For those in the know, Stagefair is a great excuse for a day trip to London to sample what s coming up this season in the West End. This year s sixth annual event, held 30th September at the New Connaught Rooms in Covent Garden, was no exception.Celebrity Opening
The one-day event, organised by the Society of London Theatre which acts as a marketing consortium for all major West End theatres, is aimed at group organisers, tour and travel agents. The day kicked off with a celebrity opening by comedian and playwright Ben Elton who was accompanied by two stars - Sarah Parrish and Dena Davis - from his hit comedy Popcorn. This was followed by the first ever Stagefair Awards, sponsored by Stoll Moss Theatres, which featured categories such as Corporate Organiser of the Year and Tour and Coach Operator of the Year.All-Day Exhibition
Stars and photocalls aside, the less glamorous backbone of Stagefair is the all-day exhibition which this year, as usual, included stands from a variety of theatre-related parties including some of the big shows (Chicago and Grease among them); major producers like Cameron Mackintosh Ltd and Lloyd-Webber s Really Useful Group; stalwarts like the Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Theatre, Shakespeare s Globe and the Barbican Centre; as well as the Theatre Museum, hotels, restaurants and other services of interest to the theatre goer.
Stoll Moss Theatres used its stand to launch its new web site which will be a good additional resource for information on the company s ten London venues as well as other West End productions. Aside from that and some amusingly costumed floorwalkers, however, there wasn t much to hold your attention at the exhibition, although the popcorn handed out - at the Popcorn stand of course - was a most welcome gimmick.Scintillating Seminars
Far more interesting was Stagefair s programme of seminars - “2001 A Ticket Odyssey” about online ticket ordering; “Getting the Most from Your Theatre Visit” which was aimed at theatre tour groups; and “Wicked and Cool? - Developing Young Audiences” amongst them. The panel for the latter was encrusted with stars including Harry Landis (Felix in EastEnders), Derek Griffiths (children s TV star and a very amusing Lumiere in Beauty and the Beast), Samantha Bond (starring with Dame Judi Dench in Amy s View at the National) and Royal ballerina Deborah Bull as well as Carl Miller, director of young people s theatre at the Royal Court. The general consensus was that we need to make theatre more accessible to younger generations if it is to survive as an art form into the next millenium. How to do this was a matter less difficult to agree on, although many felt that ticket prices needed to come down - preferrably in a way that won t break already strained companies.
The sell-out seminar was the one later in the afternoon which featured Sir Peter Hall talking about modern repertory. It was a sad occasion as Hall voiced his fears for the future of the Old Vic - which he and his players will need to vacate in a few short weeks - and his company. Although he s approached several other West End venues, Hall says that none want to take the risk of repertory which, in the current system, is not a viable option for commercial theatre. The packed audience became increasingly vocal as it tried to find a solution to Hall s dilemma. Indeed, it will be a tragedy if the Peter Hall company doesn t find a new home to stage the kind of outstanding productions it has launched in its first, all-too-short debut season. Perhaps we ll have some answers in the new year.Window on the West End
The mood of the day picked up considerably a few hours later at the nearby Theatre Royal, Drury Lane (the usual home to Miss Saigon ) where the annual Window on the West End, hosted by renowned theatre critic, gave us preview of this season s offerings. The medley included some fast-paced musical excerpts from Smokey Joe s Cafe and Bugsy Malone, comic interludes from She Knows You Know! and the The Bible - The complete Word of God (abridged) and interviews with the new stars of Jesus Christ Superstar and Maddie. To conclude, we had a tantalising taster of Chicago , the Broadway smash hit which looks set to have a similar scale of collisional success when it opens at the Adelphi in November.
Terri Paddock, October 1997