Working on the Stage Door at the New London clearly allows you some time to pursue all your other interests…
Definitely. I think if I’d have known about stage door a lot earlier in my career, I would have done it then! Because it’s the best gig on the planet! Firstly, you’re still within the confines of the theatre and you become aware of the other disciplines through the responsibilities that you have and keeping an eye on communication. Secondly, the hours meant for me personally – if I’m doing a morning shift, I finish at 1.30pm, and then I’ve got my Positive Steps hat on. Or if I’m doing the afternoon shift from 1.30-11pm, then in the morning I’ll have my Positive Steps hat on. It’s perfect.
Talking about stage door, how long have you been working at the New London?
I’ve been at the New London since 1997 and probably on Stage Door since 98, 99.
What shows have you seen during your time at the New London?
Cats was here – it was great seeing Cats! At the time I was working front of house and one of the Cats, said ‘Hi Leon!’ and it was Sam Bidulph, who I had been to college with but I didn’t recognise her because of the costume and make up! And then somebody else came by and elbowed me in my back saying, ‘Leon, it’s me, Leah!’(Leah Sue Moreland) and it was a bit crazy… you just can’t hide!
You clearly have theatre in your blood!
The beautiful thing about it for me is, I approach the work front of house the same way I do when I am working as an artist and when I’m working on Positive Steps. The interesting thing for me is that you’re in a building that allows you to breath, dream and escape. And night after night after night, you see the appreciation that audiences give to artists. I know people who have worked throughout their whole career and don’t maybe get that gold watch, or the boss to turn round and say ‘well done’ – but in the theatre, you kind of see that instant and you know how important your role is in the whole picture. I’m sitting in the perfect environment for me. I’m still in theatre, and I’m still learning, and any questions that I have about lighting or sound, there’s always somebody at hand to come and help me.
When I worked for Radio 4 I once said, ‘what has two wings and can take you on a journey? Most people would think I’m talking about a bird, and some people would thing I’m talking about a plane, but I’m talking about a stage, because a stage can take you wherever you want to go.’ My producer was about to come running into the studio saying ‘the red lights on! We’re going out live! Where does this come from?’ But when you’re working in a theatrical or creative environment, you’re always around people that think outside the box.
What other theatres have you worked in?
I started working at the Adelphi Theatre in 1986, front of house, and the family that we built as front of house people then still connects today. I can remember friends like Actor Clive Rowe, he was there with me. Neil Johnson – years ago they used to have the Fame posters with the chap jumping up, that was him, the young black guy – we all worked front of house together, and he now works for Chelsea Football Club as personal trainer & a Pilates teacher.
So it’s a real community?
Yeah – you don’t change. I usually find people are the same way when they come in as they are when they leave, no matter what role they’re doing. Because you never judge somebody and go, ‘you’re a Stage Door keeper, and you’re the lead in the show’ – because you know the roles could be reversed at the drop of a hat. A show comes off, and then next week you’re coming into Stage Door asking if there are any jobs! It truly is like being part of a family.
Have you ever had any funny experiences during your time on Stage Door?
There was one of the leads for Cats… one Sunday, I was in the building painting – because I’ve done all the jobs at the New London, its like my home! – anyway she was trying to get in the building, because she thought we had a show on, on a Sunday. I just thought, how sweet! I know myself, sometimes I’m in the back saying, ‘excuse me, what day is it today?!’ She thought she was coming in to do the Saturday matinee she’d done the day before! But I understand – you just get into automatic pilot, thinking ‘Time for work.’ That’s probably one of the funnier stories.
How do you feel about the fans who wait at Stage Door for a glimpse of their favourites?
I have a real empathy with them, because for a lot of them they might be doing a 9-5 job or they might be students, and the biggest thing for them that week or that month or maybe that year, could be the fact that they’re standing at Stage Door and they acquire an autograph. Not even sometimes to acquire an autograph – people stand there and go ‘he or she looked at me!’ Sometimes people will say to me, ‘is it alright if I stand there?’ and I say, ‘of course you can stand there,’ and they’re just so happy to be standing at the front of the gate. They are the ones that keep theatre alive.
And people are accessible in theatre more than TV or film…
Yes, I’ve had people who’ve come to me and knocked on the door, and I have to press two buzzers to let them in… and they say, ‘could you get this signed for me?’ and they give me the biggest smile. I say, ‘don’t worry, come back in a couple of days and I’ll make sure as many people can sign it.’ Because I think it’s important.
But they are a funny crowd. I remember the last day of Cats, the amount of people that were at Stage Door. But there were more on the Monday morning when I was coming into work after the show had closed! There were young children who were there waiting by the skips to see what was going to be thrown out. You can just see it in their eyes… they’re wearing their hearts on their sleeves, and I can see the commitment. Because no one knows when that special moment is going to come to you but it will remain with you forever.
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