Local Historian helps local theatre
Local historian John Crockford-Hawley has completed a new limited edition book to add to his collection of many local historical books to help the Blakehay Theatre in Weston-super-Mare which is closed due to COVID-19.
At a time when the theatre would be throwing open our doors and giving you a peek behind the scenes, for the national event ‘Heritage Open Days’ this book tells the journey of this beautiful building in the heart of Weston-super-Mare from its beginnings in 1850 to being awarded ‘Best Evening Out’ in 2020.
The book details how the how the building was built and its original purpose in Wadham Street, through struggling times and wonderful expansions to disaster and rebirth.
The book is in full colour with beautiful pictures that have been meticulously researched after many of the historical documents were lost in flames during WWII. An amazing look back and historical record of one of the most important buildings in the heart of Weston-super-Mare.
This wonderful donation of time and money from John Crockford-Hawley, means that all of the proceeds from the sale of this limited edition book will go to help the Blakehay Theatre during these times.
The Blakehay Theatre closed its doors on Tuesday 17th March 2020 due to the pandemic and with no guidance on when the doors will reopen for live theatre.
The Blakehay Theatre offers a stimulating and inclusive programme at the heart of Weston’s cultural life, appealing to theatregoers of all generations. Their mission is to be leading the way in this zeitgeist for Weston-super-Mare. They create Theatre for the whole community, bringing national popular shows and treading subject matters onto the stage. To promote a creative hub for artists and performers in the local area and a cultural home for fans of the arts.
The theatre’s uniquely diverse program of locally produced and touring work is curated for the Weston audience and visitors. The Blakehay theatre is striving to create an inclusive creative community to make the most of a beautiful venue by using all of its spaces for artistic endorsers.
The theatre may be little, but is has big ideas and wants to survive as it has done historically through difficult times! The vision is to build a ‘big-city’ creative culture into the heart of the Victorian seaside resort of Weston-super-Mare. They need continued public support to help sustain and grow this vision through ticket sales, personal donations, sponsorship and help spreading the word!
The Blakehay Theatre is hoping to open as soon as it is possible, but in the meantime they are looking to use this money to buy equipment to bring theatre out of the building. So, for only £2.00 you can help, and have a piece of limited edition history in your hands.
The book is on sale in the shop at our sister site Weston Museum in Burlington Street, Weston-super-Mare, open Thursday to Saturday from 12pm to 4pm.
Alternatively you can purchase online and this book will be posted to you, or you can click & collect from Weston Museum. Alternatively, do contact our box office on firstname.lastname@example.org
We, at the Blakehay Theatre, are often asked how long we’ve been in Wadham Street or what the building was prior to becoming a Theatre.
Our History Wall has been a long time in the making – something we wanted to do for ourselves and our patrons. The wall will be found in our Foyer, which is accessible during Box Office hours and (normally) 1 hour prior to shows/events. It will give everyone who comes through our doors the opportunity to learn about the building and its history.
Tim Oliver, our Technician and Front of House team member, has been working extremely hard; compiling all the information and ultimately designing our History Wall. He has also written a free pamphlet for people to take and read to go alongside the wall itself. We would like to thank Tim for all his hard work and efforts and cannot wait to see our History Wall come to life.
We hope that putting the building’s and our history permanently on our wall will anchor it and act as a reminder of what has been and where we came from.
The Early Years
Weston Baptist Church was formed and originally met in the Assembly Rooms in West Street (now Loves Café) in 1847. The first pastor, from 1849 – 1877, was Rev. E. J. Rodway.
In 1849, the Church and congregation began to think about building a house for God so that His worship could be carried out without the inconvenience of hired rooms. Money was raised and at a cost of something less than £1000, the Chapel was built and opened in 1850. It was able to house about 300 worshipers. The original Chapel was, however, increased in size several times due to growing numbers.
Firstly in 1862, the Chapel was found to be too small for the growing congregation. This led to the decision to enlarge the place of worship. During the rebuilding, the Church met again at the Assembly Rooms. Instead of just an enlargement, the present Chapel (as we know it now) was almost entirely a new erection. This new chapel was designed by Hans Price at a cost of £1200 using as far as possible the materials of the old chapel. The capacity was increased to about 700 and opened for worship in 1864.
Then again by 1878, the congregation had increased further so necessitated the enlargement of the church to seat 850. The former Schoolroom and manse were also built at this time.
So although the Chapel as we know it today is not the original erection from 1849 – the rebuild in 1862 used as many materials from it as possible to create the new larger Chapel. Therefore building the history quite literally into the walls.
