I get to be a Fellow in Hat & Gown

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

On December 10, I (with Vanessa Redgrave and Anne Jellicoe), was honored to be made an Honorary Fellow of the newly renamed Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. I had to make a short speech:

“This is indeed a very great honor for me. Thank you, Rick Fisher, (my Presentor) for your gracious words.

I was less than impressed by my time at Central in 1953. Frankly the stage management course in those days was not very good. We were there to sweep the stage after the actors rehearsed. (Mind you, with actors such as Vanessa and Judy Dench, sweeping became something of a privilege.)

But great things did happen at Central. First, I met some wonderful friends. The three most important are here today. Bryan "Kipper" Kendall, who became my partner in our company, Theatre Projects; Shosh Copley, helped edit my first book, and supported me through countless dramas, and, most importantly, Viki Brinton, the girl who was later to become my first wife. She, more than anyone, was responsible for my success.

Viki, Shosh, and I, stage managed the actors’ passing-out performance at Her Majesty’s Theatre. Afterward, Robert Stanton, the stage manager of the evening show, offered me a job.

I returned to Central and spoke to Vera Sargant, the Registrar. “Miss Sargant, I must leave tomorrow.” She said that I couldn’t, I must stay until the end of term. I did leave, but under a bit of a cloud—with the lowest possible diploma: a Class C.

Two years later, I began Theatre Projects. We designed stage lighting. We set up against Strand Electric, then the only lighting company in Britain. We created a team of designers, that included such luminaries as Robert Ornbo, David Hersey and Andy Bridge. With David Collison we pioneered stage sound design in Britain.

Theatre Projects Consultants today designs theatres and concert halls around the world. We have been involved in over 1,800 projects in 80 countries with offices on three continents. We have led revolutionary changes in theatre design.

Today in Britain there over 200 companies in theatre lighting with a turnover of £220 million exporting to every corner of the globe. The British theatre technology industry is worth about £1.3 billion. 

Weren’t the Olympics just awe-inspiring? I can only wish that our government could begin to appreciate that extraordinary asset that is the British stage.

I’m deeply honored by this Fellowship. As a teenager, inspired by Edward Gordon Craig, I had a dream that one day my Theatre Projects would become “Masters of the Art and Science of the Theatre.”

Central School put my feet on the path. Surrounded by friends and with many brilliant colleagues, we succeeded far beyond my wildest dreams. We’ve played a small role in making British Theatre Design and Technology the finest on the planet.

Royal Central School, I thank you. To all you young people now enjoying Central’s massively improved courses, I say: "Dream big dreams . . . You are entering a world of extraordinary possibilities: the theatre! “