Hi Gary! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m Gary Stevens, I’m the Operations and General Manager of The Old Rep Theatre.
How did you first get into theatre?
I first started out working in cinema, where I was a projectionist. Then I went into management, but as time went on I felt like I was more tied to a desk than I was dealing with the public, so I decided to change direction and first moved to theatre 15 years ago. What I liked about theatre was that, whereas films could be repeated anywhere, each show was unique. I started my career at The Alexandra, and I had a good five years there, before moving into Wolverhampton Grand Theatre and finally here in May 2017.
What do you like the most about your role?
Here at The Old Rep, we have a great sense of autonomy compared to bigger commercial theatres who have to report directly from London where the decision is made for them. I also like the variety we have here when it comes to performances – it’s astonishing. It can go from a school production one week to a celebrity appearance the next, it’s a great mix of talent.
The Old Rep formed a partnership with BOA back in 2014, what impact has this had on the theatre?
When the council operated it prior to that, there wasn’t much of a programme here. BOA came along and recognised how much of a great platform it could be for the students there. It gives them the opportunity to move away from a school environment into a proper theatre and perform to an audience, whilst also learning the technical skills. Since BOA has taken it on, the theatre has gone from strength to strength.
Alongside this, we continually do workshops, we hire the space out to organisations and then we fill it with commercial shows as much as we can. But for us, the biggest BOA production every year is the Christmas production. Now in its fifth year, The Snow Queen will be coming this November and preparations are well and truly underway. Before we know it, it will be show week!
What does your average day involve?
I’m pleased to say it’s never the same. A lot of the time I can’t plan what I’ll be faced with from day to day, it would be anything from staff issues to leaks in the building, and during performances there are always a lot of things to consider, especially when there could be up to 100 students backstage.
Favourite part of your job?
I love the period between the audience coming in and the curtain going up, especially on opening night because people don’t know what to expect. The anticipation is so exciting. As a manager, there are so many things to constantly be thinking about, but when you consider the experience you’re giving those people, especially at the end when you see their reactions, that’s the beauty of working in theatre. For me, it’s showmanship, and I love working in an industry that has the power to make people happy.
The theatre is 385 seats across two levels, and although the balcony isn’t open as often as the stalls, the beauty of the venue is its intimacy – it’s very immersive.
You recently received an award of £9,942 from the National Lottery, what will this mean for The Old Rep?
The theatre was built in 1913, and back in those days theatres were built without the real knowledge of what we know now about accessibility. It’s tricky to convert an old theatre, and with an aging audience it’s important to consider the steepness and narrowness of the theatre aisles, especially for those who worry about not being able to hold onto something.
This funding gives us the opportunity to put handrails in which will take away this worry. We know the theatre has to evolve to survive, so it’s just about getting the balance between keeping the theatre’s old charm and listening to our audiences.
How has the theatre changed over the years?
Whilst we don’t have loads of investment, as most funding into the bigger venues, what we have done is made slight improvements along the way. When I came along, we adapted the customer service experience to offer drinks by the box office, which wasn’t there before. Secondary spend is vital to keep us going, so these smaller things are just as important.
The programme has also gone from being significantly dark at times, to us scratching our heads wondering how we can fit everything in now. But there are some things you just can’t put a price on, and I like to describe the Old Rep as a pair of slippers, the audience can slip into the pair of slippers, have a nice and comfy time and go home again.
What do you like about working in Southside?
We’re part of a great community here, and we’re also in a prime location with great public transport links. Customers can get straight off the train at New Street Station and be on our doorstep within minutes.
It feels like we’re part of an exciting entertainment hub, because you’ve also got Birmingham Hippodrome and the Electric Cinema, and all our venues feed into the other businesses.
For example, we know some of our customers will enjoy a meal at the Taj Mahal by stage door before watching a show. It’s nice to have the hive of activity that Southside has. If we weren’t here, it would feel a lot more isolated.
To find out more about The Old Rep, click here.