27/08/2008 - 22:00

Culture corner: John Thornton, Regal Theatre

27/08/2008 - 22:00


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John Thornton Managing director of The Regal Theatre for 31 years.

John Thornton

John Thornton

Managing director of The Regal Theatre for 31 years.


WABN: Describe a day at work.

JT: "It starts early because of the time difference. We have probably 80 per cent of our contracts and shows from other states; there's not a lot of production in WA.

"My phone starts ringing at about 6 or 7am, and by the time I get to work I've already done half a day's work.

"Here it's anything and everything that pops up - contract requirements, programming, fitting the programs together and getting the shows that people will come to see in 2009, 2010 and 2011. Once we get the shows here, all the hard work has been done 12 months before."

WABN: What is the best piece of advice you can give someone to motivate a team?

JT: "Within any team there has to be structure and to motivate the team there are some drivers within that structure. Those people are the ones I look for and they are the ones who have the central quality.

"You're looking for persistence and perseverance, for someone who keeps going while some others might have given up. It applies very broadly in many industries."

WABN: What's best measurement of your performance, and can you name a highlight in your career?

JT: "The greatest part of what I do is helping to provide funds for a large number of people. For me, the greatest feeling of success is when a show gets on the road, the curtain goes up, the orchestra starts, things happen and the public loves it. If they don't love it, it means we all failed.

"Every new show is a new excitement and a new opening night and that's the lovely thing about this business - it keeps renewing itself. And you have the privilege and the pleasure of working with very talented and quite extraordinary gifted people, great artists and great performers."

WABN: How do you deal with egos in your workplace?

JT: "You need to be tactful, but management must always realise that we are the logistic support for the artists. Someone would say they can be difficult to get on with, that they really needing something and it's up to you to discover what it is.

"One question you never ask is 'why?', because that's insulting; you just need to help them getting what it is that they need to help them do the job.

"After all, if anything goes wrong they're the ones on stage with egg on their face, the management is invisible. The most difficult ego to manage is probably your own; make sure it doesn't get out of hand because you have to look after everybody else."

WABN: What frustrates you the most about your sector and what would you do to change it?

JT: "The greatest frustration is the appalling lack of appreciation and assistance from government sources; they do the minimum and usually at vote-catching time. My greatest frustration is with governments of whatever colour, they seem incapable of really assisting the arts in effective ways.

"The best example is the enormous amount of talent the comes out of the academy here, but when they qualify there is virtually no work for them.

"We try to keep a very lean ship and people wonder how we keep this theatre going without any government assistance at all. Well, we do.

"There are some areas where we would appreciate it [more assistance] but it's probably good for us to stand on our own feet."

WABN: What specific hurdles do you meet on a daily basis in your sector?

JT: "The major hurdle we have experienced at the Regal Theatre is financial; it's a very costly infrastructure to provide the hardware and the software. To run a theatre is very costly; the income is very slim.

"I think there only are two or three independently run commercial theatres in Australia, and as far as I know we are the only one in WA. It's a constant battle.

"We've been battling with the state government to install disabled toilets in the theatre, the community deserves that sort of support from its government, and any government should see the need and do something about it.

"The cost of retro fitting an old 1930s art deco building is prohibitive, it's going to cost about $200,000 to put disabled toilets and we cannot get any help."


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