The Relationship Between Alan Ayckbourn & The Stephen Joseph Theatre

Alan Ayckbourn has been an integral part of the history of the Stephen Joseph Theatre practically since the company was launched in 1955. He is arguably the figure most associated with the venue and undoubtedly is a key element in the theatre's longevity and success.

Alan joined the company at the
Library Theatre as an Acting Stage Manager in 1957 and acted for the company between 1957 and 1962. In 1959, his first professionally commissioned play, The Square Cat, was premiered at the Library Theatre and in 1961 he made his debut as a professional director with a production of Gaslight. In 1972, he was appointed as the Artistic Director of the company by Scarborough Theatre Trust following the death of Stephen Joseph in 1967. Alan remained the Artistic Director of the company until March 31 2009, having overseen the move of the company to its second home - the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round in 1976 - and spearheaded the move to convert Scarborough's former Odeon cinema into the company's present home - the Stephen Joseph Theatre - into which it moved in 1996. He retired as Artistic Director on 31 March 2009, but continues to premier his work and direct for the company. In 2018, he was appointed the company's first Director Emeritus.

This long association has also, over the years, led to a number of misconceptions about the playwright's relationship with the theatre. This page looks at some of the frequently asked questions and misconceptions about Alan Ayckbourn and his association with the Stephen Joseph Theatre.

Facts

  • Alan Ayckbourn does not own or manage the Stephen Joseph Theatre (nor ever has). It is not Alan Ayckbourn's theatre (except in the sense it is the theatre he is most associated with).
  • Since 1957, Alan Ayckbourn has - in various guises - been an employee of or employed by Studio Theatre Ltd (1957 - 1962) and Scarborough Theatre Trust (1964 - present day).
  • Since his retirement as Artistic Director in 2009, he no longer has any involvement in the theatre on a day-to-day basis. He is employed as a guest director, but has no say in how the theatre is run.

Extrapolation and Frequently Asked Questions

Does Alan Ayckbourn run the Stephen Joseph Theatre? Is the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Alan Ayckbourn's theatre?
No. The Stephen Joseph Theatre (as it is known today) was founded in 1955 by Stephen Joseph and run by the company Studio Theatre Ltd. Since 1967, it has been a charitable trust run by Scarborough Theatre Trust (a company initially founded in 1964 by Stephen Joseph).
In 1957, Alan Ayckbourn was employed by Studio Theatre Ltd as an actor and has almost continually been employed - in various positions - by the company ever since. Scarborough Theatre Trust appointed him as Artistic Director in 1972, a position he held until 2009. Although he was responsible for the day-to-day running and artistic direction of the venue, he reported directly to Scarborough Theatre Trust, who had the power to terminate his employment at any point.
The Stephen Joseph Theatre is not - nor ever has been - Alan Ayckbourn's theatre, but it is the theatre he is most associated with.

Is the Stephen Joseph Theatre obligated to stage Alan Ayckbourn's plays?
Essentially no. Although the theatre's aims and objectives as a charity include the statement: "To be the home for Alan Ayckbourn's new work and the place where his existing plays are revived as originally intended", this is not a legal requirement or obligation. It is an objective which hopefully benefits the company and also preserves the theatre's notable legacy of encouraging, developing and being associated with one of the UK's most successful living playwrights. However Scarborough Theatre Trust could, plausibly, break the link with Alan Ayckbourn at any time.
On the other hand, Alan Ayckbourn is - and always has been - committed to and passionate about the Stephen Joseph Theatre. When he retired as Artistic Director in 2009, he committed himself to premiering his new plays at the Stephen Joseph Theatre for as long as the theatre wished to stage them. There is no doubt each has benefited from the other over the decades. The SJT has provided the springboard for Alan's writing and the opportunity to have his new work consistently staged, whilst the theatre has benefited financially and in reputation from working with Alan Ayckbourn.
However, there is no obligation for the theatre to either stage Alan Ayckbourn's plays nor for the playwright to premiere his plays at the venue. The fact both things happen is because they are deemed, hopefully, to be mutually beneficial to both the Stephen Joseph Theatre and Alan Ayckbourn.

Has Alan Ayckbourn financially benefited / taken money from the Stephen Joseph Theatre?
No. In fact, the opposite is true. Alan Ayckbourn has made a significant financial contribution to the Stephen Joseph Theatre over the decades. Although initially employed as an actor by the company in 1957, by the mid-'60s Alan Ayckbourn was essentially working for the Library Theatre for free and was not paid for his contribution as a playwright or director.
In 1972, Alan Ayckbourn was appointed Artistic Director of the Library Theatre and held the position until he retired in 2009. During that period of 37 years, he chose not to draw his wage as Artistic Director and that money was invested back into the theatre.
The Stephen Joseph Theatre has obviously financially benefited from staging Alan Ayckbourn's work (notably the vast majority of world premiere productions of his plays and - in recent years - their subsequent tours) but for many years the company also received royalties from the regular West End premiere productions of the playwright's work. Alan Ayckbourn himself has also significantly contributed to the theatre, notably when he was one of the triumvirate who each invested £50,000 to secure the lease of the new Stephen Joseph Theatre in the early '90s and when he paid £400,000 for the right to name the venue as the Stephen Joseph Theatre.

Will the Stephen Joseph Theatre ever become the Alan Ayckbourn Theatre?
One hopes not - and Alan Ayckbourn himself would not be happy with such a change. The Stephen Joseph Theatre is named after one of the most influential if largely unrecognised figures in British theatre history from the '50s and '60s. And - more importantly - the single most important and influential mentor figure in Alan Ayckbourn's life. Without Stephen Joseph, Alan would not have become the internationally successful playwright he is today and Scarborough would not have a theatre which is known around the world.
The name of the Stephen Joseph Theatre marks the legacy of a figure who - whilst vastly under appreciated - had an extraordinary impact on both the town of Scarborough and many playwrights, actors and directors, not least Alan Ayckbourn. It also, in theory, represents the theatre's commitment to its founder's intentions, most primarily the development of new writers and writing.
So one hopes, the theatre will always recognise in its title, the man who inspired Alan Ayckbourn and so many others. You can find out more about Stephen Joseph, his work and his influence
here.

Article by Simon Murgatroyd. Copyright: Haydonning Ltd. Please do not reproduce this article without permission of the copyright holder.