to him, click here to find out about the Premier Patrons week at the Stephen Joseph Theatre from 27 June to 2 July.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Archiving Ayckbourn: A Chorus Of Disapproval

Archiving Ayckbourn is a regular feature presenting a look at every Alan Ayckbourn play through an object held in the Ayckbourn Archive. Each week, the feature will chronologically move through the play canon highlighting an object, article, photograph or other archival object offering an insight into the play, the playwright or moments of significance.

A Chorus Of Disapproval (1984)
A Chorus Of Disapproval is one of Alan Ayckbourn's most famous and popular plays, centred on a widowed man joining an amateur dramatic company and all the twists which follow.
Famously, the play was conceived with significant differences to the final play. Initially, Pendon Amateur Light Operatic Society was supposed to be staging The Vagabond King by Rudolf Friml; Friml's estate did not take kindly to this idea though and instead Alan chose John Gay's The Beggar's Opera.
What would have affected the play more though was a plan by Alan Ayckbourn to incorporate amateur performers into the play, planted in the audience and unexpectedly joining in the action at key moments.
That this was actually planned rather than just a wild idea, as can be seen from the following archive pieces (click on images to enlarge).

Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
This is the copy created by the publicity department for an advert in the local newspaper, the Scarborough Evening News, calling for amateur singers to audition for A Chorus Of Disapproval.
This then led to the actual advert which was published in the Scarborough Evening News during February 1984.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
Auditions were actually held with Alan Ayckbourn and the musical director Paul Todd, which marks the point where the project began to fall apart.
The auditions were apparently very interesting (and may have inspired some moments in the actual play) with Alan coming across several people who were not prepared to accept anything other than lead roles!
Fortunately, Alan's realisation this may not have been the best idea received unlikely help. The actors' union, Equity, having got wind of the plans, refused the theatre permission to use amateur actors in the show (hopefully not in the deluded belief the theatre would employ 50 professionals in their stead) and - with a get out clause - Alan dropped all idea of having amateur involvement in the play and wrote A Chorus Of Disapproval as the award-winning and much-loved play familiar to theatre-goers today.
A Chorus Of Disapproval opened at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round, Scarborough, on 2 May 1984 and was directed by Alan Ayckbourn. More details about the play can be found here.

If you'd like to meet Alan Ayckbourn, join him in rehearsals for his latest play and get the chance to put your own questions to him, click here to find out about the Premier Patrons week at the Stephen Joseph Theatre from 27 June to 2 July.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Premier Patrons: Following In The Footsteps of Ayckbourn & The Round

Sir Alan Ayckbourn has been announced as playing a key role in a new event at the Stephen Joseph Theatre this summer - offering an exciting opportunity to see him directing his latest work and to meet the playwright.
Simon Murgatroyd, Alan Ayckbourn's Archivist and administrator of the popular Ayckbourn & The Round events at the SJT between 2001 and 2005, talks about the event and why he's exited to be involved in the Premier Patrons scheme.

