New Grand Theatre boss goes back to where it all started

"When you come in to a theatre like this, with so much history behind it, you can almost feel its heart beating."

New Grand Theatre boss goes back to where it all started

The new chief executive at Wolverhampton's historic Grand Theatre, Adrian Jackson, is looking to put his stamp on its next chapter after moving into the prestigious role earlier this month.

He will lead a team charged with making sure the 120 year old theatre moves with the times while maintaining elements of the rich tradition that makes it one of the city's most loved institutions.

The new chief executive of Wolverhampton's Grand Theatre: Adrian Jackson from Lichfield.

For Mr Jackson, who was made chief executive for the Lichfield Garrick Theatre in 2006, a role he left earlier this year to move to the Grand, this new job represents his life in theatre coming full circle.

His first ever taste of the stage came when he performed with West Bromwich Operatic Society in a production of The Music Man at the Lichfield Street venue in May 1978.

All these years later, the new chief executive returns to the Grand hoping he will leave having made the same positive impact the theatre had on him.

He said: "It was two weeks before my 13th birthday and I played the role of Winthrop Parroo.

"The West Bromwich Operatic Society still perform here now, which is wonderful.

"I didn't want to be an actor, I knew that, but I loved the thrill of performing.

"From that point my decision was made in my head that I was going to be a performer, so the theatre was destined to play a big part in my life."

Adrian Jackson (far right) - playing the role of Winthrop Parroo in The Music Man. Wolverhampton Grand Theatre - May 1978

Mr Jackson, aged 49, will oversee some structural changes at the Grand, with the wheels are already in motion for some of the work.

Plans are currently in place to rename and revamp one of the theatre bars, which will open to the public during the day and in the evening for the first time in years.

The ground floor bar will be renamed The Encore Lounge and its layout will changed to accommodate more people.

In addition, the lounge will include its own small performance space for music, drama and stand-up comedy during the day, before and after shows and during the intervals.

Work, which will also include the general revamp of the foyer, will begin in the summer.

Mr Jackson said: "We want to make the Grand Theatre more of a location in Wolverhampton, rather than somewhere that simply hosts plays and musicals.

"We need to open the door for all sorts of people.

"The new bar could be a place where people come for a quick drink after work or meet friends.

"We are also looking to install a small performance area for about 60 to 100 spectators where we could host live music events or comedy nights and really reach out to a different part of the city."

Outside of theatre, Mr Jackson, a Lichfield resident who was born in New Cross Hospital, has forged a career as a respected instrumentalist and a conductor.

He is highly regarded both in the UK and abroad as one of the leading conductors and musical supervisors in his field.

Internationally, he has worked with many renowned orchestras and has appeared in some of most prestigious venues in the world.

He also hosted his own radio show, called Showstoppers, on Saga 107.5fm.

Despite his close ties to the music world, he claims he will not build the theatres schedule around personal preference, rather what he feels will give the most variety to the general public.

He said: "It is important that a new chief executive comes in with a completely different take on things and has a completely fresh outlook and vision.

"I want to give people a different experience, something they haven't had before.

"We do want to introduce new things alongside all of our regular and extremely important shows, such as the pantomime and the work of local amateur dramatic groups.

"However, it isn't going to be just about what I like, far from it.

"It is about creating a programme that can be enjoyed by everybody to some extent.

"I suppose my bias would be music because that is my background but that won't dictate what we put on.

"It is just about what the heart of this theatre needs.

"I would like to see more orchestral music performed though, I think we could open up the music scene in the city by utilising this venue."

Amateur dramatic companies in the region have made a big contribution to the Grand's success in recent years.

The West Bromwich Operatic Society's take on Ghost The Musical earlier this year was a hit with crowds and performed well at the box office, as did Wolverhampton Musical Comedy Company with their production of Legally Blonde The Musical.

The importance of amateur productions isn't lost on Mr Jackson, who said they will continue to play a part in the future of the theatre under his stewardship.

He said: "When you think about it, every performer who is known to the public now would have started in an amateur group.

"They are crucial to the theatre.

"It is not just important for those involved in the production directly but the audience too, often these shows are young peoples first exposure to the world of theatre.

"The quality of some of these productions today is brilliant too."

When Mr Jackson left his previous role, James Leavesley, chairman of the board of trustees at the Lichfield Garrick, said the move to the Grand was 'a natural progression for someone with Adrian's talent and experience'.

Despite enjoying a 'wonderful time' at the Lichfield venue, the lure of the Grand proved too strong and after a period of easing himself into the role, Mr Jackson started work full time on June 1.

He said: "When I was offered the job here it was a great feeling, knowing I was going to be coming back to where it all started for me.

"Every theatre has a heart and the Grand's heart is enormous

"When you come in to a theatre like this, with so much history behind it, you can feel its heart beating.

"Just looking at the stage, you can imagine all of the old variety acts performing, you can hear the sound of all of the wonderful musicals that have been performed here and you can feel the life inside of this venue."

Adrian Jackson conducting A Touch of Vegas with the late Alvin Stardust

As he looks ahead to his future with the Grand, the passion for theatre culture still burns bright for Mr Jackson.

On working with his new team to ensure a bright future for the legendary venue, he said: "To make this a success, we need to work together as a team and that has always been my experience with anything to do with the theatre.

"Working in this in this industry, it is more than just a job, it is a life.

"You have to be prepared to to go where it takes you and enjoy every moment of it."

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