Since its opening in 1871, the Royal Albert Hall has been one of the world’s most renowned entertainment venues. Its incredible history has taken in everything from Suffragette meetings in the early 1900s to an Albert Einstein lecture, a double-header featuring the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, and the staging each year of the world’s premier classical music festival: the BBC Proms. Just a short walk from The Milestone Hotel, it continues to be a world-class venue, attracting the finest talent from across the globe. Here, Ollie Jeffery, Head of Show Management, gives us a glimpse into what life is like behind the scenes at the Hall.
What does the role of Head of Show Management involve?
“My team is responsible for staging the amazing array of shows at the Hall, both in the auditorium and our smaller spaces. I manage the show department and our contractors, and work closely with the Programming, Facilities and Front of House teams to help ensure that artists and audiences have a great experience at the Hall from start to finish.”
How did you end up working at the Royal Albert Hall?
“I became interested in theatre when I was at school, coming at it from the logistical side. I started by working on all the concerts and plays at school. After that, I studied Stage and Production Management and then I received a dance and drama scholarship (not to dance!) to study Stage Management and Technical Theatre. On graduating, I worked at the O2 ExCeL and many other venues across London. Whilst studying at Drama College, my lighting tutor had told me of some work at the Royal Albert Hall, which I did whilst working at other venues on a casual basis. Then, a full-time opportunity came up in the technical team at RAH. That was in 2004 and I haven’t looked back since!”
Talk us through a typical day at work for you?
“I get in most days at 8am. The first thing I do is pop into the auditorium and check in with the team on duty. I’ll also check the previous night’s show reports – to find out what we did well and what we can do better – and have a brief walk around backstage. The rest of my day can vary, from meetings with my department managers to planning upcoming shows in 2019 and beyond. A lot of my job involves looking months ahead, not only to plan how we’ll meet the challenges of major shows – everything from Cirque du Soleil, red-carpet events like the BAFTAs, comedy and tennis! – but also working with project managers on longer-term installations or large capital investments.
Most days I leave the office at 7pm, but there’s usually a function or an evening meeting with a contractor or promoter after that. Of course, no two days are the same at the Hall, and anyone who wants a 9-to-5 job should think about another industry!”
Your job requires working closely with Royal Albert Hall’s Programming, Facilities and Front of House teams. How do you make sure that every team is working in sync?
“It’s all about communication – we don’t get it right every time, though of course we try! The key is to ensure everyone knows what their role is and what their objective is. Respecting one another’s different skills and taking on board the challenges that one another are facing is essential. This is what allows us to achieve so much in this busy building, open 365 days a year.”
The Royal Albert Hall building is almost 150 years old. How do you ensure the venue is able to cope with shows that demand increasingly technical installations and sets?
“The Hall was built in 1871, when much of the technology we use today couldn’t have been envisaged. Shows are more complicated, larger and heavier. Working in a Grade I listed building does create challenges you have to work around, given our duty to protect such a beautiful piece of architecture. Planning ahead on building projects and ensuring you talk to structural engineers and heritage consultants can be time consuming but is extremely worthwhile.”
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as Head of Show Management?
“Learning when to say yes and when to say no! We are so lucky to be able to host some of the world’s best productions, but you have to balance this with the practicalities and reality of being able to achieve a world-class end result. Loading in two Jaguar cars as the showpiece of a dinner for three thousand people was a challenge, but again, with planning and communication, we were able to deliver. I sometimes find it hard to switch off. The Hall has a ‘magic’ that sucks you in day and night; it’s a nice challenge, but you have to get the balance right.”
What have been your career highlights so far?
“I am very lucky to have had the opportunity to work with the most talented, hard-working team in the industry. They’re just amazing, and every day they achieve so much: their ultimate goal is to ensure the enjoyment of others, whether the event is being enjoyed by audiences on TV, radio or just there in the room. Getting to lead that team is my biggest highlight.
From a production perspective, Phantom of the Opera in 2011 was one of my proudest moments. It was the 25th anniversary celebration concerts, broadcast around the world to cinemas and recorded for DVD. I did a 90-hour week and the end result was absolutely amazing. Co-ordinating Bear Grylls’ abseil from the roof for a 2012 Olympics dinner – where he landed by the Duke of Cambridge – was also a fun moment.”
Why do you think the Royal Albert Hall remains such a famous London landmark?
“The Royal Albert Hall is a venue that never sleeps. We do multiple events in every corner of the building, from Late Night Jazz to lunchtime concerts, Sunday brunch to the Olivier Awards. We’ll host a school dance show one day, then install an ice rink the next. I don’t think there is another venue in the world that has such variety and is so steeped in history.”
What events at the Royal Albert Hall are you most looking forward to this year?
“As a musical theatre fan, the Olivier Awards will be great: we hosted them for the first time last year, and it was just spectacular. My daughter and I love watching Harry Potter – it’s a daddy-and-daughter treat – so working on our Films in Concert presentation of the series is a gift. Time with my family is very precious, and my daughter loves coming to work with me and watching shows.
From this year, we’re promoting the entire Christmas season ourselves, with a whole raft of new shows and I can’t wait for that. We want the Hall to be the destination in London to celebrate Christmas, for people of all ages.
And, of course, there are many other shows that I can’t mention just yet – but watch this space!”
Image Credits: Lead Image © Royal Albert Hall. Ollie Jeffery © Royal Albert Hall. Royal Albert Hall at dusk © David Iliff. BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall © Chris Christodoulou. Harry Potter © Royal Albert Hall.