New Home – week 1

By Emily Grimson

When Sarah contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in blogging about our new home a few weeks ago, it was an immediate ‘yes’ from me, with only one condition: can I come and see it? Like many of you, I was curious to see the space and get a sense of how things will work from September onwards – plus, I love a good project! So, about a week ago I hopped on the bus from Kings Cross and met Sarah outside the building, ready to start my glamorous tour. After being reassured that I wouldn’t need a hard hat, I entered the most important room of all: the new bar area. Despite everything being a bit, well, everywhere it was still easy to imagine interval drinks and post-run parties – so far so good! As I entered I could see the area that would become the office and could already imagine our audiences piling in to buy their tickets, before necking a pre-show G&T in the rather roomy bar area.

The bar

Next up, I switched the bar for the barre and checked out the room that is probably the most ‘done’ of them all, largely owing to the fact not too much needs to be done to it at all. It was a dance/yoga type studio with plenty of space, perfect for rehearsals – a reassuring sight to see having just joined the pretty massive cast of Wolf Hall!

Rehearsal Room

Moving on, I climbed the stairs, which has another entrance/exit at the base – handy for piling out the huge audiences we’ll be pulling in, at the end of the night! – and entered the actual theatre. Now, in its current state there is sort of another floor which has been half removed by Phil (who was very enthusiastic about being featured in this) and the team and there is a lot of, to use the technical term, STUFF everywhere. However, it’s already very easy – and pretty exciting – to see that this will be an amazing place to perform. The space will have the flexibility that our current spaces lack, plus a very beautiful and unusual look due to the domed roof and hexagonal (taking a guess here – but it had lots of sides?!) shape. I also explored the dressing room area to the side which has plenty of space (no more quick changes in miniscule areas – woop!), a shower area and toilets.

The roof

Moving downwards, via the soon to be widened (again, thinking of the large audiences here) outside staircase, we made our way to the basement which, if I’m honest, still resembles a leisure centre. However, underneath the detached sauna doors and plastic plants, is an expansive space for storing all of our costumes and props. Plus, plenty more spaces to rehearse in, meaning no more scrambling to book City Lit – there’s space for all!

Swimming Pool

As we made our way back towards the bar area, I couldn’t help but wonder what’s been planned for the Autumn season and if I could sweeten up the directors to ensure my place as one of the first actors on the new stage… I asked Sarah for any hints, but no joy. After a torch lit trip to the loo – electricity is still a bit of a luxury – and final farewell to the building team I hopped back on the bus promising to visit again, red wine and dictaphone in hand ready to find out more about our new home!

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New Home – blog no. 5

by Emily Grimson

It’s been a long while since my last update (vast apologies!) and as you can imagine, there has been a lot going on at The Tower. Hopefully by now many of you will have had a chance to see it and possibly even rehearse in it. I have been a regular visitor over the past few weeks myself in the build up to Wolf Hall and I’ve noticed some key changes. First of all, I am very grateful to no longer have to visit the toilet by torchlight as the facilities are now completed! Work has begun on the bar and Room 2 (the one that used to be one half of a swimming pool!) is now regularly in use for rehearsals.

In other news, Stephen Ley took our old lights to be refurbished by none other than the English National Opera lighting team. Long standing members will recognise Kevin Sleep who honed his interest in lighting at the Tower back in the 1980s. He’s now head of lighting at the ENO and is delighted to be helping his old company. Hopefully we will see more of him at our new home.

Another important stage of our move into the new Tower Theatre has also been taking place over the past few weeks – our fabulous wardrobe. A major sorting, clearing and boxing up campaign took place at City Lit (undertaken by the fabulous Sheila Burbidge, Lynda Twidale, Peter Westbury and Freddie Norris) while at the other end, Nick Insley was busy building our hanging rails (assisted by returning member Michelle Balgobin and new local members Sarah and Mike Nower) so that all was ready for the move of our enviable costume collection from the City Lit storage to its new home.  

Over the weekend of the 9th/10th June, Tower volunteers led by David Taylor were on hand to make sure that the team of professional movers were able to transport everything in just two trips. At the City Lit end, David had Peter, Ella McKenzie, Ian and Ben Thiele-Long and Nicola Stanhope helping to load rails and boxes of costumes and dismantling daunting quantities of shelving. Nick arrived from Stoke Newington duties to take down the old hanging rails. While back in Stoke Newington, Sheila’s team of Nick, Lynda, Michelle, Sarah and Mike with Tom Tillery, Stephen Brasher and Rob Hebblethwaite were receiving the stock into the new Wardrobe space and finding homes for (almost) everything.  It was a great effort by everyone from those in their 20s to those in their 80s and much fun was had by all!

