50th Memories: Ralph Dartford – “My Year With the Angels”

My Year with the Angels

I work for the Arts Council of England these days, in the new role as Relationship Manager for combined arts for Yorkshire. I like it; it’s a real challenge in a current tough and fragile climate.  I have had many roles within the arts industry, in this business that we call show.  From stage sweeper to lighting designer, to producer, to venue manager. I guess you can say that I’ve ‘been around the block’, and I wouldn’t disagree with you that much.

I had a just one single year working at the Little Angel Theatre. It holds an eternal place in my heart. The year was 2000, the new millennium, and also my very first position as an arts administrator. The role speedily became a chaotic baptism of fire, a raw learning experience on how the puppetry business works, and to a greater degree, of how the arts business operates as a whole.  I’m proud to say, the knowledge gained in such a short time has held me in good stead ever since. I’m eternally grateful.

The quality of puppetry that I was lucky enough to see was, and still is, extraordinary. The puppet makers, puppeteers, writers, directors, technicians are unique. To watch the legendary theatre maker Lyndie Wright create complete enchantment from a germ of an idea, to a fantastical execution was a lesson in how high art evolves.

I learnt that the audiences of Islington and from around the world who loyally come to the Little Angel Theatre always leave with something special that probably stays with them forever. For the over excited, chattering, and very young, it is possibly their first introduction to the world of theatre, and also the very meaning of childhood. For put upon parents, arriving and thinking that they would rather be somewhere else on a Saturday afternoon, it is a dramatic and delightful return to that same childhood lost. The smiles as they all walk through the doors are timeless as they are priceless.

I remember that my colleagues and I worked in an economic atmosphere that was purely hand to mouth. There wasn’t much money to make things happen in a conventional theatrical manner. Sometimes we did not know where the wages were going to come from to continue, and we nearly locked the doors on many occasions. We never did though. I suppose what got us through was the heady mix of overflowing enthusiasm, beguiling, beautiful talents, and good old fashioned camaraderie. It was enough. Just.

Happy Birthday Little Angel Theatre.

 

Ralph Dartford: General Manager 2000-2001

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