Last year, Graham Callister (Associate Director, Community Engagement & Festivals, Birmingham Hippodrome) sent in an application nominating his colleague Liz Leck to for the Theatre Employee of the Year Award. This UK Theatre Award, sponsored by Integro in association with Chubb, celebrates individuals whose contribution has made a real difference to their organisation and/or to the theatre industry. Liz was jointly awarded the accolade (with Jane Claire of English Touring Theatre) at a ceremony at London’s historic Guildhall in October 2017.
Now, one year on and with the 2018 UK Theatre Awards applications open, we caught up with Liz and Graham to find out more about Liz’s career, what receiving the award meant to her and how her life has changed both personally and professionally.
Graham, tell us a about your role at Birmingham Hippodrome and in what capacity you work with Liz.
I head up our community and festival activities, overseeing the delivery of some of the city’s biggest free festivals – B-Side Hip Hop Festival, Summer in Southside, Chinese New Year, Birmingham Weekender, and most recently working with Martin Green on the delivery of the Commonwealth Games Handover Ceremony.
I’ve worked with Liz for the last 3 years across a range of Creative Learning activities, be it our popular curtain raiser programme, schools network, work with young people with learning disabilities, and a host of other projects too many of which to mention here!
Liz has dedicated her career to regional theatre, working for several years at the Belgrade in Coventry before her role here at the Hippodrome, and has most recently championed the need for more accessible and relaxed performances at the Hippodrome and across the West Midlands – she is also a much loved and cherished (now former, perhaps more honorary?) employee of the Hippodrome, having worked in various departments before taking on the role of Creative Learning Manager and her most recent role of Access Associate, however we still need Liz’s expertise, creativity and enthusiasm so there’s no sign of her cutting ties with the Hippodrome just yet!
Liz, tell us a bit about your career to date – has anything changed since you won your UK Theatre Award in October 2017?
I have worked in theatre for over 30 years, starting off as a maternity cover at the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry – I think she is a grandma now! For more than 13 years I have been a member of the team at the Birmingham Hippodrome, initially joining the organisation as Marketing Officer, then becoming Education & Audience Development Manager, which later became Creative Learning Manager (Access), and I am now their Access Associate.
I consider myself to be very lucky. Every Monday I would come to work, probably feeling the same as everyone else on a Monday morning... but I would always come via the back dock and see the set for that week’s show being brought in. It always seemed like a nightmare Groundhog Day in Ikea… with teams of techies milling about with plans and props in their hands! I loved that bit … and then at about 7pm… coming downstairs from our office for the first night and seeing the general public milling about with their programmes and proseccos – never having an idea what had been happening just 8 hours earlier. This is the magic of theatre – transformation.
Nearly a year has passed since I received the award and so much has happened - perhaps the most momentous being that I have retired! Well at least stopped coming in to work 5 (or should that be 6 or 7!?) days a week.
I always knew I had to retire, time doesn’t stand still and skipping does get harder as the years go on but winning the UK Theatre award for Theatre Employee of the Year somehow made it so much easier. It helped to be able to let go, knowing that – yes, I actually think I may have made a difference!
Graham, what has most impressed you about working with Liz?
Her absolute passion for and commitment to ensuring accessible performances here at the Hippodrome, be it on our main stage or studio theatre space, or within our festivals – in particular her work to support the delivery of our popular Relaxed Performances.
Liz has always done everything in her power to ensure as many people as possible can benefit from the accessible and Relaxed Performances we put on here at the Hippodrome, through which she has gained legendary status due to her knowledge and experience.
Through her trailblazing approach we have expanded our Relaxed Performances from 1 in 2015/16 to 6 in the last financial year 2017/18 and 8 already planned for our 18/19 season, with Matilda The Musical being our most recent.
Her work with young carers and Acorns families, and the fact that she really cares about young people from all walks of life and backgrounds also shines through.
It was important to us that Liz was recognised with a UK Theatre Award too many roles within our industry are often under-valued and overlooked, particularly those that are more behind the scenes or less glamorous. It’s important that these roles and individuals are recognised to inspire others and highlight the variety of career roles within the sector.
When Liz won her UK Theatre Award, we took a lot of pride in the fact that she was ‘one of ours’, representing both the Hippodrome and the wider West Midlands within the sector, and that she was recognised for her services to the industry. I’d also say that ultimately its recognition by your peers (& your friends) for a good job done is second bar none.
Liz, can you share some of your career highlights with us? What did winning this award mean to you?
I believe that the magical power of theatre can change people’s lives. My main area of work has been and still is – developing new audiences and opening doors to people who may not ever have had a chance to experience, engage and most importantly enjoy the arts. This can be through School Visits, Singles Nights (more stories to tell here!), Curtain Raisers, Hip Hop, Relaxed Performances and so many other ways. I have met so many inspirational people through these opportunities - young carers (who have never had time to be children), Acorns hospice families (who have so much love and strength), young people with learning disabilities (who are so confident and talented).
Throughout my career, whilst adoring my job, as a single parent and bringing up 3 children, who are all amazing adults now, I felt I missed so much of their lives. A feeling which I’m sure many parents will relate to. My children had to adapt to my life – my hours, crazy weekends, theatrical lodgers (there’s another story there!) and let’s be honest – our rather frugal life style! But perhaps for me, my proudest moment was that 2 of my 3 children attended the UK Theatre Awards ceremony with me and they understood what I had been doing all those years – missing sports days, being late for parents’ evenings, not affording school trips… And they were so proud of me. In that moment – watching my children clapping and standing and cheering me … I knew that it had all been worth it!
I have had such a wonderful career and the award really did put the icing on the cake.
So, thank you for this incredible award! Theatre really did change my life.