The War Years
We’ll start with a quote, taken from the 1947 centenary brochure. We feel this captures and illustrates what our building went through during these times:
‘At 9:50pm on Saturday January 4th 1941, a bomb fell near the corner of the caretaker’s house and the corner property; smashed the stained glass windows; tore off all doors; smashed all the schoolroom roof and half the church roof; and wrought widespread damage.
During the next eighteen months repairs to the buildings were gradually done, and by the summer of 1942 the church was once again in good repair and the normal work of the church in full swing.
On Sunday night June 28th 1942, the church premises were totally destroyed by fire bombs.’
Our beautiful building remained destroyed and ruined for several years.
After lengthy negotiations with the War Damage Commission, reconstruction of the Church was finally begun in August 1950. The Commission paid for the building but members of the congregation had to provide for seating, electric lighting, organ and communion furniture. Money was raised by the Baptist Women’s League and the church was reopened, free of debt, in October 1951.
Once again, our building was rebuilt several times during the War Years – much like it was in the Early Years, but for very different reasons. However, just as before, the congregation came together to make sure the Church in Wadham Street remained as such.
More Recent Years
In 1985, with dwindling worshipers, the Church closed its doors and the building and the land it stood on was initially sold to a property developer to build a block of flats.
At the very last minute, as contracts were exchanged, the Weston Civic Trust stepped in and offered a higher sum of money to save the building. The offer was accepted.
The church was by now not in a good condition and a series of projects were launched to make remedial repairs. The original plan was to turn it into an Arts and Community centre.
The Friends of the Blakehay (as it was now renamed) hosted many fundraising events to finance the work throughout the late 1980s. Income was also raised by hiring out rooms for local clubs and/or for local bands to rehearse.
During this time, plans were drawn up and the building was converted into a Theatre with a raked auditorium being installed.
Furthermore, in 1989, the manse (now an accountant’s office) was sold off to raise even more money and pay off outstanding debts.
As you may, or may not know, The Blakehay Theatre is currently owned and run by Weston-super-Mare Town Council, alongside our sister venues; Weston Museum and the Visitor Information Centre (VIC). Here is a brief timeline of what has been achieved in the time under the Town Council:
Weston-super-Mare Town Council Timeline:
2004 – The Blakehay Theatre was bought by the Weston super Mare Town Council.
2010 – The Front of House areas were refurbished and made accessible.
2017 – The logo was changed from blue to our now signature purple.
2017 -The upper floor of the old schoolroom was adapted to become the Studio; a multi-purpose, versatile space.
2019 – Foyer was redecorated.
2020 (hopefully) – Our History Wall will be added to our Foyer wall.
Bringing us right up to the present day. Although we may not currently be in the building, we are working hard to get it ready for us to slowly start re-entering it; starting with staff and working our way to a safe space we can open to the public.
We hope to see you all very soon in the beautiful and historic Blakehay Theatre.
With the current global situation, we find ourselves in extraordinary circumstances where theatres are closed. Not only do I work in a theatre, I love attending live theatre. During this time, so many theatres are stepping up to the plate and are still delivering fantastic theatre content in whatever way they can. Most of this is taking the form of streaming previous performances that have been live recorded, for either cinema broadcasting or future DVD/Blu-ray release. So, I thought it would be really interesting to compare the experiences: live theatre vs online streaming.
Let’s start with the obvious, shall we? Live theatre is an experience – it’s not as simple as just watching a show.
I don’t know about you, but I often get gifted theatre tickets and that instantly adds the idea that visiting the theatre is a treat. Sometimes you make a whole evening of it: go out for dinner first or deem it a date night. Theatre tickets can also be expensive, depending on what you are seeing and where. The money you spend to go to the theatre can further aid the opinion that visiting the theatre is indeed a treat.
Additionally, there is an atmosphere when you visit the theatre that can not be recreated. The buzz of a full capacity audience, bustling around in the foyer or bar and the sudden hush that comes across the venue when you realise the show is about to begin. In a theatre environment, you are surrounded by people who are all attending for the same reason as you; to see the show. Therefore there is an instant rapport among the audience – for the love of the show, in one way or another, or simply for the love of theatre. This is something that online streams simply cannot replicate. However, it is amazing that people are going that extra mile to make it feel that way when social distancing. I’ve seen people creating tickets, dressing up to visit the living room and, of course, preparing lighting, snacks and beverages for the occasion.
