INTERVIEW: RSC ticket chief Steve Haworth on life under lockdown #ArtistsInRetreat

Steve Haworth

Head of ticketing and retail at the RSC Steve Haworth tells Herald arts about his life under lockdown

Tell us about how you got started.
I’ve been at the Royal Shakespeare Company and have been with the company since 2003.
My (some might say, inexplicable) love of ticketing started in 1993 whilst working in many Box Offices across London’s West End including the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, Cambridge Theatre, Queens Theatre, Her Majesty’s Theatre and The London Palladium where my mentor was the legendary Edwin Shaw who had been the Box Office Manager at the Palladium since 1968 and still today advises the team who work on the Palladium Pantomime every year, at the age of 84.

What have been some of your favourite RSC shows?
Since working at the RSC, I have been responsible for ticketing over 40,000 individual performances and events. However, some of the more memorable include the emotional final performances at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre before it closed for refurbishment in 2006, Michael Boyd’s unforgettable ‘Glorious Moment’ where all of the eight History plays played across one weekend in 2008, the very first performance and subsequent press night of Matilda at The Courtyard Theatre in 2010, the BBC’s Shakespeare Live! From The RSC with David Tennant and Catherine Tate in 2016 and more recently, the incredible official Opening Night of Gregory Doran’s truly extraordinary production of The Boy in the Dress.

Where are you spending the lockdown, and who are you with?
I’m spending lockdown with my lovely wife Kim, who also used to work at the RSC. We are in our house in Stratford-upon-Avon wondering when we will be able to travel to our favourite place in Spain again.

How are you staying connected with the outside world?
I’m trying to WhatsApp video call my mum regularly, she lives in Shipston on Stour on her own and I think keeping in touch ‘face to face’ is important.
It’s difficult not to scour the web for news but it’s not helpful as there are so many different angles on the situation at the moment. I’m trying to stick to reading or watching the BBC News for national and international news, and of course the Herald for local news.

Steve, left, with Jane Ellis, Head of Media and Comms and Chris Hill, Director of Marketing

Are you managing to do any kind of work?
Yes, we have. Everyone at the RSC is so resourceful and within the first couple of days of lockdown, the team were sat in their own homes, busy contacting our audiences about cancelled performances and events as well as responding to the thousands of emails.
Feedback from ticket buyers and our audiences in general has been incredible and we’ve experienced generosity not only through donations, but also through positive and encouraging messages and emails from those who hold the RSC close to their heart. Some of the ticket buyers the team have called haven’t heard from many people since the lockdown, so are enjoying the conversation.

What are the upsides and downsides to being in lockdown?
I’m honestly finding it very positive at the moment. It’s nice to pause for a moment and to think about what you’ve achieved in life and what you might like to go on and do.
The ‘enforced’ daily trip out for exercise has become very important and we’ve discovered public footpaths in Stratford less than half a mile away from us that we didn’t even know existed. I always knew I was lucky to be in Stratford but it really is a beautiful place to live.

Do you have any cultural recommendations for keeping entertained during the isolation?
A lot of the RSC’s ‘Live from Stratford-upon-Avon’ productions are now available on Marquee TV and some are also now available on BBC iPlayer… all of which I saw in Stratford, but from behind the camera. It’s been nice to see those as the cinema audiences saw them.
TV would be After Life by Ricky Gervais, who is a comedy genius, or a silly 1980s sit com – I could happily watch ten episodes of Hi De Hi back to back much to Kim’s bemusement. Film would be anything directed by Mike Leigh. Book would have to be an autobiography or a true story, historical or present day. My taste in music is too eclectic to pick a favourite… anything from 80s pop to 50s Jazz with a brief spot of 1990 Hacienda house music thrown in; a brilliantly hazy time of my life.

Any other tips for not going stir crazy?
Looking after yourself. Eating well in terms of thinking about what you eat, where it comes from and how much you’re enjoying it. Drinking water and wine (in moderation). Walking and sleeping well. Thinking carefully before taking time to do the work you have to do. Repeating mantras; there’s no such thing as failure – all that type of stuff.

What help would you like to see being given to the arts?
You might think that theatre isn’t for you or you might even think it’s just a bunch of people dressing up and speaking someone else’s words. You might never have been to see a West End musical but no-one can ignore that in the UK, the arts and culture industry contribute £2.8billion a year in taxation as well as generating a further £23billion to the economy and employing almost 400,000 people. We produce world class theatre in this country ranging from tiny one-hander performances in small rooms above pubs in Yorkshire to huge blockbuster musicals that travel the world, entertaining millions of people. That mustn’t be forgotten; our vital industry needs all the help it can get; always, but especially now.

What lesson would you hope mankind could learn from the coronavirus catastrophe?
It’s a cliché but ‘be kinder’ and take more ‘pauses’. It’s not just a government soundbite, we really are “all in this together”.