Stables at 60! Putting on a show is all about the teamwork

Teamwork is the key to staging productions at the Stables Theatre which is in the midst of its 60th anniversary celebrations this month writes Lynda Foy.

Frank Jenks, one of the volunteers who is working on the set for the Chicago Heights Drama Group’s satire which opens at the theatre next Friday (June 21st), said: “It is very much teamwork. It takes 13 people to put one person on the stage. There’s sound, lighting, stage management, props and a prompt.

“Then there’s two people in the bar, two in the box office, two on front of house and two serving the teas.”

Made to measure: Ian Morson chooses timber to use for set while Keith Hunt checks the size of a wooden frame and the set builders check the dimensions of their latest work.

A small team of volunteers is currently building the set for The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940, by John Bishop, which the American visitors will present from next Friday and Saturday (June 21st, 22nd) and then from Wednesday, June 26th, until Saturday, June 29th.

The Chicago group, which arrives on Monday, will spend two weeks in Hastings, with social events and outings planned for them by Stables members. The trip is part of an exchange programme between the Americans and the Stables which began 20 years ago.

Building a production: Set builders from left, Philip Cooper, Ian Morson, Frank Jenks. Rear, Keith Hunt and David Bastin.

Ian Morson, who organises set building sessions, said: “Thankfully we’ve volunteers who are good at DIY. We have got a week to build this set and that is a very tight timescale for us.”

The team usually knock down a set and rebuild one every month, with some sets taking longer to prepare than others.

Ian added: “A box set like this is quiet easy, but the more imaginative sets can be a challenge.

“When we presented the plays, White Liars and Black Comedy, the set designer wanted to use scaffolding and we had to build it very precisely – it took a lot of time.

“Every show is built from scratch. We have a professional lighting engineer, Jonathan Richardson, and he sometimes helps with this.”

The team recycles a lot of the timber used to build the box sets and flats for the scenery. Many props are stored-in house, including furniture and costumes, but sometimes items like pianos and sofas are bought from second hand shops or charities and given back when the production is over.

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Frank Jenks in the control room at the Stables Theatre, Hastings.

Frank Jenks, who helps to organise the lighting, sound and special effects in the control room, said: “We have a complete sound surround system here. There’s very little we can’t do with lighting effects.

“When I started here 30 years ago, everything was manual control, there were no computers. There was reel-to-reel music and a gramophone. Now it’s all computer-controlled.”

Tickets for the Chicago Heights’ production are selling well. Details from the box office on 01424 423221 or book online at

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