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Norwich Theatre Royal boss: 'I could have been a quarry manager'

PUBLISHED: 06:00 13 November 2019 | UPDATED: 07:54 13 November 2019

Chief Executive of the Theatre Royal Stephen Crocker outside the Norwich Playhouse. Picture: Theatre Royal

Chief Executive of the Theatre Royal Stephen Crocker outside the Norwich Playhouse. Picture: Theatre Royal

He was destined to be a quarry manager in Wales but instead he went on to become a classical singer and is now the CEO at Norwich's Theatre Royal. Caroline Culot spoke to Stephen Crocker.

Mr Crocker's grandfather was a miner and his dad a steel worker, and neither left south Wales. But he wanted to see the world - as a classical singer.

"I grew up in an industrial part of south Wales in the 1980s, and there was a limited pool of opportunities.

"I had a careers session in the early 1990s and I'll never forget they said I should be... a quarry manager.

"I think the British quarry industry missed out," he joked.

Chief Executive of the Theatre Royal Stephen Crocker. Picture: Ella WilkinsonChief Executive of the Theatre Royal Stephen Crocker. Picture: Ella Wilkinson

"I was quite good at singing, my grandfather, when he wasn't working, was a club singer and his absolute claim to fame was he worked with Shirley Bassey.

"I was really exited to go off and see the world but it was tough as money was tight when I was growing up.

"I was the first in my family to go to uni, they had to work hard to support me."

Theatre Royal chief executive Stephen Crocker meets Sir Ian McKellen at Norwich Playhouse Credit: Twitter/stephen_crockerTheatre Royal chief executive Stephen Crocker meets Sir Ian McKellen at Norwich Playhouse Credit: Twitter/stephen_crocker

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Mr Crocker studied French in Paris where he also started singing.

"The less brave option would have been to have stayed in Wales but I wanted to do something different."

Chief Executive of the Theatre Royal Stephen Crocker. Picture: Ella WilkinsonChief Executive of the Theatre Royal Stephen Crocker. Picture: Ella Wilkinson

So, incredibly, he pursued his dream and only five years ago stopped taking on more professional singing work.

After singing jobs in London, Mr Crocker moved to Manchester to work as head of development for an orchestra in 2005-6 and rose to the role of deputy CEO at the Lowry theatre.

"I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time, and not afraid to make a change, that's a characteristic of mine."

He was then headhunted in 2016 for the plum role of CEO at Norwich's Theatre Royal to replace Peter Wilson when he left after 25 years.

Chief Executive of the Theatre Royal Stephen Crocker. Picture: Ella WilkinsonChief Executive of the Theatre Royal Stephen Crocker. Picture: Ella Wilkinson

"I was really flattered to receive the call saying would I move to Norwich? I had sung twice in Norwich at the cathedral and St Andrew's Hall and we'd had a couple of holidays on the Broads, but that was about it. I agreed to come and the city sold itself to me, I came and immediately fell in love with Norwich on so many different levels.

"It is just so comfortable in itself, a lot of cities are ashamed of their pasts, but in Norwich you've got a mixture of old and new which sit comfortably together, and culture is so heavily valued here, theatre has such a following and valued so highly. When big decisions are taken about this place, arts and culture are considered, so it makes it a fantastic place to do what I do.

"I think the theatre needed to move in a new direction, it doesn't mean the old direction wasn't any good, it just means organisations need to refresh and change. Peter (Wilson) and I are very different individuals, with very different tastes, but I was welcomed with such open arms.

"I remember one stakeholder saying: 'People will love you, you are just brilliantly exotic!'"

Stephen Crocker with his partner Michael Travers. Pic; Michael TraversStephen Crocker with his partner Michael Travers. Pic; Michael Travers

Coming to Norwich also meant a new job for Mr Crocker's partner, Michael Travers. Mr Crocker has always been very open about his sexuality.

"I don't think my sexuality has ever held me back, I've always chosen to be very open, I know some people would choose not to be and people shouldn't feel guilty about keeping their private lives private.

"For me, it's not about being part of a particular box or demographic but I'm open because Michael is a huge part of my life and I couldn't do the job I do without his support, I have a demanding job and he is by my side.

"I think I've been very lucky in that the instances I have faced in terms of challenges or difficulties from people about my sexuality have been very few and far between and haven't caused me any impediment from a mental health perspective but others aren't that lucky.

"We can't brush this under the carpet, conscious and unconscious bias are still a massive issue in society and it's why the dialogue needs to keep going otherwise old habits, beliefs can surface very quickly."

Mr Travers got a job at the county council and he and Mr Crocker started their new jobs on the same day. Mr Crocker had a clear strategy.

"I hit on the fact early on that we needed to focus on the Theatre Royal and the Playhouse as one organisation, to join things up, I feel that creates a cultural tour de force for the city, I also wanted to develop partnerships.

"We have no public subsidy so we need to grow commercial income and use these buildings to the best effect to put Norwich squarely on the map. The challenge is not stretching ourselves too far.

"When we make decisions it is my team and I, it drives me being part of a team and some of my most joyous moments are when I get out and meet the teams.

"Last year I did a shift on the bar at the Playhouse and it was one of my best bits of my year.

"My days are incredibly long but the pockets of time I can find for myself are all I need.

"I love the sense of fresh air here, we live in the Golden Triangle and we wake up and think, in an hour we could be on the beach.

"But my ambition is to see work consistently bringing the world to Norwich but also taking Norwich to the world."

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