When you run a theatre that has been around for over 300 years it’s clear that you are only one of many custodians of the establishment and can only do your best in the brief incumbency that you have. My decision was to, in that brief time, turn Sadler’s Wells into an internationally significant dance house that produced work as well as presenting that which already existed.
The biggest gift I had in that regard was the building itself – remodelled in 1998 by Ian Albery and RHWL Architects, into a place where dance could thrive with an enlarged stage and as much front facing seating as was possible so that everyone could have a clear and unencumbered view. The seats are relatively close together engendering a feeling that you are enjoying this experience as a collective rather than with slightly distant neighbours.
A theatre’s success is entirely dependent on the relationship between auditorium and stage, the audience should be neither too close nor too remote from the performers and considering that they had to stick to the relatively large 1,500 seat capacity they did an amazing job in that regard. The other great legacy that the remodellers left me were the three rehearsal studios that have been essential in our new producing phase and lovely spacious foyers that at the same time give the impression of a buzzy theatre through the transparent view from the street.
Sadlers Wells © Philip Vile
“The seats are relatively close together engendering a feeling that you are enjoying this experience as a collective rather than with slightly distant neighbours.”
Apart from the physical nature of the building I also inherited an approach to audiences that was espoused by the great founder of the modern version of the theatre, Lilian Baylis. Her epithet that the theatres’ purpose was to ‘Bring Great Art to the Artisans of Islington’ still rings true even if the nearest to the Artisan that they might reach these days is at the local bakery!
I am absolutely sure that I was drawn to work there over twenty years ago because I hadn’t been brought up in a theatre going family and entered the world of arts and culture as, what I perceived as, being an outsider. Sadler’s Wells has a reputation for welcoming everybody and it’s been my mission to turn that word into its true meaning by offering a rich diversity of genre and different cultural aesthetics into the programme. I’m not sure Lilian Baylis would love our hip hop Festival Breakin’ Convention but she would have loved the audience!