'Live theatre will come back stronger'
Brought up in Essex, Laurence Sach studied drama at Loughborough University, graduating in 1978. Since then he has worked in stage management with EMMA Theatre Company and The Medieval Players, touring Australia for three months. He was artistic director of Durham Theatre Company, manager of Middlesbrough Theatre and The Playhouse, in Harlow, and head of arts for Harlow Council. He was a lecturer on the Middlesbrough College foundation degree in performing arts. He runs his own informal history of theatre course and is chairman of The Castle Players
You studied drama at university – what was it that first ignited your interest in theatre and convinced you to make it a career?
I have to go back to my school days – Shenfield School in Essex – and a brilliant drama teacher, Enid Davies, who sadly passed away earlier this year. She was an inspiring teacher and director who chose wonderfully challenging plays for us to perform. It was at school that I had my first chance to direct – Peter Terson’s energetic ‘Zigger Zagger’.
I loved the challenge and decided that was what I wanted to do, so off I went to Loughborough University to study drama.
Having worked in stage and theatre management, what’s the attraction of life behind the scenes as opposed to on stage?
You soon realise that there’s as much drama behind the scenes as there is on stage, and I suppose I have always enjoyed the responsibility of being in charge – either of a production, touring company or building.
What brought you north?
I first came north in 1986 to run Durham Theatre Company, a community touring company based at the Arts Centre in Darlington.
I ran the company for five years and after that, and a spell of freelance work, I became manager of Middlesbrough Theatre. I then moved south to be nearer to ageing parents but eventually returned after an offer of work at Middlesbrough College.
Gordon Duffy McGhie, who had been a regular actor with Durham Theatre Company, was now in charge of a new degree course and asked me to direct a production. This soon developed into a part-time role and after initially commuting from Harlow to Teesside I realised that Barnard Castle was where I wanted to be.
After joining Middlesbrough College, how did you find life as a performing arts lecturer?
After such a varied career it was good to be in a position where I could share some of my experience with students who themselves were preparing to explore the world of the arts. Much of my work involved directing productions so I felt very much at home.
You now have your own lecture course – A Brief History of Theatre. Is the aim of this to educate or entertain (or possibly both)?
To do both. I have thoroughly enjoyed developing the course. It’s a mix of lecture and discussion and I enjoy the range of experience that people who attend the course bring to it. I also enjoy the ongoing research and discovery – the more you learn the less you seem to know.
Your first involvement with the Castle Players was at its inception in the mid 1980s – how did that come about?
Helen Brown, who later became my administrator at Durham Theatre Company, contacted me soon after my arrival in Darlington.
She wanted advice on starting a theatre group but cunningly hid her own previous experience in arts promotion.
We had an excellent meeting and subsequently I ran the first workshop for the newly formed Castle Players in September 1986. Later, I employed Simon Pell as a designer and stage manager and he soon became involved with The Castle Players and in 1989 directed the first of the company’s outdoor summer productions.
It wasn’t until more recently that you got involved again and you are currently CP chairman – what prompted your return?
I had become a trustee a few years earlier and I suppose with the range of my arts admin experience I felt it only right to say ‘yes’ when I was asked. This year has been especially challenging. A difficult year with more postponements than performances.
However, the company has a very experienced team of trustees and together we’ve taken carefully considered decisions and at last feel we can begin planning for a more positive 2021.
What (if any) is the difference between working on a community theatre production and a professional theatre show?
I’ve always said that the only difference between working with amateur and professional actors is the keenness professional actors have for getting rid of their scripts. Amateur actors tend to hang onto them like comfort blankets and need to be encouraged to put them down. Apart from that there are few differences. It’s all about bringing together a supportive team – and the rewards are just as great.
How have events of the last six months affected your work?
Personally, not very much. I live on my own so I suppose I’m permanently in my own bubble. I have been able to read a great deal which has been great – discovering new titles and authors. My Brief History course has been postponed until autumn 2022 and of course with The Castle Players we have had the ongoing dilemma of can we/can’t we produce the next play.
Can you see an optimistic future for the arts sector – what fears do you hold for the future of live performance?
Anything that requires a live audience has quite simply been hammered. Live theatre will recover, but the big question is when?
I suppose everything hangs on having an effective vaccine. I feel especially for younger people who are starting out on their careers – they must feel such frustration. But, I would say to them to hang on in there.
Live performance has always faced challenges and has always come out stronger in the end.