Between 2001 and 2005, I had the privilege of working with Sir Alan Ayckbourn as the administrator of the Ayckbourn & The Round events at the Stephen Joseph Theatre.
These week-long events attracted participants from the UK, North America, Europe and even Australia. They offered an exclusive insight into Alan Ayckbourn's work and his home theatre, the Stephen Joseph Theatre.
Unfortunately, the events came to a halt with Alan's stroke early 2006 and the final, sold-out event that summer had to be cancelled.
The Ayckbourn & The Round events came to a close and I said farewell to what had been a truly memorable set of experiences during which I met some fascinating people from around the world, many of whom kept returning - and still do - to reunions at the SJT to this day.
But as far as I was concerned, the Ayckbourn & The Round events had ended. Then, earlier this year, the SJT's fund-raising officer Rebecca Winder approached me with a proposal she had for a new event called Premier Patrons, the centrepiece of which is a week in June in which participants will visit the SJT to gain an insight into how new writing and new plays have powered the company since it was founded by Stephen Joseph in 1955.
Although the SJT has since held events which could be said to have built on the foundations laid by the Ayckbourn & The Round events, this was the first time I'd considered coming back to work on an event of this kind.
What struck me immediately was this was the spiritual successor to the Ayckbourn & The Round events and what they set out to achieve. Not only had Alan agreed to participate in a substantial way in the Premier Patrons week, but it was promoting new writing and its legacy at the SJT - something which I am passionate about.
As a result, I agreed to join Rebecca in helping with the event - and even holding my own talk about my work as an Archivist - and hope to help create something uniquely memorable for its participants.
For Ayckbourn fans, this is the closest the SJT will ever get to another Ayckbourn & The Round event with Alan front and centre at several very special events, the most noteworthy being attending rehearsals for his latest work The Karaoke Theatre Company.
Not only will participants get to attend rehearsals in Alan Ayckbourn's own rehearsal rooms, but they will get the chance to physically interact with the rehearsal - something which has never happened before. Due to the nature of the play, the audience has the chance to join in the action from both their seats as well as on stage. Premiere Patrons will be in rehearsals and in the action! I'm very excited: I suspect I'll never be able to say again I actually took part in an Ayckbourn rehearsal.
During the week, Sir Alan will also be attending a question and answers session as well as attending a dinner in the SJT's Bistro, both of which were always popular events at the Ayckbourn & The Round events.
And as the Ayckbourn & The Round events offered a chance to see the SJT at work, so Premier Patrons gives the opportunity to go behind the scenes and learn how new work is produced at the theatre as well as meeting key figures such as our new Artistic Director Paul Robinson and Associate Director Henry Bell, who has helped relaunch the company's  literary department.
There'll also be a chance to attend two world premieres of acclaimed playwright Torben Betts' The National Joke and Vicky Ireland's Just So Stories.
It really promises to be a memorable week for anyone interested in Alan Ayckbourn, new writing or just theatre. If you missed the Ayckbourn & The Round events, Premier Patrons is for you, offering an exciting new opportunity to go behind the scenes and to see Alan Ayckbourn at work.

The Premier Patrons week runs from Monday 27 June to Saturday 2 July and more details - including a schedule and how to book - can be found at the Stephen Joseph Theatre website by clicking here and at Alan Ayckbourn's Official Website by clicking here. Places on the week are strictly limited.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Archiving Ayckbourn: Intimate Exchanges

Archiving Ayckbourn is a regular feature presenting a look at every Alan Ayckbourn play through an object held in the Ayckbourn Archive. Each week, the feature will chronologically move through the play canon highlighting an object, article, photograph or other archival object offering an insight into the play, the playwright or moments of significance.

Intimate Exchanges (1982)
Intimate Exchanges remains - more than three decades on - one of the most ambitious plays Alan Ayckbourn has ever written.
It is a play which asks the question, what if I had made different choices in my life? It begins with a simple question of should Celia go out for a smoke in the garden - a simple choice which has the consequence of Celia either hearing or not hearing a knock on the front door. And so two different lives begin, from which 16 possible variations of the play branch. All beginning from the same first scene and a single choice. At the end of every subsequent scene, a character also makes another choice and the play branches onwards and outwards.
The idea of a branching play began with Sisterly Feelings in 1979 and - as can be seen from a previous blog here - it had a very similar planned structure to what was later utilised in Intimate Exchanges. However, Alan decided to simplify it and the idea of a branching play was held back for another day.
Alan's original concept for Intimate Exchanges can be found in the letter below (click on the image to enlarge), which is one of the most significant historical items relating to the play.
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn
The letter is from Alan Ayckbourn to his literary agent, the famed Margaret 'Peggy' Ramsay and within it he explains the concept for Intimate Exchanges and some of the reasons behind staging it.
It is relatively rare for Alan to write about the conception of a play, so this letter is extremely significant in the Ayckbourn Archive at the University Of York, given it is such a comprehensive overview of how Intimate Exchanges came about.
Intimate Exchanges opened at the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round, Scarborough, on 3 June 1982 and was directed by Alan Ayckbourn. More details about the play can be found here.

If you'd like to meet Alan Ayckbourn, join him in rehearsals for his latest play and get the chance to put your own questions to him, click here to find out about the Premier Patrons week at the Stephen Joseph Theatre from 27 June to 2 July.