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Stephen Brasher in the empty Cit Lit rehearsal room

Despite this amazing progress there is still A LOT to do, including building new shelving and more sorting and hanging of stock. Harry and Ros Reeder are keeping a note of volunteer teams to get the work done at the new theatre, so if you’re reading this and are itching to get involved please don’t hesitate to contact them here: towertheatrenewhome@gmail.com and let them know your availability. Team work makes the dream work!

Speaking of which, there has been a massive fundraising effort for our Big Get In with almost £50,000 raised at the time of writing, but with almost a month left to go there’s still time for a final push! So, if you’re yet to donate, please do so – every penny really does count –  and if you’ve already donated please do spread the news to your friends, family and any theatre goers you know. You can donate via the Crowdfunding page here.

New Home – blog no. 4

by Emily Grimson

It’s been another busy couple of weeks for our new home: City Lit was cleared of our props over the weekend and they were moved to the Tower ready to be unpacked – no easy task! Thank you to Jean Carr for all of her hard work in arranging the move and to Moira McSperrin, Richard Pederson, Jude Chalk, Ruth Anthony, Richard Davies, Sara and Mike Nower, Wendy Parry,  Tom Tillery and Cathy Thomas for all of your hard work and giving up your weekend to help. Thanks to you, we’re one step closer to having a fully functioning home. 

Speaking of next steps, Rehearsal Room Two officially opened for business last week as the cast of Blue Orange, led by director Colette Dockery, made use of the room for the very first time!

As the project continues to come on in leaps and bounds, I took the time to chat to Project Leader, Nigel, about how he came to be involved, an unexpected Welsh connection and project highlights.

Nigel and team

Nigel – first of all, can you tell me a little about yourself?

I’ve got a very general engineering and technical background. Electronics and computers to begin with, in the 80s, but then I started doing more building projects. About 15 years ago, I started seeing clients in London; one in particular, he’s a film producer and he has three flats in Fitzrovia so even though I’m based in mid Wales, this is the connection with coming to London and working. I do a lot of bathrooms; I did bathroom for Sarah and Stephen Ley two years ago and also last year I converted the top floor of their house for accommodation for Sarah’s mother. Even two years ago, they were talking about ‘oh we’re looking at buying this building’ and thinking what could I do; they said ‘can you do the cloakrooms? Because we need to remodel the cloakrooms’ and so it started off like that and eventually I’ve ended up being the main contractor for the whole building.

So, they told you it was going to be the cloakrooms and it ended up being the entire building?!

A great deal more, yeah. I’m used to running large contracts with 6 or 8 blokes at a time, so I’m experienced at that. It means that I don’t get to do the practical things that I like to do, it’s just I know how to make other people do it. There’s a lot of box ticking as far as health and safety goes these days, we’re very, very hot on that so everyone’s in hard hats and high vis vests and safety boots, they get their induction when they come. I’m digressing now, more about the project than myself!

Anyway, I’ve been in mid Wales for the past 25 years. It’s a small town called Llanidloes and it’s at the heart of the very middle of Wales and it’s quite rural. It’s a very small town and a lot of the guys that I’ve brought to work on this job, the first team that did the first sort of demolition are very close friends and colleagues of mine. Llanidloes, is the first town on the River Severn and the River Wye, just about 6 miles out of town; there’s two little hills with a saddle in between and all the water that goes one way becomes the River Severn and all the water that goes the other way becomes the River Wye. So, it’s a very special, magical little spot.

Welsh workers

Our Welsh workers: Phil Flanagan, Rowan Brunton, Ben Philip and Jobe Spencer

Sounds lovely! Do you have any other connections to the Tower?

No, that’s it!

How about connections to the theatre? Have you ever been involved in the theatre?

No, it’s a bit of a new world for me. I’ve been to the theatre, a few times, not too many times, but no it’s a new realm.

Do you have any favourite shows?

Well the last one I saw, was The Chimes and that was done by a friend, David Willis and it was done for the benefit of a homeless charity in London and Cardiff. I took my lady to see the show in Cardiff, because it’s an old Dickens Christmas play, A Christmas Carol is the famous one, but The Chimes is the next down the line. Well David Willis’ brother is customer number one in Fitzrovia, and he and I have worked together, for each other and he’s a friend of Sarah’s.