Online Streaming does have some advantages though. These recordings don’t just happen – a lot of thought and preparation goes into them e.g. the angles required for each scene, when a wide shot or close up is required or where the focus needs to be in a given moment. Therefore, you don’t miss anything important when watching. I have experienced this first hand. I saw a show and due to where I was sitting, there was a side of the stage/set that was slightly obscured from my view. When I watched the same production on DVD, I saw a moment I had missed when watching live.
Furthermore, toilet breaks. The blessing that is the pause button. You don’t have that awful guilty feeling at home when you need to use the bathroom – trying carefully to get past the other audience members to the aisle to make your way out mid-performance. Especially if you end up needing the bathroom during a performance where leaving the auditorium mid-performance means you cannot re-enter! (Yes, I’ve been there). Online Streaming gives you that flexibility to just pause the show momentarily for whatever reason.
It also allows you, to a certain extent, to watch the show at your convenience. A lot of the streams currently are accessible for 48 hours minimum, some for a whole week. It means people working unconventional hours or those waiting for the children to fall asleep are still able to watch the show, even if they’ve missed its premiere.
Most importantly, online streams are providing all of us with that little bit of theatre that we need in this trying time. The fact so many theatres and companies have found a way to deliver us content we otherwise can’t access in its normal format is truly great.
That show you couldn’t see because you were working?
The show you couldn’t see because it wasn’t coming to a local venue?
Your favourite show you couldn’t see again due to financial reasons?
All likely to be solved by this industry adapting and still working incredibly hard on what they, and we, love.
Let us know what streams you’ve watched and which has been your favourite so other people can share the experience!
Speak again soon,
N.B In these unprecedented times, please consider donating to live streams, theatres and charities if you have the means to do so. For me, especially, it feels like they have kept us going and given us new things to watch and enjoy in a situation where there isn’t much else we can do.
We will keep you updated here if there are any changes in what is happening at the theatre.
Please do sign up for our weekly newsletter where all the news, gossip and current event information will be sent to your inbox each Friday during this time. We thank you for your support and understanding at this time and hope you are all keeping safe. We look forward to welcoming you back to the theatre soon.
News Update – 03/09/20
As you know, Central Government allowed theatres to re-open on 15th August 2020 with indoor performances. Unfortunately, due to social distancing measures still needed to be in place, this has meant that it is not financially viable for both theatres or companies to be able to do this. With our little theatre this would be a drop to only a 12% capacity in our main house at a 2m distance and only 25% at a 1m distance. Therefore, our companies feel that with this dramatic drop it is only viable to perform once social distancing measures are lifted. We are happy to say that all of our summer 2020 productions have been postponed to 2021 with tickets still available.
As you may be aware, we have applied for the government ‘Theatre Recovery Fund’ and so until we hear if we are successful with this grant, our doors will unfortunately remain closed. If we are successful we will be informed on Monday 5th October 2020 and we will share the news as soon as we know. If we are successful, then we have lots of exciting projects planned to bring you live theatre once again from the Blakehay Theatre but in the meantime , please keep your fingers crossed!!
We are delighted to say that from next week our staff will be back working inside the building, this will be behind closed doors for now, but it will be lovely to see all of our staff back, even if it is just a few days per week. We will be putting together a plan to be able to continue bringing you our Virtual Theatre throughout the Autumn/Winter season and be ready for when the government guidance changes to say that we are able to re-open fully.
We have done our best to contact everyone who had tickets for our productions at the theatre, but if you have not heard from us, then please do email email@example.com with your booking name, show details and your contact email so that we can keep you up to date with any changes. Anyone, who has bought tickets for our shows, will be contacted as soon as we can confirm that these performances will go ahead and issued with new tickets. If you have any problems or concerns please do email us.
Again, thank you for your understanding, patience and support and we hope to be welcoming you back into our beautiful building soon.
News Update – 17/07/20
We just wanted to update you on where we are with the reopening of the Blakehay Theatre and what our current plans are. We are delighted to say that from 1st July, our staff are back in the theatre working from behind closed doors to get the theatre ready for when we are can reopen.
As you are aware, the government have just announced that theatres will be able to reopen from 1st August 2020. However, as we write this, the updated guidance is yet to be released and it seems that this will be for a socially distanced audience only. Being a small venue, we do not feel that we will be able to financially open the doors to audiences until we are able to welcome a fuller audience into our main house.
However, we will be busy reading and getting our head around the guidance so that we are ready to open as soon as we are able to.
