I started at the Half Moon in the Autumn 1980 as Appeal Manager. It was my second job after graduating ion History of Art. The offices and theatre were still in Alie Street. All the staff had been made redundant apart from an Arts Council trainee designer, (Martin?) an arts Council Trainee Director – Nick Hamm, and the administrator Anna Stapleton who left after a week! I got the job because a friend Alby James (theatre director) and I were at UEA together – he knew Rob Walker the AD. It was very informal – no Equal Ops interviewing then! I stayed for 4 years as Appeal Manager running the fundraising and then as the link with the architects and building team building the new theatre on the Mile End Road. After 6 months in Alie Street we moved into buses as our offices parked alongside the building site of the new theatre. The theatre operated in the temporary home of the Methodist Chapel. There was also another office building. I remember that was fired by the National Front (we assumed – but it might have been a disgruntled actor) as the fire was lit on Rob Walkers desk!
The Appeal Chair was Illtyd Harrington of the GLC and there was a lot of political support from the Labour led GLC. It was an exciting time – Arts Council had given a large capital grant and there was a planning gain grant through Tower Hamlets Council form the sale for redevelopment of the Alie Street Theatre. The Board of the theatre including a lot of East End activists like Claire Bland (Eve’s mother) and Steve Gooch (writer). The Appeal Committee had more political figures rather than wealthy folk on it. The fundraising was hard going – we were a socialist theatre. We did a West End benefit with Maggie Steed and Frances de la Tour – who had been in Rob’s Hamlet – that was great fun – its was also the time of the Miners Strike, the Falklands War – I was young and not very politically aware but learning fast! There was a constant tension with the local community aspirations of the Theatre as being theatre for the people – I’m not sure it succeeded although the Half Moon Young People’s Theatre did – that also caused tensions when there were budget constraints. The Appeal ultimately did not succeed to raise all the money – building started and then stopped. The theatre was never finished. I left shortly before the half finished – but operational – theatre opened and I was sad I was not asked to the opening. I was ill by the time I left – I had felt a lot of pressure (I was 22/23!) to raise the money without a lot of help and management – everyone was expected to get on with the job in isolation. It took me 6 months to recover – I spent a summer growing tomatoes in East Dulwich.
I arrived just after the transfer of Pal Joey to the West End. Shows I recall are WCPC – Robert Stephens in the lead role went missing for two or three nights which was a nightmare! Robert Tresell’s Ragged Trousered Philanthropist was wonderful – Claire Luckham’s Trafford Tanzi with Eve Bland was an amazing show. Before we left Alie Street we also did the Guerilla Festival – which brought shows from Edinburgh to London and was a round up of all the fringe theatre shows of that season – its was amazing. Then there was the annual TEEF – The East End Festival which had more of a focus on local groups and partnerships with other East End arts organisations like THAP and Four Corners. Yakety Yak transferred to the West End and Cant Pay Wont Pay was a great show too. We also had a good relationship with 7:84 theatre. I remember being completely inspired by One Big Blow – the guys became the acapella singing group The Flying Pickets. We also did a gala night for International Women’s Day – a cabaret – the NF stormed the front of the theatre and tried to disrupt the show – I got thumped and winded, but they didn’t get past the box office!
After I left, I did a bit of freelance fundraising with the National Jazz Centre (another building that didn’t happen – I cant have been much good!) and then became Arts Officer in Lambeth – a job I did until 1989 when I moved out of London to the South West. I look back on my time at the Half Moon and I’m grateful for being part of such an amazing time in theatre. There was so much to see and it was so diverse. Anything seemed possible – in spite of the cuts of the 80’s. But I also use that experience of being poorly managed and left un-supported in a key role as a salutary tale when I run leadership and management training. The culture in the theatre was very macho, and if you were an administrator you had little status in terms of a creative voice – or at least you had to shout loud. I was very young and inexperienced. I had to learn quickly to survive and I only just did.