Tonight’s big birthday bash at the Millennium Forum is set to be filled with memories from the last ten years at the Derry venue.
In the intervening years, the theatre has established itself as a cultural hub in the North West as well as one of the top entertainment venues in the region having hosted world famous favourites such as The Sound of Music, Riverdance, Lord of the Dance, Grease, Evita, Annie, Joseph; musicians of the calibre of Bryan Adams and comedians including Billy Connolly, Lee Evans and Alan Carr. The Forum has even played host to world leaders including the Dali Lama.
But the for the staff who have worked at the venue throughout its historic first decade there are many personal memories.
Marketing Manager Amanda Hamilton, was in her post almost a year before the venue opened and has “vivid memories” of construction site tours with various dignitaries. “Seeing things like the marble being put in place was interesting – it’s still stunning today. I remember the ‘piazza’ being created and the windows going in to create the glass atrium which still looks striking,” she says.
She recalls with fondness the staging of ‘RENT’, the opening show at the venue, but also that it coincided with the September 11 attacks in the US. “I remember being in the audience after a phenomenal show when the performers came out and asked to have a minute’s silence for the victims in New York. It turned out that a few of the actors were from New York and, upon hearing of the disaster, had been unable to make contact with their families and went onstage anyway. ‘The show must go on’ was really their ethos.”
Box Office Manager Lisa Heaney, moved to the Forum in 2001, having worked in the Rialto since 1992. “It was exciting and memorable for me to see all the stages of the theatre from the planning right through to the completion.” She added: “Over the years we have seen our audiences increase and some great acts/musicals have been to our theatre. Personally my favourite concert was the Bryan Adams – Bare Bones Tour and my favourite musical was Grease.”
Finance Manager Jim Gallagher’s most memorable moment of the last decade in the Derry theatre was watching ‘RENT’ - “the first west end show to be staged here”. He also recalls his funniest encounters as meeting Sue Pollard and Alan Carr who he describes as “absolute magic and very funny people”.
Box Office Assistant Liz O’Neill, recalls one particular gesture of generosity by a kind-hearted customer and fellow Chrystal Gayle fan. She was to appear in the Forum and Liz was in the process of taking a booking from a customer when they started chatting about her songs. “I happened to mention that I was a fan of her old music like ‘Long Road Again’ and ‘River Road’. I told him her old songs were hard to find as I’d been looking about for ages. While we were finishing the transaction the gentleman asked what my name was again. I thought no more of it until a few days later he called in and asked to speak to me. I was completely surprised when he handed me a CD of Chrystal Gale with the old favourites on it. Needless to say that gentleman was on my Christmas card list that year.”
Ms Hamilton also sees the tenth birthday as been a good time to reflect on how far the Millennium Forum has come since its inception.
“Upon opening, we had a customer database of 1,500 which we have grown to almost 80,000 currently. A lot of work has gone into to growing and developing our market and that is thanks to the hard work of our marketing team and indeed all our staff. A recent economic impact study indicated that our contribution to the local economy is in excess of £11,000,000 per annum which means that we are a key player in the city’s economy also,” said the Marketing Manager.
She is keen to point out that at the heart of the Forum’s service is a strong ethos of ‘something for everyone’. “This is why our programme includes everything from drama to dance, musicals to children’s shows, opera and ballet - and everything in between. As a marketeer, it’s been a challenge to sell some of the more eclectic shows on our repertoire over the years but I can say with some confidence that we have developed a theatre-going audience within an hour-and-a-half’s drive to Derry who tell us that the Millennium Forum is a place that improves the quality of life of people in this region. It’s been an eventful ten years and I look forward to another ten of high calibre productions and innovative and creative shows.”