Interview: Royalty Theatre Sunderland’s voluntary chairman John Appleton
A lot of people don’t know that the Royalty Theatre in Sunderland has been there for the last 90 years, they do seven shows a season and have a team of roughly 150 voluntary members who work hard to create great shows for the public.
The Theatre gives young aspiring actors a chance to get their time on the stage. Speaking about the auditioning process at the Royalty Theatre, voluntary chairman, and director of their most recent performance The Thrill of Love, John Appleton said: “We always encourage new people to come to our auditions, which are held three or four weeks before rehearsals start for each show. Everyone is welcome to audition and no preparation or experience is necessary.”
John adds: “Theatre, in general, has given me a lot of confidence, certainly from running a place and not just dealing with actors but also customers and the media.”
John has great passion for the Royalty Theatre and thrives to keep improving it and getting more people involved so it can help them, like it has helped him. John talked about his proudest moment in the theatre during his seven years there: “My proudest moment would have to be when I directed my first play, when you direct something it kind of feels as though you have been something of the architect of that. You have hard decisions to make and once you see that all coming together and you see the audience appreciate it it’s a wonderful feeling.”
John adds: “We do struggle to get people through the door to come and see the shows. I am being biased here but we do put on good quality shows for the price of a cinema ticket.”
Even so, dreams have come true thanks to this theatre, as three members have gone on to follow a career in the acting profession. One young woman, Laura Elphinstone, has gone onto London to work at the Royal Court and she even got the chance to meet Johnny Depp, it doesn’t get much better than that. Another former member, Lauren Waine, is now developing her skills by training at the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts. A former youth member, Jaymee Hayes, who became part of the tech team, is now working on Mama Mia in the West End.
“There is really no limit of what people can do who come here,” John says. “We have always said that we are a training theatre so if someone comes along and wants to learn any aspect of the theatre they are welcome to do that.”
There is a massive team at the theatre to support and show anyone who is interested in acting or being part of the theatre team in any way, John added: “If they have got the ambition and can put the work there is no limit to what they can do.” The theatre is funded purely on memberships, ticket sales, the bar and grants which go towards the upkeep of the Theatre.
The theatre’s most recent show The Thrill of Love, written by Amanda Whittington, was a little bit of a move from the norm for them: “It is a very well written script which helps. I did a lot of research into it prior to rehearsals looking at Ruth Ellis’s life.” Ruth Ellis was the last woman to be hanged in Britain and the play tells the story of Ellis behind the headlines and of the events that led her to murder her unfaithful lover.
“It’s just putting that work in which takes time but it means that once we got into the swing of things it wasn’t quite as much of a challenge as it would have been” John added.
As well as doing seven shows a season the theatre also has a Youth Theatre, which runs weekly on a Thursday night. The Youth Theatre aims to encourage the older members who are 16 and above to audition for the main stage shows, speaking about how important this is, John said: “We want to get people interested in it [theatre] while they’re young, and get their friends interested while they’re young too. Over the past few years there has been a growth in members to the Youth Theatre which is very encouraging.”
The theatre building has a lovely feel to it and it is obvious that the team running the theatre are passionate about what they do. The Royalty Theatre strives to encourage anyone who is interested in theatre to develop their skill and be given the opportunity to perform on stage.