In the first week of July, six first-year students from Queen Elizabeth’s Sixth Form completed a week long work experience placement, learning about Darlington Hippodrome and researching the theatre’s heritage for a presentation to the staff at the end of the week. Throughout the week the students met with different members of staff from the Hippodrome team, attended a backstage tour and helped different departments with a variety of jobs. The students kept a diary over the week documenting their work so they could share their experience with everyone!
Monday 1st July
On Monday we were all greeted in the Hippo Lounge before settling in the Green Room which would become our base of operations for the coming week. After getting to know one another, Lynda Winstanley, the Director of the Theatre led us lead on a grand tour of the theatre - no area was off limits!
In the afternoon we ventured from the Hippodrome to the Crown Street Library where we were directed down into the mysterious archives and were shown some of the grand history of the theatre. Between files from the Quaker roots of Darlington and meticulous records of newspapers reaching back to the early 20th century, we viewed the original programs and photos spanning the last 100 years. On our return we each decided on our research projects, preparing for our presentation to close the week.
“It was interesting to find out that the theatre group I am in (The Darlington Operatic Society) has actually a long history with the Hippodrome and it means a lot to be a part of something so important”- Anya
“I enjoyed learning about the different parts of the theatre like the different curtains, particularly the iron safety curtain that stops fire spreading on the stage.”– Eva
Tuesday 2nd July
We started our day in the luxury of the Green Room with tea and biscuits before spending the morning dividing our time between researching our chosen theatre topics, helping to organise a recent donation of 400 programmes and sorting out exhibition panels and framed pictures in the archive.
After this we all followed Martin, the Technical Manager who gave us a backstage tour of the Hippodrome, where we were able to go on the stage and explore the Fly Floor, learning how a show in installed in the building. After our tour we met with Lyndsey, the Audience Development Officer who talked to us about making the theatre accessible to everyone.
“I found the talk with Lyndsey quite fun, she knew a lot about the Hippodrome and learning about accessibility was great” – Talya
Wednesday 3rd July
After a swift, but nonetheless productive, morning researching we had an enjoyable afternoon on a field trip! Cait, the Heritage Learning and Engagement Officer took us to Richmond to see the beautiful Georgian Theatre Royal, a theatre with a magical and fascinating history spanning back to 1788. We attended a fascinating tour and saw that a local school was practicing for their own performance on the romantic stage, lit by simulation candles to imitate the theatre’s antique roots. We also learned that the Georgian Theatre Royal, some 60 years after opening, was re-purposed for many different things; ranging from a wine cellar to a furniture storage unit, a grain house and more.
“Seeing all of the history of the Georgian Theatre Royal, all 231 years of it, was absolutely brilliant. I also got to sit in Prince Charles’ chair in the royal box, a moment I’ll never forget.” – Reece
“I really enjoyed seeing the Georgian Theatre Royal and find out about the history behind it.”-Tabita
Thursday 4th July
We had a fantastic day today, after adding some final touches to our final presentation we met with Marketing Officer, Julian to learn about marketing in theatre - looking at marketing plans and suggesting ideas of ways to connect with younger audiences like ourselves. For the rest of the morning we helped the marketing team with their direct mail and delivering lots of Pantomime leaflets to various business and organisations in the Town Centre.
In the afternoon we had a great time with the Heritage Discovery boxes. The discovery boxes are 3 large activity packs with props and costumes, each focused on a theme in the Hippodrome – the life of Signor Pepi, Pantomime and Edwardian variety Acts. We had fun trying all the different props and staging photoshoots of the boxes around the theatre to be used in marketing material.
Our final day was Monday 8th July and we couldn't wait to share our research findings with the Hippodrome team!
“Setting out different scenes with props from the cases was a great opportunity for all of us to work as a team.” – Ellison
Monday 8th July – Our final day
The big day had arrived! In contrast to the previous week we spent our morning in the Education Space, working on the grand finale to our work experience week - the final presentation. We spent the morning preparing for the presentation by checking our research, editing the power point presentation and practicing the order in which we were speaking.
We had each chosen a different topic relating to the history of the Hippodrome and Theatre in general, using a variety of sources including Darlington Hippodrome’s archive to help us.
Reece and Anya explored the role of programmes and posters in the Theatre, showing how the styles have changed over 113 years, with influences from design trends, costs of printing and ink. Ellison and Eva looked chose social history topics, looking at the importance of costumes and the traditions that surround them, as well as the changing representation of ethnicity, gender and social classes in both the audiences and performers.
Talya, using the accident reporting book from the 1970s explained how attitudes to health and safety have changed, highlighting the dangers of working a theatre in 1907 due to toxic makeup and open fires!
Tabita ended the presentation with a summary of all the ghosts that haunt the building. Using newspaper articles and first hand stories from staff she listed all the ghosts in the Hippodrome including Signor Pepi and his dog!
We really enjoyed giving our presentation to the staff and sharing what we had learned. We are going to miss working at the Hippodrome and would thoroughly recommend it to anyone - absolutely everyone should experience the Theatre!