Outgoing Theatre Royal chief executive reflects on his 25 years at the Norwich venue
- Credit: ©Archant Photographic 2010
He has been at the helm of the region's biggest theatre for nearly a quarter of a century and is a huge champion of Norfolk's arts scene, but now Peter Wilson has announced he is stepping down as chief executive of Norwich Theatre Royal.
Mr Wilson, who joined the theatre in 1992 and has had a massive impact on the city venue and countless Norfolk arts organisations, has decided to leave at the end of this year to concentrate on new stage projects and focus on his London-based company PW Productions which is responsible for shows including An Inspector Calls and The Woman in Black.
'I have had a feeling for some time that 25 years was long enough in post,' said Mr Wilson.
'The Theatre Royal is in good shape. We are about to open a new education centre and I want to be around for the first few months of its life. It also seems a good time to hand the theatre over to someone else for the next phase of its life.'
One of the biggest milestones under his tenure was realising an ambitious £10m refurbishment project at the theatre in 2007.
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'We transformed ourselves into a building that can stand next to any theatre in the country of our scale and ambition,' he reflected.
That has clearly stood the theatre in good stead – in the last financial year the venue sold more than 387,000 seats and it also boasts more than 12,000 Friends, about seven times the national average.
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Mr Wilson said he was proud of the array of shows the theatre brought to Norwich for its audiences and it was a credit to the whole theatre team.
Works by Matthew Bourne and Propeller, along with the Norwegian Opera Ring Cycle in 1997, are among his own personal highlights.
'The fact the big musicals come to Norwich is also a great tribute to the team here. The speed of the get-ins and get-outs, the accuracy of the programming, the greatness of the marketing and the way the public is treated are all important factors.
'The big producers wouldn't come here unless we generated the cash and made the audiences feel happy so I am proud of that. I am proud of our relationships with the National Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company and Glyndebourne.'
Arts education has also been a key focus for Mr Wilson, and the theatre is now on the cusp of opening Stage Two, an ambitious centre for its expanding education programme.
'The fact that since 1998, we have refocused our efforts on education culminating in Stage Two is a big achievement on the part of the whole theatre and the trustees, and a mark of faith in the stability and endurance of the Theatre Royal,' he said.
Mr Wilson has also taken a leading role in other arts organisations.
He said: 'In 2003-2004, we entered a management agreement with Norwich Playhouse. It is no longer struggling and is buoyant under the leadership of Caroline Richardson.
'The other great achievement in my time is The Garage. Without the Theatre Royal, it would not have opened and the work it is doing with young people now is extraordinary. If it had not been for the Theatre Royal, neither The Garage or The Playhouse would have flourished in the way they have.
'Outside Norwich, our work with St George's Theatre in Great Yarmouth was absolutely critical. It is a beautiful building brilliantly led by the local authority. We were also instrumental in the success of the Houghton Revisited exhibition at Houghton Hall. That really was an international event which the Theatre Royal sat at the centre of for marketing and co-ordination.'
Mr Wilson will remain in post until the end of December. In the meantime he is looking forward to the theatre hosting shows including the epic historical trilogy The James Plays, large-scale musicals The Bodyguard and Mary Poppins, and the theatre's 2016-17 pantomime Jack and the Beanstalk.
'I will finish just after the pantomime opens,' he said.
'They get better and better and better. People remember how wonderful Snow White was last Christmas. We will end on a high and it will be a very exciting final few months.'
THE ARTS WORLD PAYS TRIBUTE TO MR WILSON'S PHENOMENAL IMPACT ON NORFOLK'S CULTURAL SCENE:
Nigel Pickover, editor of the EDP and Evening News - 'If you ask for any name of someone who put Norfolk and Norwich on the map, Peter Wilson would be the first one out of your lips. He's done astonishing work for Norwich over a quarter of a century. He will be missed terribly and we wish him well in what will be an astoundingly successful future.'
William Galinsky, Norfolk and Norwich Festival's artistic director - 'Peter Wilson has made the most extraordinary contribution to the arts scene in Norfolk. He has been a great friend to the festival and has supported our ambition by giving a main stage for projects which couldn't otherwise have happened. He is a wonderful colleague and his humour, warmth and wisdom will be greatly missed. He leaves Norwich Theatre Royal having established it as a much-loved theatre by audiences and artists alike.'
Adam Taylor, The Garages' executive director - 'Obviously we owe everything to Peter - he was the driving force behind The Garage, setting it up alongside what was then the NELM Development Trust at the time and Peter sits very firmly on our board.
'Not only for the organisation but also for myself as an arts practitioner in the city, he has given copious amounts of time and support.
'He is a massive leader that everybody turns to for advice and guidance in the county and of course the country because of his extensive work as a commercial producer as well. It's really that insight that makes him such a resource for the city and county. He is very, very generous with his time and I think that is phenomenal.'
Caz Slota, Norwich Playhouse's marketing manager - 'Peter Wilson has been instrumental in the success of Norwich Playhouse. The management merger with Norwich Theatre Royal provided us with some financial stability for the first time since the theatre had opened in the mid-1990s, and gave us the first footholds on the way to our current success. Peter's help and advice over the years have been invaluable. He always has time for everyone, and is as supportive of staff as he is the business side of the venue. We will all miss him when he leaves.'
Ian Woods, Norwich Puppet Theatre's operations manager - 'In the time Peter has been in post he has revitalised the Theatre Royal but he has also encouraged arts organisations in Norwich and Norfolk to communicate with each other and work together. In that role he has supported many developments, with an example being Norwich Playhouse. He has also encouraged the Theatre Royal to work with ourselves and we contributed most recently the puppets for last year's pantomime. Those are tangible things but he has also done so much behind the scenes work, advocating the impact of arts and culture not just in entertainment but in the development of every citizen in the county and beyond.
'He leaves the Theatre Royal in a stronger position than when he took it on, I believe, and that is going to give whoever takes over a great stepping stone to continue.'
Helen Vinsen, the Maddermarket Theatre's marketing manager - 'Peter Wilson was at our theatre on March 6 presenting 'Bad Times with Sniffy Queens...' covering his life told in amusing anecdotes. The feedback was that it was fascinating and his experience so diverse. We are grateful for all his support and for using our theatre to perform new work, we wish him well and hope not to lose touch.'
Pasco-Q Kevlin, Norwich Arts Centre director - 'When moving to a new city, you never forget those that make the biggest effort to make you feel welcome, Peter Wilson is just that kind of man. He immediately invited me to see a show, have dinner, offered support and an ear if ever I needed it. Peter has been as good as his word and I will always be grateful to him, a good man and a fantastic champion for the arts!'