Alex Wardle: Keelite of the Month April 2015

1996 Electronics & German (Subsidiaries: Music & Engineering Mathematics)

Alex Wardle What am I doing now?

Working as a theatre consultant and lighting designer for a specialist theatre design practice, Charcoalblue. Theatre consulting means collaborating with architects and building engineers to design new theatres: we generally design the form of the auditorium and the seating layout; and all the specialist technical systems such as stage elevators, hoists, stage-lighting and audio-visual systems.  I’ve recently finished the refurbishment of Chichester Festival Theatre and of The Cottesloe at the National Theatre (renamed The Dorfman); now I’m working on a new concert hall for Birmingham Conservatoire and the refurbishment of Perth Theatre in Scotland and the Civic Theatre in Darlington.  My lighting design work is for theatre productions, I tend to light two or three shows a year: there’s a production of “Birdsong” touring the UK at the moment, which I lit. 

Photo left: Alex

How did you get to where you are now?

By spending most of my time at Keele doing shows with the Drama Society! With no purpose-built theatre, we had to create venues in the disused Lindsay cafeteria, the Students' Union "Arts Studio", the chapel, or outdoors in the clock house courtyard. I did an MA at Goldsmiths' when I left Keele, then started working as a stage manager and lighting designer on fringe theatre productions in London. Several years on touring productions followed, including six years as production manager with Kneehigh Theatre, based in Cornwall and touring worldwide. 

Alex and family What has been your biggest achievement so far?  

It's between lighting a play at the National Theatre in London; or directing the UK stage première of Hindemith's one-act opera, "Sancta Susanna". 

Photo right: Alex with wife Rosie and daughter Edith

And your biggest mistake? 

There have been many small ones, but I can’t think of an amusing or big one!

What are your ambitions now? 

To balance the work with having a young family: we have a one-year-old daughter. Every new project brings fresh challenges, which is what keeps the job interesting. One day I would love to design an opera house.

Alex in Richard IIII What advice would you give to someone wanting to work in a similar field?  

Start in stage management! That was Gordon Craig's advice and it's true for anyone working in theatre in any way: the stage manager has to know what everyone does and what they need from other departments, so it's a great way to learn and get to know people. It’s often important not to specialise too early: learning a broader range of skills puts you in a better position for moving into new careers in the future.  

Photo left: "The Annual KDS Shakespeare" Richard III in the Clock House Courtyard: L to R Clare Anderson, Jack Lockett, Alex Wardle, Andrew Colman, directed by Martin Alcock; summer 1993

What made you choose Keele University?   

The crazy combination of subjects - nowhere else offered joint honours Electronics and German. 

What kind of a student were you?  

Amazingly lucky to get away with a 2:1, despite spending an absolute minimum of time on academic work. I was off the campus quite a bit: going for long walks or working in the bar at the New Vic Theatre. 

How has Keele influenced your life?  

I made some really good friends; many of us keep in contact and meet from time to time. 

Revenger's Tragedy What is your favourite memory of Keele?

Getting to know the opera repertoire as part of the music subsidiary course. There were only two of us on that course: we would go to the library in the evenings, get out a set of LP records and listen to wonderful recordings on battered record players with ancient headphones.  And exploring the forests.

Photo right: Revenger's Tragedy: the company after the final performance; directed by Brendan Godfrey and Alex Wardle. Lindsay Arts Studio, spring 1993.

What is your impression of Keele now?  

The offering of courses seems to have become more specialised: neither of my courses now exists. Although I didn't do the foundation year, it seemed to be a great way into higher education for many students - so I’m glad that still exists.

Anything else you would like to add?

With so much music and drama happening at Keele, it’s a shame there is still no concert hall or theatre: it would be great to see Keele get a proper performing arts space!