Not only this, but the government also released the guidance in which to reopen dance studios from 25th July 2020, which we are lucky enough to have a beautiful first floor studio where we have many weekly community classes from dance to yoga. Therefore, we have also been reading up on this guidance and been in communication with the providers of these classes.
There are many health and safety considerations to undertake, and being an old building some of these are proving challenging to overcome, but we will not reopen until we can ensure the safety of our patrons and staff at this time.
We have been working closely with nationwide theatre bodies and organisations as well as our local companies that work with us and have produced a timetable that we are working towards at present so that we can be ready when any announcements are made. Unfortunately this has meant that we have made the decision to postpone all of our current live performances and these are now booked in from February 2021 and we have worked with all of our lovely companies who are willing to do this. New dates have all been confirmed and all ticket holders have been informed, all tickets will remain valid for the new date and our box office staff will be in touch as soon as we can be assured that these dates can go ahead to issue your up to date tickets. We also have a great line up of new shows for 2021 and these will be announced shortly! So please do support these companies and your local theatre, by booking your tickets online. We are also planning on opening our Studio Theatre Cinema from January 2021! We also have exciting plans in development to bring our theatre to life during the Winter months but more details will be released as soon as we can!
We are currently working towards opening our doors to our wonderful patrons from the beginning of September 2020, with our Box Office, Theatre Bar and Studios open. More details on this will be released as soon as we have these in place. We hope that this will bring all of our amazing classes back into the studio and we look forward to welcoming you all back and some new people too, and you can pop in for one of our lovely cups of coffee!
We will be continuing to bring you our ‘Virtual Blakehay Theatre’ for the foreseeable future and we will keep you up to date with news as we can through our website, social media and our weekly e-newsletter.
Thank you for your understanding and support of your local theatre at this time, we hope that you are keeping safe and that we will be able to see you before too long. If you have any worries, queries or questions, please do contact us on 01934 645493 or email firstname.lastname@example.org where we are here to help from Monday to Friday from 10am to 2pm.
News Update – 24/06/20
Further to the latest update from the Prime Minister yesterday, we wanted to update you on what is happening at the Blakehay Theatre. As you are aware, the Prime Minister is allowing venues to re-open from 4th July 2020, however we will not be allowed to have live performances or any classes from this date. Therefore, we still remain closed until we have guidance from Central Government of when we will be allowed to re-open.
However, we are busy making plans and from 1st July we will have some of our staff working at the theatre again, behind closed doors, getting your theatre ready for when we get the go ahead. We hope to plan to open up some of services to you as we are able to, and this will be done in a phased and safe way. We have been in contact with all of the companies that use our building today and if any shows from September 2020 are to be postponed we will inform you as soon as we know more so that we can ensure the best and safest experience for everyone. (Please see our website and social media for up to date information regarding postponed shows and events.)
We will be continuing to bring you our ‘Virtual Blakehay Theatre’ for the foreseeable future and we will keep you up to date with news as we can through our website, social media and our weekly e-newsletter. Thank you for your understanding and support of your local theatre at this time, we hope that you are keeping safe and that we will be able to see you before too long. If you have any worries, queries or questions, please do contact us on 01934 645493 or email email@example.com where we are here to help from Monday to Friday from 10am to 2pm.
News Update – 28/05/20
As you may be aware, at present we currently remain closed and all of our staff are working remotely, and we are busy with a Virtual Blakehay Theatre.
We are currently in the process of devising a plan on a phased re-opening when we are given the go ahead by central government and if this is safe to do so. We are taking our staff, companies and patrons safety as the upmost priority for any steps that we take and will not rush into opening without due diligence.
As soon as we have this plan and all of our risk assessments in place we will be sharing this with all of our companies that use our building, the timescales on this will need to be flexible as we are in a state of flux but we will endeavour to get back up and running as soon as it is safe to do so.
We have spoken to all of our companies that had shows booked in before September 2020 and these have all been postponed for later in the year or 2021. Some of our Autumn season performances have also decided to postpone until 2021 so that they can ensure the best and safest experience for everyone. (Please see our website and social media on information regarding postponed shows.)
Thank you for your understanding and support of your local theatre at this time, we hope that you are keeping safe and that we will be able to see you before too long.
News Update – 13/05/20
Further to the announcements by central government this week, we would like to inform you that nothing has changed at the theatre and we are still currently closed as a building and continuing with our Virtual Theatre and events online.
However, we are looking at plans as to how we will re-open in the future, but be rest assured that we will not re-open at any level until we can make the theatre safe for our staff, patrons, performers and producers. As soon as we know more and we are able to give you a fixed date of return we will update you.
