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Sir Alan Ayckbourn
Stacey Morley, a student at Arden School of Theatre, Manchester, England, recently completed her dissertation for her B.A. (Honors) in Acting Studies. Her paper focussed on the career of Stephen Joseph, who, among other significant contributions to theatre, founded The Studio Theatre Company in Scarborough where he nurtured many young talented writers and actors, among them Alan Ayckbourn, one of England's most successful and well-respected playwrights, the first living playwright to be knighted since Noel Coward in 1970. Below are the texts of two interviews with Sir Alan, currently the Artistic Director of the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, which Stacey conducted during the course of her research.
Interview of July 29, 1997:
S.M.- Why take on responsibility of Artistic Director of S.J.T.?
A.A.- My two careers, in fact three careers at one point - they developed independently of each other. I came here in 1957 as an actor/stage manager, becoming an actor when I was about 17 years old and I really wanted to become an actor. At that stage I had no formal training, couldn't afford one and it was easier at that point to get in through the back door - that was my admission but when I joined I had worked in Leatherhead, Oxford, Worthing various places and when I came here - when I first came in, it was not like other theatres I had worked in - they were conventional reps. - this was extraordinary in that it was in The-Round and it was also extraordinary in that it was run by Stephen Joseph. He became a sort of mentor for me. I was just 18 and he was in his 30's - he was so dynamic. But I think he found out that I used to write a bit at school and he was very keen on getting active members of the theatre to write - he believed the writer belonged inside the theatre rather than some guy who wrote a play in The Hebrides, which was quite common because unless you were Noel Coward or someone, you really weren't inside the theatre framework. And he said quite rightly, from the days of Shakespeare, that a writer was an integral member of The Company. Shakespeare of course was an acting member of The Globe Company.
So he encouraged me to write and then when he saw my acting abilities he started encouraging me to direct and the two developed. And when he died, very young, 1967, then I was like his second Director. In the few years I'd been there, seven or eight, I'd grown from being an A.S.M. to being a Director come Stage Manager, come Leading Actor - so I was doing all those roles. So they rang me up, The Scarborough Committee, which was mainly an amateur committee at that point - they administered for Stephen - but then he was so dominant and they didn't really know any other Directors, professional ones and they rang me up and asked if I would take it on and I for a couple of years had said right up until 1970 that I was coming over in the summer - that's what it was a summer operation. I would come and put it together, form a company and sort of keep the flag alive but (I was still under 30) and I really didn't want to get involved with the theatre because by that time my writing career was just starting to get on well, relatively speaking, in London and I was writing another one which was promised to be done and all that - although each time I was using this Theatre as a launch pad but I was quite happy to do that and my directing career was also beginning to go somewhere (I'd given up acting) but I got drawn into it and by the early 70's I'd accepted the task of taking it on, full time. Again I never really thought about staying here. We began to develop it from the 13 week seasons which Stephen had formed which were literally between June and September - doing a repertoire of new work. I wanted to push into the winter, which is something all the Scarborians said - Whooa he won't make it work in the winter. We started doing a Christmas season and started to tour in the Autumn, then we had a little Spring season - we toured then we'd come back to the Summer. Slowly I began to close the gaps - just a bit longer, we went over the sacred barrier of cricket week into October and found we had an audience here for that.
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