Being a Theatre Manager

 10 November 2017

Matthew Abercrombie is the Theatre Manager at Theatre Royal. He is responsible for all front of house activities and many other non-technical activities. Find out from him what the role involves and how to get into this career.

Under my wing I have a Front of House & Events Manager who organises external hires, parties and weddings and I also look after the bar staff and all the volunteer stewards.

I am in constant communication with the National Trust, scheduling maintenance, decorating and all the activities involved in keeping a 200 year old building in a fit condition for shows, audiences and visitors coming to take part in our regular tours.

Don’t be afraid to ask and be confident

I’m also responsible for the physical safety and security of both the theatre and our patrons.

Much of my time is spent liaising between front of house & the other departments, collating information and ensuring that incoming shows and audiences have the smoothest possible time with us.

Customer service is front & centre of my role. Without the support of our audiences, we simply don’t exist.

What skills are needed for this role?

In no particular order:

  • Diplomacy
  • Patience
  • A methodical way of working
  • An understanding of team structures and dynamics
  • A genuine love of people and all their quirks & foibles
  • A broad life experience is probably the most useful thing
  • An ability to turn one’s hand to anything
  • Good spoken & written language skills, numeracy & diligent note taking
  • An understanding of reporting structures & chains of command
  • Stamina and an ability to work long hours on one’s feet are vital

Previous work experience?

I’ve had a shockingly varied career.

Following a decidedly undistinguished school career, I ran adventure playgrounds in West London for four years and then moved to Richmond Theatre in Surrey when I ran out of steam.

I made resident Stage Manager there, then went to The Everyman in Liverpool for a while, returned to Richmond Theatre and then moved on to The Royal Albert Hall.

Customer service is front & centre of my role. Without the support of our audiences, we simply don’t exist.

Then I did a few years with rigging companies working on pop videos, tours, West End theatre and television shows.

I then spent some 25 years freelancing around the events industry launching cars, buildings and managing large, corporate events and outdoor stage and arena builds.

Then in 2013 I landed the General Manager’s post at the John Peel Centre in Stowmarket and in November 2016, I took up the newly created role of Theatre Manager at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds.

What education and training have you done?

  • A handful of ‘O’ Levels & GCEs from Chiswick Comprehensive in 1975.
  • A Cycling Proficiency test and various swimming certificates.
  • My life has been constantly learning on the job, listening and learning from colleagues & friends.
  • I have a First Aid certificate which is kept up to date.
  • I also hold a child chaperones certificate and a regularly updated DBS check.

Tips for a creative career

1) Concentrate.

2) Watch & listen.

3) Brush up on your mental arithmetic as you will handle cash.

4) If appropriate, go to college/university & get those qualifications.

5) Learn how things work, use tools, fix things.

6) Get skilled in Microsoft packages.

7) Join a drama group and act/paint/build sets/hang lights/stage manage.

8) Don’t be afraid to ask and be confident, write it all down and photograph it.


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