In the meantime we are in constant communication with all of our producers and hirers regarding upcoming events and will inform you through email, our weekly newsletter, website and social media of any changes to any current events and shows.
Thank you for your support and understanding at this time and we hope you are keeping well and safe.
News Update – 06/05/20
We hope you are all staying safe and well.
The team are still hard at work during this time and we are in constant contact with all of our producers regarding our re-scheduled shows. Please do keep up to date with new re-scheduled dates as we are constantly reviewing the situation and moving shows around. All up to date information can be found on our website, Facebook page and through our weekly newsletter.
Please be rest assured that all tickets purchased are and will be valid for all re-scheduled shows, and we are emailing all those that have bought tickets as soon as we know any new dates or if anything changes. If you have bought tickets for shows and not received an email from us, this maybe that our customer records are not up to date, so please do contact our box office at firstname.lastname@example.org with any concerns or your up to date email address so that we can keep in contact.
At present the team is working with other UK theatres on plans and ideas of how we can get the theatre up and running safely as soon as possible, however this is just in the research stages at the moment and we will not open until it is absolutely safe to do so.
We hope you are enjoying our online ‘Virtual Blakehay Theatre’ and we are constantly updating this, so please let us know if we have missed anything. We want to take this opportunity to thank you all for your continued support during this time. We are missing you all and hope that we will see you at the theatre as soon as we can.
News Update – 14/04/20
We are in contact with all of our production companies and we will let you know via our Facebook Page, Website and Weekly Newsletter if anything changes to any of our show dates.
Please be rest assured that all tickets will be transferred to the new dates and we will inform you of these, and if you are unable to attend any of the new dates we will honour a full refund through our online ticket service, so please do keep buying your tickets to support your local theatre.
The blakehay box office email address is being monitored and is available from Monday to Friday from 10am to 2pm at this time. If you have already signed up to receive our monthly newsletter, you will automatically be sent this, but if not please do sign up to this online via our website as this is where we will be sending you updates from now on.
We have become a Virtual Theatre and would love for you all to get involved. If you are creating content, have live events on Facebook or would like to be part of this then please do the following; Like our Facebook Page and add us as a co host to any live events, tag us in Facebook using @BlakehayTheatre and we will do our best to share as many of your videos as possible.
We are constantly creating our own content to keep you smiling whilst we are all safely tucked up inside. Please do share this information as there are lots of amazing online live streams, Dance Classes, Yoga, Pilates, singing lessons etc out there and we would like to bring this to you all in one place. Stay safe #stayhome
We thank you for your understanding and patience during these uncertain times, we hope you keep safe and well and look forward to welcoming you back into the Blakehay Theatre soon.
You may have heard me talk about Frank? Who is he and where did he come from?
Well, some of you may know that before I was manager of the theatre, I used to teach dance at the theatre since 2004 on a Sunday morning. I started off teaching in the studio and then moved onto the stage.
At that time, I used to enter the main house auditorium through our accessible entrance and run up the stairs to turn on the house lights by the entrance to the lighting box.
Now the seats that we have in the main house are new and were put in, in about 2010. There used to be a few more seats and they were very heavy but would easily spring up if you weren’t careful.
Every Sunday morning I used to climb the stairs to turn on the lights and every morning the very top chair would go down as if someone was sitting on it. At the end of every session I would again run up the stairs to turn off the lights and the seat would return to its upright position. This was my first introduction to Frank.
Now I must say that I have no idea if Frank is their name, whether they are male or female, but I started saying good morning and goodbye to Frank from the start and it’s kind of stuck, so Frank it is. They don’t seem to mind it!
Over the years whilst teaching we had a couple of incidents that can’t be explained especially the mysterious piano playing….
I was teaching on the stage as normal when I heard a piano playing, thinking it was just the singing teacher or the track on my music I ignored this however, later on that morning we were all in the auditorium, kids sat on the stage and all teachers sat around talking to them. Suddenly we all stopped and looked at each other when we heard a piano playing. We accounted for everyone in the building and I went off to investigate.
Behind the stage is the ground floor dressing room and this was where I could hear the music coming from. I slowly opened the door to find the music stop and the old upright piano in the corner of the room with its lid down.
I shut the door to make my way back around to the stage when the music started again. I again went back to the dressing room and as soon as I opened the door the music stopped. I shut the door and waited outside and sure enough the piano playing started again so I pushed open the door as fast as I could but as soon as I looked into the room the music stopped. This went on a couple more times then the music just stopped.
