Headshot of Paul Richard
Nikki Wilson talks to Paul Richard
15 Mar, 2024
Member of the Month – Paul Richard

Each month, Nikki Wilson interviews an Ignite Member, asking five simple questions, to find out what creativity means to them, and how they see culture and creativity, and its potential, in Chelmsford.

This month Nikki talks to Paul Richard.

How would you describe what you do? 

I’m the Technical and Building Manager at Chelmsford Theatre, I’m part of the team responsible for ensuring the smooth delivery of all productions and events at the theatre, leading a team of cleaners and technicians to meet the demands of a very busy venue. That includes everything from ensuring the toilets work, to venue Health and Safety checks and inspections, designing sound systems and ensuring everything continues to work.  Creating a positive work environment where staff can have job satisfaction and be able to perform their job to a high standard. 

Front exterior of Chelmsford Theatre with rainbow accent lighting

It’s quite widespread, so I’ll do some bigger picture things, such as capital projects, whether they’re building or technical.  This involves lots of research, meeting people and arranging demos of different pieces of kit, whilst also making sure that the work processes are in place and the team have sufficient training to keep the venue running.  

When we have a touring production visiting the venue, a promo we call it, we need to talk to the companies in advance to find out their requirements and what we need to provide such as staffing and equipment as every venue they are visiting is different. For example, on the technical side of things, we have a Fly Tower which is great, but it’s not that tall, compared to a lot of theatres, so we can’t fit certain pieces of set, so it’s sometimes a case of, “can we just get away with not seeing the top of the set or cloth or do we need to make an alternative plan?”. There’s all sorts of adaptations that we have to make on the day so the team are always thinking on their feet.

Some shows are fairly self-contained, they bring a complete lighting rig and sound system, and we accommodate their requirements . We introduce them to the venue, and they set up themselves, but then there are other shows who’ll come in, and we’ll be running sound and lighting for them.  There’s a massive variety in terms of how much we need to contribute to a show and how much they do themselves.

A significant amount of our venue users are hirers who could be putting on a production for a day or even a full week.  It could be a primary school, dance school, local amateur dramatics or film club.  We work with them to see their vision fulfilled and bring joy to many audiences night after night.

Chelmsford Theatre stage lighting booms for dance show

And who, or what gives you creative inspiration?

I really like finding solutions for issues. I wouldn’t say I’m an expert in many things, I have a really broad knowledge of lots of things, and I enjoy understanding how things work. My wife would call me a geek, as I like reading blogs and listening to podcasts about safety in events, or lighting design, all sorts of things, and watching videos from other people in the industry. I find it fascinating having a backstage tour of another venue and seeing how they do things and then thinking “How could I take inspiration from what you’re doing and then use that in our space?” 

When we’re working with a company, and they’re hiring the space, and they’re saying, “here’s what we want to achieve”, I’m thinking, “OK, we have your ideas, so how do we build that? Or how we make that? Or how does that work in this space?”.

For example it could be ”we need to create these three different locations on the stage at any one time, there needs to be a bedroom and a street and a dining room”.  How do we give them their own identity and separate them so someone can move from one to the other? And can we have someone presetting something over here but not see them? How is that possible?” So yeah, finding solutions for issues I find fulfilling. 

Chelmsford Theatre lighting rig

If you could try any new creative or cultural experience or practice, what would it be?

I’ve never worked with set automation, which could be when a section of stage raises or lowers, or there’s a piece of set or a table or something that tracks across the stage, there’ll typically be tracks mounted within the stage. It looks from the audience as if it’s just seamlessly appearing, but there could be a motor, or someone pulling a rope.  Or it could be a revolve, where a section of the stage rotates, which is typically just built on top of a normal stage

I tend not to really work many shows anymore,  I personally get more fulfilment from the set up and the set down of an event, rather than the event itself,  I think it’s going from nothing to everything. In previous jobs I used to do a lot of corporate work, and you’d  have an empty event space or ballroom or whatever it would be, and then five hours later, there’s an experience or there’s an event.

What excites you about creativity and culture in Chelmsford?

People from all walks of life, and with different views working together. Getting away from the snobbery of theatre, and seeing the massive benefit that can come from people working together. 

Chelmsford Theatre lighting operator perspective of pantomime

I am a big fan of events that fund themselves, and don’t need to be Arts Council funded or something like that. Something that is popular where people recognise that value and are able to pay so that it covers its own costs. The current Theatre programme is a great example of this, our audience figures are incredible.  There’s loads of creativity here, and it’s playing its part in keeping Chelmsford as a cultural city without having to push for funding for everything. 

It’s really tricky when you try and marry that with wanting to be accessible to everyone and that is so important, because again, that’s a bit of the snobbery of theatre where you go “OK well, this is only for people with disposable income”, who are generally going to be of a certain age and a certain demographic or whatever, so I think it is a it’s a massive challenge, but one that’s worth addressing.

What would you like to see in Chelmsford that isn’t here yet?

I’ve been working in Chelmsford for about two years now, but I don’t live here, I live in Stansted Mountfitchet and commute over each day, so I still feel like I barely even know Chelmsford. I think that’s partly because I compare myself to the many people that work at the theatre who are local and know a lot more of the history. 

I believe that Chelmsford Theatre is very small for a town of this size, there are a lot of shows that are touring, that we just can’t house here, and it’s such a shame that the people of Chelmsford aren’t able to come see those shows without travelling significant distances.  This again, is a barrier because even though we can say “Oh, well, you can go to London, you can go to Southend”, that’s still a lot of travelling and adds a lot of extra cost, compared to being in Chelmsford. So, I’d love to see a larger theatre, potentially in addition to Chelmsford Theatre, to be able to host larger shows. I should be clear this is my personal view, and not anything political, I haven’t got any insight into any plans, but I’m just very aware that this building wasn’t built for purpose, and I think that’s another important point, there are so many venues across the UK that aren’t built for purpose, which introduces many challenges which can’t all be overcome.

Chelmsford Theatre grid with multiple pulleys and steel rope

Find out more about Paul Richard.

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