The Roundhouse Chief Executive and Artistic Director, Marcus Davey, shares his memories of events leading up to the reopening of the Roundhouse in June 2016.
It’s Thursday 1 June 2006, the day that the Roundhouse is due to reopen. A day that has been 10 years in the planning. In the last four months the organisation’s staff has increased from 15 to 65, to contribute to the opening and to prepare for the hive of activity across a number of artforms that will fill the building day and night for the years to come. The morning of the opening there was an enormous amount that needed to be done. Here Marcus Davey, Chief Executive and Artistic Director of the Roundhouse, takes us behind the scenes of what was happening in those final few hours before the new Roundhouse officially opened.
That week leading up to the opening was one of the most challenging times I’ve ever experienced. We just weren’t ready. The world’s best physical theatre group, Fuerzabruta, were due to open the venue, but rehearsing was very difficult among everything else that was going on.
All the smoke detectors had to be tested live, which meant that all day for two weeks we had fire alarms going off and we couldn’t rehearse the show properly.
The builders were everywhere, box office systems weren’t up, the bars weren’t ready, the kitchen wasn’t installed. In fact, at 10am on the morning we opened, we still didn’t have any of the five licences and certificates that we needed to enable us to open. It was looking a bit loathsome that morning, because it was hard to see how we were going to successfully host the 900 guests coming to see Fuerzabruta. It was incredibly challenging and I was determined to see that we opened on time. The strain and stress showed on everyone’s faces.
At 3pm there was a builder laying blocks to make the outside terrace, there were plumbers coming up to me saying that they didn’t have the right kit to complete the job. It seemed like everyone we needed to be there had disappeared. I was getting a bit concerned and quite forcefully urged them to get a move on, as we were due to open the doors at 5.30pm to enable customers to pick up their tickets and have a drink before the show.
By late afternoon, I knew we had to stop the building work and make the site look presentable. All the staff pulled their weight and we moved all the building equipment and builders out of the Roundhouse and everyone was asked to get cleaning.
At about 5pm I had a sinking feeling that we would just not open on time. But, then, I got a call from my brother. He told me that my nephew was okay after his operation that morning, but that he’d had a terrible bleed and that it had been touch and go for a while. Being so immersed in the Roundhouse opening, I’d completely forgotten about his operation.
The call from my brother was the best thing that could have happened to me, because it put everything into perspective – even if we didn’t open on time, nobody was going to die. We still had a lot of mess to deal with before the evening though, so the perspective didn’t make the stress disappear entirely.
At about 5.25pm, one of my colleagues came up to me and said, “I’m having trouble with this key, I need your help.” I was a bit frustrated, because I thought someone else was better equipped to help him. He took me down to the front doors and asked if I could check the lock for him, saying he thought there was a problem with it.
I put the key in the lock and pushed the door open. My colleague said “you’ve just reopened the Roundhouse”. Suddenly, all the staff came around the corner with glasses of champagne. It had all been set up and I burst into tears… everybody burst into tears. It was just the most moving moment.
At 5.30pm on the dot, the box office system started working, and soon after we had a license and all the certificates we needed to open. The building was clean enough and all the staff were stationed around the venue making sure that if something went wrong, they were in a position to get things going again. But in the end, the opening evening went perfectly, just perfectly.
Not only did we open the Main Space and the Studio Theatre that night, but we opened five bars, the office space and the box office. It was another month before we opened the Roundhouse Studios – a place to foster the creative development of young people. It was like the biggest family wedding. We had some great artists there, as well as our amazing supporters, sponsors and staff.
Lots of people said it was going to be a disaster, because the Roundhouse had had such a rough history, but we held on and it worked. And over time, we built up the programme to the huge number of events we present today.
That opening night still makes me shudder. Not in fear and worry anymore, but more in wonder and delight.