I made my way back to the stage and admitted that I had no idea where the music was coming from and that there was nobody there. I blame Frank!!
It’s not just me though….
Not long after I started working at the theatre, I was having a conversation with the housekeeper, who had been there for several years, when she started talking about the ghost. I stood quietly whilst she spoke about how she had felt someone walk past her in the corridor and that she didn’t like being in the building on her own as she felt someone was there with her. I blamed Frank!!
We had a charity running a café in the theatre bar for a few months and one of them asked me who was talking in the disabled toilet? I explained that I was the only one in the building with her and I hadn’t heard anything. Sure enough if you are in the toilet you can hear people talking through the sink quite clearly! We blame Frank!!
Weston College students were in the theatre rehearsing on the stage for their upcoming show, there were only 4 of them, whilst I was working in the box office with the theatre closed to the public. One of them came running out of theatre to me in the box office looking panicked and almost in tears. I asked her if she was okay and she could hardly breathe but kept asking who the man was? I asked her what she meant, she said they were on stage and she saw a man in the windows of the top doors into the theatre watching them. I explained to her that I was the only other person in the building and that no-one could have got there without getting past me. We blamed Frank!!
Sometimes you hear unexplained noises, lights going on or off and a cold wind where you wouldn’t expect it. We have had a paranormal investigation, but they couldn’t find Frank but I know he’s there.
Most of the staff (past and present) are not happy about being in the theatre alone, but I love it. He’s friendly and never done anything to harm anyone.
So we live with him, I always say good morning and goodbye. Have a little chat with him if I’m alone.
So next time you visit do say hello to Frank, I think he likes to be acknowledged!
As they say all great theatres have a ghost!
Sally (Theatre Manager)
So today marks 9 years of me being here at the Blakehay Theatre. Yes that’s a full 9 years I have been here since April 2011. I thought it would be nice to share my first day with you…..it was different!
On my first day I was excited and nervous about what I had got myself into. I was asked to meet the Town Clerk at the council offices in Grove Park at 9am. We had a meeting in his office where I met the Facilities Manager who was to be my line manager.
You see I did not start as the Theatre manager but the theatre supervisor with the Facilities Manager overseeing the Blakehay, Weston Museum and the Waterpark. Please note that he had only been in the job a week himself!
Anyway, after a meeting with them both at Grove House, I was sent over to Weston Museum to have a meeting with the Facilities Manager (he was based there) and the Museum Supervisor (the museum was only taken over on the 1st April that year) to have a chat about how we would have weekly meetings and catch ups.
Now all this was great but time was marching on and we were now at 2pm and I hadn’t even set foot in the theatre!
A few days before my official start date I was called by the Town Clerk to say that the box office had been covered by agency staff and that the current one would be leaving before I started. Okay I said, little to my knowledge that on my first day I would be whisked into interviewing agency staff for the role!
So at 2.30pm, myself and the facilities manager finally end up walking back to the theatre, yep I had finally set foot inside the building!
Here I was met by the acting manager, taken up to the Studio, set up some tables and straight into interviews! Luckily the three of us were there, but I can honestly say I had absolutely no clue what to ask as I didn’t know the job myself! Anyway by 4.30pm we had picked a suitable candidate and they were to start in a couple of days.
After the interviews I was given a very large bunch of keys by the acting manager, told how to lock up and set the alarm and was then left with a good luck and a closing of the front door by both ex-acting manager and facilities manager.
Stood in an empty foyer with no clue what to do, I was now the theatre supervisor and set about trying to work out what key fitted which lock and where all the light switches were!
That’s it, that was my first day. Talk about a baptism of fire!!
Well within the year I managed to recruit some staff (only me, a housekeeper and our agency recruit, for a while) became the Theatre Manager and started building up the theatre with shows (only 2 on the books on my first day)!
There were struggles and stumbling blocks along the way and trying to adjust to how councils work but I have loved all 9 years of being at the Blakehay Theatre and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
I can honestly say that I still have that excitement of going to work each morning, thinking of ways to improve and adapt to the needs of the community and the entertainment business and have had the pleasure of working with an amazing team of staff, past and present.
In this time where the building is closed and we are all hunkered down in our homes, I am still excited and working on how we can further develop the theatre further when we are all back!
Theatre is in your blood, it doesn’t matter if you are on or off the stage. It’s the roar of the audience, the tingle in your skin when a show comes together the overture plays or the house lights go down and I am grateful that I am a part of that and long may it continue.
Stay safe and I hope to see you all soon!
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.
Theatre Technician – Rob
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.