Spotlight shines on behind the scenes dedication at Bridlington theatre

Nick Tompkin and the backstage crew making props for the Spotlight Theatre.
Nick Tompkin and the backstage crew making props for the Spotlight Theatre.

WHILE pictures of performers in Spotlight Theatre’s latest productions usually grace the pages of the Free Press, there’s a whole team of people just as dedicated working diligently behind the scenes to make sure everything runs like clockwork. Reporter Mike Brown joins some of the crew at the theatre on West Street to see how it’s done.

The sun is shining so brightly outside, I wouldn’t blame the assembled masses of Spotlight backstage helpers if they said they’d prefer to be enjoying the pleasures of Bridlington’s south beach.

But instead, they’ve gathered to tell me exactly what it takes to put on their summer shows, Starshine and In the Summertime.

The shows run all summer and pack in audiences full of locals and tourists alike, and they return for one reason. The productions are fun, and are performed by committed amateurs’ intent on putting on a good show.

But what is often overlooked is the effort that goes in behind the scenes, from a skilled bunch of volunteers who range in age from 14 to 85. They often begin work on the shows six to eight weeks before a production debuts.

When the audience sees the same actor reappear in three or four different costumes every night, they probably won’t know the effort that goes in to get it ready beforehand.

Pat Davison takes care of the hats used in the performances, working alongside costume supremos Maureen Senior and Sheila House, who also help out by making the tea for rehearsals and performances.

“We have over 100, for every occasion,” says Pat.

“They have been building a collection for a number of years – although I’ve only taken over about a year ago. It is a very important to get the costumes right, and it’s important that we’ve got our own collection so we do not have to hire any in.”

The same goes for the multitude of props used in the shows, variety is vital - whether it’s guns and bottles of sasparillas for a western gun-slinger like recent production Calamity Jane, or a mixing bowl and spatula for a humourous cooking show parody in Starshine.

“We trawl charity shops, advertise, and friends of the society help us out,” says Joanne Harrison, who along with jack-of-all-trades Judith Downing and teenager Jess Jacques, look after the props.

14-year-old Jess is an example of the inclusive nature of the team.

She said: “I want to be an actress when I’m older, so I emailed one of the society and asked if I could come along and help out, and I love it. Everyone works together as a team and it is really fun.”

Judith Downing – who also fills in front of house – is a long time member of the Spotlight, and agrees that the backstage “camaraderie” is vital to any show’s success.

“It is so nice to see things come together from scratch. It’s a lot of work but it is a labour of love,” she said.

Stage manager Nick Tompkin - who is also a trustee alongside theatre manager Bob Downing and chair Mike Sheldon - is honorary treasurer of the society, and helps with posters and programmes along with Mike Wilson, who has been part of Spotlight and its various guises since 1984.

“It is like a community. It must take 40 to 50 people to put on a show, and they keep turning up, sometimes I can’t believe it,” he said.

“There is a lot of dedication. For example Cynthia Brownsord, who paints the backdrops and scenery, works at an incredible speed.”

That is not to forget the St John Ambulance, who go along to every show, and then there is the front of house team Mike Sheldon, Pauline Alman, Ann Clough, Barry Pope, Pauline Woodcock, Judith Downing, Judy Wilson and Jenny Sellars.

“At our last show Calamity Jane, we had six people backstage during the performance and a further four building sets a couple of months beforehand. We hope that the work that goes in is appreciated by the audience,” continued Nick, whose wife Sue is responsible for publicity and the newsletter, alongside Bob Downing and Maria.

“It is difficult to mention everyone but everything is appreciated. Everyone just comes together and that help is invaluable.”

On the ‘invaluable’ list is the back stage and lighting team, which inlude Andrew Clegg, Kenneth Davison, Pat Davison, John Wilkinson, Nick Robson, John Allanache, Paul Sellers, Roy Holmes, Roger Fozzard, Tim Harrison, George Ansell, Bob Brownsword, Pamela Dalley and Ryan Wilson.

The society - which began life as the Bridlington Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society in 1909 - bought the Spotlight in 1999 originally as a rehearsal room for their shows at the Spa.

However during their work on the building, members realised that it could be turned into a small theatre - which, after generosity from the Lords Feoffees and painstaking work, opened for its first performance.

Backstage areas are tightly packed with props, costumes and everything else needed to put on a show - so much so that plans are afoot to extend the building further, to provide extra room and a bigger rehearsal space, which will hopefully see the Spotlight Theatre prosper for another hundred years.