Artistic Director - Stephen Joseph Theatre
Alan Ayckbourn and the Stephen Joseph TheatreThe Stephen Joseph Theatre opened in 1996 - the project was delayed from the initially intended launch in 1994 which would have seen Alan Ayckbourn's play Haunting Julia be the first production in The McCarthy Auditorium. To launch the theatre, Alan Ayckbourn turned - unexpectedly - to one of his biggest flops, the 1975 musical Jeeves. Alongside the composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, the two completely revised the musical and opened the theatre with By Jeeves; an enormous success which transferred to London, toured the UK and eventually opened on Broadway.
Alan Ayckbourn was keen that the entire venue was used to its maximum potential and that the smaller end-stage McCarthy Theatre would not be a second or studio theatre but as an equally important performing space as The Round. Unfortunately, within six months of opening there was a funding crisis due to the three-way funding deal between Scarborough Council, North Yorkshire County Council and the Arts Council - just one pulling out could jeopardise the entire subsidy agreement and North Yorkshire County Council was threatening to cut its funding. Alan Ayckbourn found himself fighting to secure the future of the Stephen Joseph Theatre in a story which received national media coverage. The funding was eventually secured but Alan Ayckbourn later revealed the venue was being run on essentially the same sized subsidy as for the company's previous home, which was less than half the size of the new building.
On his 60th birthday in 1999, Alan announced he was going to step back slightly to lighten his work-load and begin concentrating on his own work alongside his role of Artistic Director and to all intents and purposes ceased directing work by other authors (with the exception of Tim Firth's The Safari Party in 2002). With funding a perpetual issue at the theatre, Alan looked to 'events' such as the 10x10 season in 1998 and the world premiere of House & Garden in 1999 to mark his 60th birthday; the latter being two plays performed simultaneously in two auditoria by a single cast being a huge success and later transferring to the National Theatre.
In February 2006, Alan suffered a stroke and was out of action for six months. Although he returned to work in September 2006 to direct the world premiere of his new play If I Were You, he would announce the following May his retirement as Artistic Director of the venue in 2009. To mark his final full year at the venue, 2008 saw five productions of plays by Alan Ayckbourn, culminating in the musical Awaking Beauty.
On 31 March 2009, just shy of his 70th birthday, Alan Ayckbourn officially retired as Artistic Director of the Stephen Joseph after 37 years and was succeeded by Chris Monks. Ironically, given the major events at the venue that had accompanied his 50th and 60th birthdays, his retirement meant the major Ayckbourn event that year took place at Northampton's Royal & Derngate Theatre with the Ayckbourn At 70 festival.
Since 2009, Alan has remained a guest director at the Stephen Joseph Theatre with a commitment to presenting new work at the venue. He now considers one of his greatest achievements to have been the move of the Scarborough company into its first purpose built home, the Stephen Joseph Theatre, in 1996.
A Brief History of the Stephen Joseph TheatreA new home for the company was not found until 1988, when Rank closed Scarborough’s Art Deco Odeon cinema. The building had been built by the architect Harry Weedon and used as a cinema until it closed. Alan Ayckbourn enquired about the possibility of acquiring the empty Grade II listed building, but discovered Rank wanted £300,000 for the remaining 48 years of the lease. Confident he had found the perfect home for the company and after much negotiation, Alan formed the ADMirable partnership in 1990 with Lord Downe and Charles ‘Mac’ McCarthy. They each put £50,000 of their own money together with a bank loan for £50,000 and managed to secure the lease of the building; Scarborough Borough Council consequently increased the lease to 99 years. With the building secured, work began on raising the funds needed for the extensive conversion of the building.
The conversion and move to the new building eventually cost £5.2m and involved refitting the top of the cinema’s circle to create the 165 seat McCarthy Theatre and cinema; the front of the cinema was gutted and the supporting proscenium arch removed to create the 406-seat Round auditorium with a stage-lift and trampoline mesh beneath the lighting rig (apparently the first of its kind in the UK and a clever solution to offering easy and quick access to lighting grids above round venues).
A hole was also punched through the roof, sinking from it a glass shaft - the ‘atrium’ - to allow natural light to reach the offices in the centre of the building. The building also houses a shop, conference room, full backstage and front of house facilities and a bar and restaurant retaining as far as possible the listed building’s 1930’s features. Even the carpet is an exact replica of the original carpet taken from a piece that had been found in the old cinema before the conversion. Using Harry Osborne of Henry Osborne Christmas Associates of Tunbridge Wells as the concept architect and Shepherd Design and Build of York, the conversion was finally completed just in time for the first performance of By Jeeves on 24th of April 1996; the theatre's official opening night took place on 30 April.
In 2016, a new chapter in the SJT's history began with the appointment of a new management team with Artistic Director Paul Robinson and Chief Executive Stephen Freeman.
For details about the Odeon building in which the Stephen Joseph Theatre is based, click here.
A more comprehensive overview of the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round, plays produced and people involved can be found at the website Scarborough In The Round.
Further details about the Stephen Joseph Theatre can be found at the theatre's own website www.sjt.uk.com.
Copyright: Simon Murgatroyd. Do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.