As she takes the helm at Oxford Playhouse, Louise Chantal reflects on those who have inspired her career.
Hilary Adams (History teacher, Bradford Girls’ Grammar School)
As a young history teacher at my secondary school, Hilary Adams was always as irrepressibly enthusiastic as her spaniel Merryman. Every year she directed the Junior Dramatic Society in wildly fanciful productions, beautifully lit and designed by a backstage team she christened F.E.A.S.I.B.L.E. – Fellowship of Enthusiastic and Able, Sound-Incorporated, Backstage and Lighting Experts. I was in charge of lights, and spent years swinging precariously from ladders (Health and Safety in the 1980s wasn’t what it is today!). Ms Adams was an inspirational producer, and is entirely responsible for my subsequent devotion to theatre. Everything since has always been FEASIBLE.
Peter Harlock (Former Managing Director, Hardsell Ltd)
Peter had previously run the marketing departments at the RSC and National Theatre, before setting up his own marketing and PR agency in the 1980s with the late and much-missed Des Carr. It’s fair to say Peter wasn’t the easiest of bosses at Hardsell – most people didn’t stay long! He taught me never to be complacent – with yourself or the client – and to always ‘ask the next question’. We did some amazing work, including Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, the Redgraves’ International Season at Riverside, Lindsay Kemp’s Variété. After his semi-retirement, Peter later applied his forensic attention to detail to tiling my kitchen – exquisitely.
Christopher Richardson (Former Director and Founder, Pleasance Theatres)
In a way wholly fitting for an ex-school teacher, Christopher ran the Pleasance Theatres in Edinburgh and later London as much as a talent development agency as a venue, for stars in the making both on and off-stage. Being a ‘Pleasance Person’ wasn’t just about talent and success – more an indefinable enthusiasm for theatre, and people. As his Deputy, I often rued the quixotic nature of his enthusiasms and ambitions. But you could always rely on him being on your side if something went wrong – especially if it was your fault. Whatever he ranted in private, he would always back you up and mend fences in public. It was a pretty important lesson to learn.
Mark Godfrey (Executive Director, Soho Theatre)
Mark Godfrey has steered Soho Theatre Company from a two-desk rented cupboard to the burgeoning theatrical emporium it is today. Soho could so easily rest on its laurels, but Mark is constantly looking for new challenges, for himself and the organisation. Sold out theatre? Start producing tours and go to Edinburgh! Quiet café? Make it into a third performance space for comedy and cabaret! He’s also brilliant at retaining talented people, expanding their roles at Soho rather than have them leave and lose their experience. I hope I can find a fraction of his entrepreneurial, collaborative, generous spirit in my new job.
Jenny Waldman (former Creative Producer, Cultural Olympiad and London 2012 Festival)
Jenny was my immediate boss at LOCOG, where she co-curated and created the 900 projects which made up the 12-week, multi-genre, nationwide London 2012 Festival. Her calm, cultured exterior belies a steely determination to get the best out of everyone around her, supporting artists to do their best work. The encouragement and faith shown by Jenny, Nigel Hinds and the indefatigable Ruth Mackenzie gave the London 2012 Culture team the strength and confidence to cajole, conspire and concoct a Cultural Olympiad which set a new benchmark (according to the International OIympic Committee!). She reminded me that funding follows talent, and that it’s ideas and our faith in them that matter. She’s now pulling off a similar miracle as the Director of 14-18 NOW. Get ready to see poppies everywhere…
Louise Chantal is Chief Executive of Oxford Playhouse.