Friday, February 24, 2017

60 Years At The SJT: 1969 - 1970

2017 marks the 60th anniversary of Alan Ayckbourn joining the Library Theatre, Scarborough, in 1957. Alan has been indelibly associated with the company since that time as actor, writer, director and Artistic Director.
To mark this anniversary, the blog will be running a weekly feature highlighting each year's significant achievements and events relating to Alan Ayckbourn alongside notable photos.

60 Years At The SJT: 1969 - 1970
After the founder of Scarborough's Library Theatre, Stephen Joseph, had died in 1967, it was not certain who - if anyone - could be found to replace him and take the company forward.
Between 1967 and 1971, the role of the Director of Productions (essentially Artistic Director) was appointed annually and for the first two years, the position had been taken by Rodney Wood.
There is nothing to indicate that Rodney was considered a long-term solution to the need for an Artistic Director though, but the appointment for 1969 did begin to address this situation.
For that year, Alan Ayckbourn was asked to take on the role, despite the fact he was still a full-time employee of the BBC based in Leeds.
Alan agreed and took charge of both the 1969 and 1970 seasons, programming the plays, scheduling, casting actors and directing the majority of the productions.
Alan Ayckbourn with his two sons photographed for a
article in the Radio Times in 1969.
Copyright: Radio Times
It was a slightly strange situation as Alan was essentially trying to protect the legacy of Stephen Joseph and help the company survive. But the company was in a precarious position, reduced to just a three month summer season and with no money to pay the Artistic Director; Alan was employed with only the offer of accommodation for the summer available.
Alan also had the pressing problem of having to pretend he was still in Leeds much of the time, getting his secretary to reroute his calls from the BBC to the Library Theatre! As he noted in an interview in 1970 after leaving the BBC: "I was hardly ever there, anyway."
These two years could be seen as the test-bed for Alan and his ability to run the Library Theatre and whether he was capable of running the company successfully; certainly his writing and directing credentials were not in doubt by now.
A publicity shot of Alan Ayckbourn
in Scarborough in 1970.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
That Alan was keen to ensure Stephen's legacy of encouraging new writing survived and thrived was also not in doubt; given how the same system had nurtured Alan and given him so much opportunity, it could be taken as a given. Between 1969 and 1970, Alan programmed nine plays at the Library Theatre, five of which were new plays and six were directed by Alan himself.
His championing of new work was also something he was well aware was not something that was prevalent in regional theatres at the time, as he noted in an article written in 1970.
"The new theatres, then, are the most likely to include that play with the grandiose description so often found on playbills, 'World Premiere': theatres with fresh audiences who come prepared. The season at Scarborough, which I've been running myself for the past couple of years, can safely present new plays in over half the programme, thanks mainly to the enlightened policy introduced by its founder, Stephen Joseph, over ten years ago."
Of course, the Library Theatre now had two advantages in its aim to champion new work. The first being the presence of a new play every year by Alan Ayckbourn - the success of which was as close to a guarentee in theatre as possible - as well as royalties from Alan Ayckbourn's West End productions.
The latter had not kicked into high gear yet, but the theatre benefitted substantially from Relatively Speaking's West End premiere in 1967 and was about to become a regular source of income from 1970 when How The Other Half Loves kick-started an almost perpetual Ayckbourn presence in the West End for the next three decades.
The famous dining room scene from Alan Ayckbourn's
hit 1969 play How The Other Half Loves.
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
It was not all plain sailing though as Alan's first season as Director Of Productions saw the Library Theatre's attendances drop significantly. A point raised by the board at Scarborough Theatre Trust's annual general meeting.
"[The] Secretary felt that the 1969 season had been very successful artistically but there had been a considerable drop in the attendance at the box office which the Trust felt was due to the choice of plays. The Secretary hoped that more consideration would be given to the early season audiences in 1970. Mt Ayckbourn noted this and told the meeting that he was planning to write a musical for the 1970 season."
Whether Alan actually intended to write a musical is open to debate as there is no record of any attempts to write a musical during this period in archive; famously his first musical was the West End flop Jeeves in 1975. Alan was, however, unanimously agreed to be asked to be appointed the Director Of Productions for 1970, which he agreed to.
But it proved to be another challenging year and at the 1970 AGM, it was announced the company had made a loss of £1,330 that year and the minutes recorded the note: "Artistically the season has been excellent, I think we have never before had such a strong and competent company of actors. However, the choice of plays did not make the season a success from a box office point of view."
The company from the 1970 summer season notably including
Bob Peck (front left), Stephenie Turner (top, second from left) &
Elisabeth Sladen (top, second from right).
Copyright: Scarborough Theatre Trust
Alan had been unanimously agreed to be offered the Director Of Productions role in 1970 and whilst all evidence points to the fact Alan would have been offered the job again, it's open to speculation whether - after two loss-making seasons - he was seen as the man to turn things round.
But that decision was about to be taken out of the Trust's hands. Having been censured for running over-budget by £900 for hiring two extra actors that season, resulting in a vote by the Trust that the Artistic Director must not go over-budget, it was announced Alan - not present at the AGM - would not be available to run the theatre in 1971.
It later transpired his unavailability was due to his first Broadway transfer and he would be accompanying How The Other Half Loves on its North American debut tour and transfer to New York.
With Alan away from Scarborough for at least a year, the Library Theatre had to find a new Director Of Productions for 1971 with no guarentee of Alan's involvement in the season.
Would Broadway and the West End tempt Alan away from Scarborough for good?

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