INTERVIEW WITH WILLIAM WHELTON
Will co-founded Hope Mill Theatre along with his husband Joe in November 2015. They have won numerous awards for setting up the grass roots venue, including ‘The Hospital Club Award for Theatre and Performance’ and most recently a ‘Special Achievement Award’ at the Manchester Theatre Awards. The venue has also won a ‘Northern Soul Award for Best Small Theatre’, as well as being shortlisted for ‘The Stage Fringe Theatre of the Year’. Will is a recent recipient of the Stage One Bursary for emerging producers. Producer credits include: YANK! (Hope Mill Theatre and Charing Cross Theatre), HAIR (Hope Mill Theatre & The Vaults). Parade and Pippin (Hope Mill Theatre), Jack and the Beanstalk and Cinderella (Clonter Opera Theatre).
At the moment you are…
At the moment I am in tech for our fourth in house production here at Hope Mill Theatre, which will be the Northern Premiere of Pippin by Stephen Schwartz. Therefore, as you can imagine as I write this we are in full tech mode and we could do with another 3 days before opening and the whole time I'm thinking "why do I do this to myself?!" And then I promptly remind myself that it’s because I absolutely love it and I know that Manchester audiences are going to love this spectacular production. This year has been pretty crazy for me so far. I have announced two transfers to London from Manchester; the first being Yank which has just closed its run at the Charing Cross Theatre after rave reviews and later this year our production of Hair is transferring to the Vaults in London from October 4th. I also got married last month in the Theatre space itself which has to be one of the most amazing weekends of my life, especially being able to hold the day in my own theatre which I established with my husband Joseph Houston. In a few weeks we start Hair rehearsals and we are already planning our Christmas Musical later this year, the UK Premier of Little Women and our spring/ summer season 2018, which is being announced soon and is extremely exciting for the theatre and myself as a producer.
What does Stage One mean to you and how has Stage One developed your career?
The Stage One Bursary has really helped to develop my career as a producer because it has given me the opportunity to, like so many others step out of my comfort zone and dive head first into the world of commercial theatre producing. I have been fortunate enough to be given a wonderful mentor, Tom Siracusa of the Menier Chocolate Factory, someone who has given me so much advice already in terms of producing and also how to run a venue. The Menier was also one of the main reasons for setting up my own theatre as I have always been so inspired by the work they have created on a smaller scale and the ambition of the venue - so the pairing was perfect. Stage One offers all the support, guidance and training that I would never have anticipated receiving if I hadn't become a part of the scheme and it has to be the most exciting part of my producing career thus far.
Co-founding the Hope Mill Theatre, would were the biggest challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?
When I co-founded Hope Mill Theatre simply the biggest challenge we faced (and still face is) finances. If I knew then what I know now, I would never have done it. But I didn't know, and I was naive and ambitious and luckily it has paid off on so many levels. I struggled to get into the world of producing, so it only seemed right to create my own platform and opportunity. Looking back it seems silly but that is how it went. Money is always tight and we have constantly invested money back into improving the business and to date we are completely independent, which has its pros and cons. Our main focus has always been our in-house shows and developing audiences. Early on we made a strong relationship with Stage One alumni Katy Lipson, with whom we have co-produced all of our in-house productions with. Katy has been a massive inspiration to us and shares our ambition to develop musical theatre in Manchester. She has taught us so much from her years of producing and has been a key player in putting Hope Mill Theatre on the map.
When did you first discover your passion for theatre and what was your journey to becoming a Theatre Producer?
I first discovered my passion for producing when I was 18, just before heading to train at Laine Theatre Arts. Unfortunately, my mother suffered from cancer whilst I was growing up and it has always been a cause close to my heart. I decided to put on a charity show with a friend of mine in aid of Cancer Research UK. Although it was very small scale, it sparked something within me that would later resurface.
After working treading the boards for 3 years, I unfortunately suffered from some vocal problems, which resulted in two operations which meant I was out of action for a year. However I planned to produce a full scale professional pantomime in a 400 seat opera venue in Cheshire - the same theatre I had produced my charity show. I produced the show completely on my own with no experience and although I did lose money, I learnt a lot. The main thing I learnt was that I preferred creating the show rather than performing and I was set on a career as a producer.
Last show you saw and loved?
The last show I went to see and LOVED was An American In Paris, I thought this show was an absolute masterpiece and I loved the sheer scale and ambition of the production with the scene changes probably being some of the most impressive parts. Any show could learn something from the creativity and attention to detail that went into each scene change in that show - adored it!
What do you think, is the best thing about the Theatre Industry?
The best thing about the Theatre industry has to be the people who work within it. Having now a full time job, I feel so blessed to be surrounded by likeminded creative people that love what they are doing. We are so very lucky to be doing what we love and I truly believe that in the current state of the world, we need theatre even more.
What's the best piece of advice you've been given?
The best piece of advice I have been given is to produce shows that you love, that do something for you personally, I realise now why this is so important. There are so many factors which determine whether a show is a success or not and each show is always a massive risk both emotionally and financially. For instance Hair is my favourite musical and the connection that I get when I watch it makes me want to produce it. I believe it is a story that has to be seen and enjoyed by a new generation. I felt the same for Yank. We opened Yank in London, the same week I got married, the same week that we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality and the same month we had Pride in London. For that reason I am so glad I chose to produce these shows and Yank will forever have a very special place in my heart.