Another year, another Stage New Year Party. Incredibly for an event that’s become such a hot ticket, I can recall our nail-biting concern on the first occasion we held the event many years ago: is anyone going to come?
They did, in droves. And each year, though the available space stays the same, the number of invited guests who not only turn up but actually confirm their intention beforehand continues to increase.
In some ways ours is a very traditional event. No one’s there to talk shop and the fact it’s scheduled for lunchtime means many deluded souls come for what they suppose will be a brief break from the working day.
Yet, in reality, there’s a helluva lot of business done, info swapped and contacts made, while among the well-intentioned, the number who actually stay for ‘just the hour’ are rare as hen’s teeth.
It’s not a regime anyone’s constitution would withstand 365 days of the year but what is surprising is how much work is done in this most unlikely of environments.
Much of this is due to the preponderance of guests in the movers and shakers category – those largely unknown to the man or woman in the street but whose titles, if not their names, are instantly recognisable to anyone working in the industry.
Opening my mouth to speak I looked down at the audience and straight at …Sir Donald Sinden
While the casting agents, theatre managements and producers remain a constant part of the party demographic, the performer quotient has increased markedly and the average age of guests has dropped correspondingly (further enhanced by the sizeable number of Stage Scholarship winners).
That, together with our recent tradition of honouring The Stage 100 Awards winners announced at the start of each year, has contributed to making the event more of a ‘party’ in the true sense.
That said the performer presence does have its risks: my duties, on behalf of The Stage, include a welcoming address. No great challenge for the average performer but a daunting prospect when I had to take the floor for the first New Year Party before several hundred people who directly or indirectly made their living from public speaking .
I had a mantra to steady my nerves: Keep it short, make them welcome, wish them well, then get off quick. And remember, it’s not as if you’ll have to recite your lines with the likes of Donald Sinden in front of you.
All set, I waited for Master of Ceremonies Alan Myatt’s introduction, took a deep breath, cleared my mind, paused like a pro, then opening my mouth to speak looked down at the audience and straight at …Sir Donald Sinden – with Timothy West, Prunella Scales and Barry Cryer not far away for good measure.
…I’m happy to record that the audience was more generous than the act perhaps merited.