AGM and SEMINAR 2019

SJA Annual General Meeting and Seminar at the Playground Theatre, London
SPACE AND PLACE – theatre challenges in the 21st century.

On Friday 20th September the Stephen Joseph Association (SJA) held their second AGM and Seminar at the Playground Theatre, London.  The Stephen Joseph Association was formed two years ago to remember and celebrate the work of Stephen Joseph. 

Stephen was the pioneer of theatre-in-the-round in the UK and lecturer in the Drama Department of Manchester University.  The association consists of Stephen’s ex-students and professional artists and colleagues who had known and worked with him.  The aim of the association is to promote Stephen’s legacy and to celebrate the centenary of his birth in 2021.  

This AGM was particularly important as it marked the official amalgamation of the SJA with the Association of British Theatre Technicians (ABTT), following an initiative by Robin Townley, CEO of the ABTT. It was felt to be a particularly good fit for both parties as Stephen Joseph was one of the original founders of the ABTT and the SJA will benefit enormously from the organisation and expertise of the ABTT. 

After a tasty lunch provided by the Playground Theatre catering staff, the seminar was attended by about 30 members & associates of the SJA, and also some members of the public. Peter Tate, Co-Artistic Director of the Playground Theatre opened the proceedings with a lively presentation about the past history and present aims of the theatre, starting as a studio space for artists to explore their unique voices and creating the present theatre four years ago.

Seen in the photograph with Peter are (L to R) Tony Jackson, Terry Lane (both SJA/ABTT Steering Committee) and Christine Stott (SJA/ABTT Committee Secretary)

Namoi Sorkin and Faynia Williams were with Philip Hedley, the former artistic director of the  Theatre Royal, Stratford East. Phillip later made a notable contribution in a discussion on how to make a theatre a local go-to destination, in which he emphasised the importance of actors and how they relate to their audience.   

Andrew Sanders, Tony Jackson and Terry Lane with David Roger

Four speakers had been invited to speak to the theme of ‘Space and Place’ and brought a wide range of talents and experience to their presentations. The presentations were introduced by Richard Bunn, Chairman of ABTT. 

Iain Mackintosh is today best known as a theatre producer and theatre design consultant. He gave a thought-provoking presentation on the ephemeral nature of performance but the endurance of theatre buildings, and the necessity today of a theatre company to work within the confines of a theatre building and available funding. He drew attention to the triangular relationship of actor and audience and audience with audience and how this is influenced by different theatre buildings.  

Faynia Williams has a lifetime’s experience as actor, director of radio documentaries, artistic director of four theatres and is currently Artistic Director of Brighton Theatre. She worked with Stephen Joseph in the round and sees the role of theatre as seeing and interpreting and bring some order into what is happening now. In this way theatre can be a way to strengthen democracy. 

Richard Crane, who has an eminent history as an actor and writer for stage and radio and was co-founder of Brighton Theatre. He talked about the huge changes that have happened to theatre and theatre buildings in the 20th and 21st centuries. Memorably he outlined the actors task today is to use their space and place to bring the Four Hs to their work – honesty, humanity, humour and hope.

David Cockayne, Richard Bunn (ABTT Chairman) and Mike Bath

The final speaker was David Roger, who has worked as a production designer in a vast range of TV, theatre and commercials, including large scale productions in the round at the Albert Hall. Ironically for a stage designer he saw the power of performance that does not depend on elaborate sets but on the interaction of actor and audience. When designing he starts by drawing the figure of the actor, and only then adding their clothes and their props. He is wide in his preferred styles of staging but only insists that, whatever the staging, it must be done well. 

The presentations were much appreciated by the audience and were followed by a lively discussion, led by chairman Alistair Livingstone, on plans to celebrate the centenary of Stephen Joseph’s birth in 2021, exploring links with the Orange Tree Theatre, the Central School, London and the University of Manchester. Faynia Williams emphasised the importance of looking forward and not back, something that Stephen Joseph always did, and the vitality of performance in found spaces, something that Stephen would undoubtedly approve of. 

Report by:
Christine Stott – SJA/ABTT Committee Secretary