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Jez Bond: These are my theatre heroes

The National Theatre. Photo: Philip Vile The National Theatre. Photo: Philip Vile
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As the first ever Theatre Heroes Day gets underway, Jez Bond, artistic director of the Park Theatre – which is leading the event – shares his own theatre heroes.

I’m not convinced of the word hero – it implies courage in the face of danger, it connotes an ancient time of gods and men. The people I want to praise are all very down-to-earth, humble, unpretentious human beings who have all been instrumental to me in different ways. Call them heroes if you like – I call them enablers.

My father took me to shows and nurtured my appreciation and passion for live drama throughout my preteens and teens. We saw productions everywhere – from the fringe, to the National Theatre, the regions to the West End. The strongest memories I have are of the Barbican Theatre – then the London home of the Royal Shakespeare Company. I imagine this particular theatre stood out for two reasons: one, that we did see a lot of plays there; two, that the scale of the building and the main auditorium must have been impressive to such a young boy.

Shows such as A Christmas Carol, when I remember actors flying above the rooftops, are still with me today. My father would always discuss the shows with me afterwards, analysing both the script and the production. In this process, I developed a deep understanding for how a director would shape a show. It was through my father’s sharing of this passion, and his and my mother’s encouragement to follow my dreams, that I was enabled to enter the theatre. I am extremely grateful for that privilege.

The approach that really let me learn wouldn’t be allowed today

When I was 13 years old, I arrived naive and fresh-faced at my new school. With theatre on my mind, I was excited about the opportunities that might be afforded by a well-equipped school theatre on the smaller scale touring circuit for professional companies, including National Theatre Education, Trestle and Red Ladder.

I walked into the slightly oddly shaped, yet unassuming building that was to become my haven. The artistic director and head of drama was a man named Robert Lowe and his brilliant philosophy was for the kids to be utterly hands-on and run the building. Therefore I ran up ladders, rigging lights and sound, painted sets, sourced costumes and made props.

A number of times I was even left in the building completely on my own with the keys, being the sole person responsible for letting in touring companies. Robert has great insight into what makes people grow and learn – an important skill for a director to have – and it was specifically this approach, one which sadly wouldn’t be permitted under today’s sometimes overcautious laws, that nourished my confidence in all areas of theatre.

I remember when the NT brought in their tour of Mother Courage and Her Children. I was 14 at the time. The crew arrived, I welcomed them in, showed them where things were and, later, was found sitting in front of a huge analogue lighting board beside their technician during the dress rehearsal. Afterwards the technician turned to me and said, “Right, we’re going to the pub,” where of course I wasn’t allowed. I explained this to him and the response came back, “We’re the National, if anyone can get you in – we can.”

So he gave me the stage manager’s trilby hat, a cloak which was hanging on the costume rail, and his mobile phone, which was like a brick in those days – large enough to shield a young face. I sat down in the corner of the pub and the technician plonked down two pints. His name was Julian (Joules) McCready.

In the years that followed, I would see him when I went down to London, he’d sneak me in to the lighting box in the Olivier or Lyttelton to watch the shows he was operating. He would explain what all the buttons did and teach me how a theatre as big as the NT would run. I remember the day he took me up to the fly floor, storeys above the stage, so high that the stage crew below looked as small as ants. I was amazed by the scale of it all. We became good friends; as I started to direct, he lighting designed my shows, and when we built Park Theatre he generously gave up his time to consult on the technical installation and design the rigs for both spaces.

Others are being encouraged to share their theatre heroes on social media using the hashtag #theatreheroesday

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