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Stage 100 Awards 2013: Introducing our Unsung Heroes

Unsung heroes Anne McNulty (photo: Bronwen Sharp) and Chris Isherman (photo: Alex Brenner)
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Now in their second year, the Unsung Hero awards recognise the offstage stars of the sector whose talent and dedication is crucial to the industry’s success.

Anne McNulty

Having spent 20 years in the job, the Donmar Warehouse’s former casting director Anne McNulty oversaw the cast choices for all of the London theatre’s productions under its artistic directors Sam Mendes, Michael Grandage and, most recently, Josie Rourke.

In October 2012, McNulty stepped down from her role after a glittering career with the venue. She is an impressive talent spotter, known for drawing in star talent as well as unearthing performers such as Tom Hiddleston, Lara Pulver and Pippa Bennett-Warner.

As well as her job as casting director, she also held the position of creative associate from 2006, travelling to New York as an ambassador for the venue and encouraging high-calibre actors to come and work in London with the Donmar.

McNulty joined the Donmar in 1992 at the request of Mendes when he reopened the venue, after he had seen her work as an administrative assistant at the Young Vic. Yet prior to this she had no professional theatre experience. She was trained entirely on the job, and was working for a charity in the print and design team immediately before she pursued her theatre career.

However, it was her longstanding interest and knowledge of the theatre from a young age that both she and others acknowledge as being the catalyst for her highly successful career as a casting director.

Rourke, who nominated McNulty for the unsung hero award, said her “incredible memory, and championing of actors’ careers and the work of young and new directors is second to none”.

In her nomination, Rourke added: “She has started and sustained more careers than we can count, and is one of our most gifted casting directors, unafraid to question the strongest and most certain directors. She’s one of the best things about our industry.”

Grandage, who worked alongside McNulty at the Donmar for a decade, described her as the “creative conscience of the organisation” during his tenure there.

He said: “Anne’s contribution to the success of all that has happened over the last 20 years is colossal.”

Always supportive of the younger generation, able to make bold creative decisions and willing to contribute in whatever way possible to the entire operation at the Donmar, McNulty has been a tremendous blessing to both the venue and the industry as a whole.

Chris Isherman

The Duchess Theatre’s recently retired theatre manager Chris Isherman worked at the West End venue for more than 20 years, going out of his way to ensure that every audience member felt as special as the next one when they arrived to see a show.

Producer James Seabright, whose show Our Boys was the final production that Isherman managed at the theatre, nominated him for just that reason, describing him as “one of the last of the ‘old school’ theatre managers” that still sported a dinner jacket and greeted every audience member with care and attention before every production.

Despite his reputation for charm and immaculate dress, it’s not just these qualities for which Isherman deserves recognition – he has steered the Duchess through some hairy moments over the years.

An IRA bombing in the 1990s that caused Covent Garden to virtually shut down did not stop Isherman from turning up to work that day, completing his payroll duties and being on-hand to open the theatre just in time for that night’s performance of Don’t Dress for Dinner.

More recently, in 2010 a power failure in the area almost caused the venue to call off its production of Love Story. However, Isherman would not settle for this. He contacted an electrical technician who managed to provide access to a power reserve so the show could go on with restricted lighting – which meant that Isherman and his team had to escort every single audience member to their seat.

Although he fell in to the position of theatre manager by chance after his boss at London’s Lyric Theatre – where he worked in the 1980s as an assistant – unexpectedly left, it’s clear that Isherman, now 66, was made for the role. In fact, he had been preparing for it his whole life. Working as a cleaner and usher at Perth Theatre in his native Scotland as a teenager preceded a period as a dancer with the Scottish Ballet, before he then went on to train as a drama teacher. This took him on several national tours with theatre in education schemes and led to him finally settling in London.

Nica Burns, chief executive of Nimax Theatres, which owns the Duchess, said she was “delighted” for Isherman to win because theatre “runs in his blood”.

She added: “He loved the buzz of a full house. My favourite image of him is this – every time there was a full house, all the ushers would rush to the foyer after curtain up, as Chris would perform a jubilant high kick in the foyer, bashing his clipboard with his foot. So we would all cross our fingers in the hope of an Isherman high kick!”

The panel felt that his sheer commitment to the entertainment industry as a whole and his talent as a theatre manager at the Duchess Theatre makes Isherman undoubtedly worthy of the Unsung Hero award.

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