Oh, so there is sort of a connection!

They go back together, they both worked at the Drill Hall in London, which is round the corner from this flat. So, it’s all connections!

So, David Willis produced The Chimes and I made the chimes, it was like a set of orchestral chimes, made of scaffold tube.

So you make instruments as props as well?

No, they just said ‘can you do this?’ it was all for the benefit of the charity so, they covered expenses, but it was just by way of contributing to that show. So, yeah, that would be my favourite play. Because it was meaningful to go and watch it and hear the chimes that I made. That was just before Christmas last year, started off in Cardiff and then went to London.

So, there’s that Welsh/London connection again!

Exactly, yeah.

Can you tell me the highlight of this project? Is there a moment that just stands out?

Definitely. To create the auditorium, we had to take down an existing mezzanine floor and it was a massive task, a massive undertaking – 20 cubic yards of plaster board, 4 tons of steel girders that had to be chopped up in the sky and brought down in 5 foot lengths, each weighing about 100 kilos, and it was quite epic and we managed to do it completely safely and without incident and once we’d done that we were really like ‘wow’ and it meant that’s a whole area of operation that we’ve finished with now. Now we’re in the basement and we’re doing the cloakrooms. With the basement, the swimming pool had a concrete upstand going all the way around and that had to be removed, that was very epic because we used a service company who do what they call ‘concrete bursting’ and so they core with diamond drilling equipment these holes in the side of the concrete and then use massive hydraulic pressure to break the concrete, or burst the concrete apart, and we had to chop it up and get rid of it, so we couldn’t have done it without that service. That was a highlight, as you can see it’s all gone now. So that was quite epic. As well as my good friends and colleagues from Wales, I’ve also met and taken on staff here, they’ve all been jolly marvellous and wonderful, for the most part! It’s all ups and downs. So, yeah it’s been very epic and emotional, one hell of a project and I’m really glad to be involved.

 

What’s it like actually living on the project?

It’s a thing that I do, I tend to move in with my clients! It’s my brand, people are like ‘he’s alright he can stay’! So I stayed at Sarah and Stephen’s when I did the first bathroom for about two weeks and all of my work is what I call a very warm contact. It’s friends of friends; when I started doing this work 15 years ago, news travels and I don’t want for work in London. There’s obviously a limited amount of time I want to spend here compared with Wales. It’s often bathrooms and often two to three week projects, which is nice. This is really, really long. It’s been going on for 8 weeks now and perhaps another 4 or 5 to go, so it’s a long time being away from home and away from my partner. We only got together last year so we’re already missing each other! 

Well, we’re very grateful to have you for all this time! Now that you’ve come across the Tower Theatre and its wonderful people, do you think you’ll come back and see one of our shows?

Absolutely, definitely, certainly. Definitely the first show I’d like to come here and just enjoy that and not have anything to do! Just have a drink, meet everyone and it’ll be a nice full-stop to the project and see what we’ve created is for something.

That’s the right answer! And after hearing about all of the hard work you’ve been doing, I for one will certainly be buying you an interval drink or two!

New Home – blog no. 3

by Emily Grimson

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By the time you read this, many of you will have seen our new home! For those of you who didn’t get chance to pop down, never fear – I have it all covered here, with all of the highlights of the event as well as information on how YOU can become part of the Tower Theatre forever.

As many of you will know, we have officially started our eight week Crowdfunder campaign, which means you can head over here and donate at any time (maybe even multiple times!) between now and mid-June. It also means that you can share the campaign with your family and friends, colleagues and neighbours, and ask them to get involved!

If, like me, you love the idea of making your mark at our new home then you’re in luck, as rather than just ask people to donate money (although that is, of course, extremely welcome) there are many personalised options on offer. For example, in the new auditorium there will be somewhere in the region of 100-110 seats and you can, if you wish, donate £250 to sponsor your very own seat. You can choose to have your own name on it, the name of someone you wish to be remembered at the Tower or even club together with the cast and crew of the show you’re working on and have your production name on it. Other options include having your name etched onto a brick in the building for £25 (I am one of the first proud owners of my very own brick!) or donating to specific ‘top-ups’ in areas such as lighting, costumes, office and (of course) the bar…! These specified pledges go all the way up to an extremely generous £5,000.

