My memories begin with the early days at the Municipal Hall in Newcastle; Stephen Joseph’s cogently argued case for a permanent home in the area for the company and the selection of Hartshill. Appointments at Hanley High School and Stoke Sixth Form College meant that I was involved with the development of the Vic’s central educational and community philosophies. I was also a trustee for nearly twenty years.
From the outset Vic actors contributed to school drama lessons, visited productions and supported the work of teachers. A and AS Theatre Studies students followed Vic productions from early rehearsals to performance and the experience of watching professionals working and the close relationship between director, cast and the technicians was invaluable. Those who applied for admission to theatre schools had briefing sessions with Vic actors; two students later appeared at the Vic and others also enjoyed successful stage careers.
The Vic’s educational and community work was executed in practical and largely unpublished terms but it was effective, consistent and generated significant goodwill.
The Ages and Stages project
The composition of our group recalled Dryden’s description of Chaucer’s Canterbury pilgrims –“Here is God’s plenty”. Although there was a conspicuous absence of rogues, clerics and gushing theatricals, there was an interesting mixture of personalities, age bands and experience. The experience of Chris Martin and Steven Granville added to the impact of the sessions and the latter’s account of arriving in Stoke for an audition which was actually being held in London was a comic highlight, while the illustrated talks by Pat Blenkarn and James Earls- Davis provided a revealing insight into the vital contribution of the backstage teams to each production.
Participants clearly had a strong feeling of loyalty to the Vic for widely differing reasons, but a common factor seemed to be that it represents something substantial and meaningful in individual lives regardless of age and external circumstances. It is more than a place where one goes to watch shows – the setting and welcoming atmosphere have their own appeal.
Attitudes to ageing were positive, notably cliché-free, and the improvisations which were devised reflected this variety of outlook. The success of the venture owed much the decisive input of members of the Vic Youth Theatre, who were confident and optimistic, as well as being attentive listeners and making constructive contributions to group activities.
My treasured moment came when we were discussing a council leader’s declaration that provision for old age should start at fifty. I wondered how Peter Cheeseman would have reacted to the suggestion that the green grasses of retirement beckoned at that point. The adjectives “incredulous” and “volcanic” came to mind.
Peter Dutton - Ages and Stages Theatre Company