Welcome to the first in our series ‘Meet the Team’ where we’ll be getting to know all those people whose job it is to bring you hj1act each year. The team are members of The Swindon and District Theatre Guild, a registered charity which hosts the Harold Jolliffe One-Act Play Festival. Find out more about the Guild HERE
Ashley Heath has been a member of the Guild and Festival Director for hj1act since 2006. He’s very keen to see the festival prosper as it “brings so much enjoyment to those who perform, and watch.” Ashley found time in his busy schedule a few days ago to pop into hjHQ to tell us about himself and his role in The Swindon and District Theatre Guild and his work with hj1act.
Ashley (on the right) is very often on stage for the final awards night. “I love the presentations, seeing everyone come up for their gongs and being so happy to have succeeded!”
In his first few years, Ashley saw his priority as arresting a decline in hj1act’s fortunes. “Like many festivals around the country, ours was struggling”, says Ashley. “It never managed to cover its costs. The common question for a number of years was about whether it would run again, or not.” Ashley worked with the Swindon and District Theatre Guild committee to put into place a number of systemic changes which would lay the foundations for some sort of recovery.
“I remember we were too polite to our audiences; by not insisting on seeing a ticket before someone got in. I’m sure that not everyone who saw a festival performance, or the awards night, paid to do so. We got a bit more direct. Pay up, or don’t come in. It sounds obvious but I’m sure that simple, but demanding, changes like that made a difference.” Ashley is still very happy that in 2006, hj1act made a £50 profit!
One of Ashley’s happiest memories is of the year (he can’t remember which – must be his age…!) when his wife Nancy, who was stage managing, arrived on stage unexpectedly as he was introducing the night’s plays. “It was my birthday, and Nancy had connived with the committee to have the audience sing me ‘Happy Birthday’. It was lovely, unexpected and a tad embarrassing but I have a lovely image of that year’s Swindon mayor lustily singing along with everyone else! I really felt it was a sign of what hj1act is all about; a big gang of friendly people all enjoying each other’s company and efforts!”
Other changes have been more organisational. “We now try to work with local companies who might provide a service, in return for advertising in our programme and website, along with thanks in our awards night speeches.” Swindon Car and Van Hire have been generous enough in previous years to offer free van hire to those winning companies who needed it. “That can be a major cost to a festival company and is more practical than a share of the meagre raffle returns we used to offer.”
Since he ‘went into management’, Ashley has rarely trod the hj1act boards as an actor. But in 2010, he was persuaded by his wife to take part in an entering company’s performance. “I enjoyed it, and it was well received but we also had to make sure that I didn’t MC that session. Another member of the committee did the honours so that there was no confusion, or misunderstanding, about what I was doing that evening!”
But through teamwork within the Guild committee, Ashley is now more hopeful that hj1act is on a firmer footing. “Nothing’s sure these days. The more progress we began in 2006 didn’t really get to gather any momentum before the austerity cuts of 2008/9/10 bit really hard into hj1act’s fragile financial meat. We’re always having to figure out new ways of working as an organising committee, and attracting new entering companies and audiences.”
Our thanks to Ashley for dropping by, for sharing his thoughts on hj1act and for letting us have a peek into his private photo collection! We certainly appreciate all the hard work he puts in to making hj1act such a success and for being such an all round top bloke!
NEXT UP: Learning an accent?
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