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Photographs courtesy of Ruth Anthony

For those of us on a tighter budget, you can choose from a variety of non-specific donations with amounts ranging from £10 to £50 or simply type in any amount you can spare. Every penny really does count and can mean the difference between hitting our target or not!

Please don’t worry if you’re not currently in a position to donate at all though – as Alexander Knapp said when we met for a catch up on the topic: ‘it’s not just about raising funds, it’s also about raising awareness and building our community around our new home.’ We want people to know that we’re HERE and we’d like to welcome as many new people as possible to the Tower from Stoke Newington and beyond. So please, pass on the Crowdfunding link and Facebook, Instagram, Snap and Tweet away!

The Board of Trustees is also working on a series of events to get more people involved and, most importantly, visiting the theatre to check out our brand new space. Details of these will be available very soon so keep your eyes peeled.

Tuesday night wasn’t all about touring the building and fundraising however; the first two shows of the Autumn season (the first season in our new home) were also revealed to a very excited audience. To kick off our residence in Stoke Newington, we will open with Henry V, including some very interesting twists. It will be directed by John McSpadyen and will feature two individual actors playing Henry and the chorus, as well as an ensemble cast of actors who will take on multiple roles, of any gender and age, changing with each character during the course of the play. This means ANYONE is welcome to audition for ANY part so if you fancy opening our new space in September, there’s nothing to hold you back. In the words of director John “if you’re a person, you can audition!

Tower six

Photographs courtesy of Alexander Knapp

The second show of the season is To Kill A Mockingbird, to be directed by Martin Mulgrew. The Tower has been pursuing the rights to this for an AGE, so I am told, and we’re very excited to finally be able to put it on! If you’re itching to get involved, keep your eye on the auditions page where Martin promises he will add all of the information  – once he has written it!

To finish this post, I just wanted to share with you all just a few of the comments on the new space, from Tower stalwarts right through to brand new members:

It’s almost as if this building was purpose built for the Tower Theatre.” Harry Reeder, Tower member of 30 years.

It’s great! Good for them, I look forward to moving in.” Sheila Burbidge, Tower member since 1970.

This is a brilliant space. It’s a fabulous space, it can only lift the heart, that’s what it’s doing.” William Dudley, Stage Designer and fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

This place is stunning!” Dickon Farmar

We don’t have a theatre here and the building has been empty for a long time. I’m glad it has been taken over by a real community asset and it’s hopefully something the local community can get involved in.” Kirsten Foster, Stoke Newington resident and new member.

And finally, Sue Brodie has the last word: “Bloody marvellous!

Tower trio

Photographs courtesy of Alexander Knapp


New Home – Week 2

 

Sunstone line drawing

So, the last couple of weeks have consisted of some pretty exciting milestones. Firstly – and most importantly – the actual theatre bit has made huge progress since I last saw it. All of the major removal work is now complete, so that means all steel girders (big metal pole type things for those that don’t know building lingo) and poles that held up the mezzanine floor have gone! So the area has been opened up to its’ full glory and the full potential of the space is now clear to see and it’s really beginning to take shape. To celebrate such a big achievement David Taylor very kindly took the building team to the pub for a well-earned drink. Cheers, lads!

The next milestone, which is happening as I type, is the moving in of the first residents at the new Tower. The first to move from our humble City Lit is the props department and Andy Hind has been working extremely hard getting the basement ready for them and Jean Carr and her team have been working against the clock to get everything packed. Anyone who has popped into the props department to find something during rehearsal will know what a huge task this is – just SO much stuff!

Props are not the only ones moving into their new home though, Jonathan and Ruth will be settled into their new office in the next two days – pretty remarkable since the office didn’t really exist when I last saw it! Excellent timing though as we’re only a couple of weeks away from our open evening on the 24th April (speaking of which, have you reserved your place yet? Get on it!), so it’s very exciting that so many of you will be able to see all the progress while hearing about the first shows this theatre will host.

Those lucky enough to be part of the cast of The Winter’s Tale will get a sneak peek however, as they make Tower history and become the first cast to rehearse in the new Tower theatre rehearsal room on the 16th. I think that definitely calls for post rehearsal drinks, guys.

Finally, Stephen, along with Alison, showed his mother and Tower member of over 50 years, Margaret Ley, our new home. Her verdict? Well, I think the picture says it all, definite approval from one of our longest standing members!

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