Step forward master of the Olympic ceremonies

Former Baines and Whitaker's Dance School pupil Richard Darbourne is now a theatre producer who will be in charge of some of the 2012 Olympics medal ceremonies.'Richard with his own 'gold medal' and a flyer for his show Unmythable which comes to the Grand Theatre in Blackpool next month. PIC BY ROB LOCK'16-3-2012
Former Baines and Whitaker's Dance School pupil Richard Darbourne is now a theatre producer who will be in charge of some of the 2012 Olympics medal ceremonies.'Richard with his own 'gold medal' and a flyer for his show Unmythable which comes to the Grand Theatre in Blackpool next month. PIC BY ROB LOCK'16-3-2012
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RICHARD Darbourne admits he was hung up on the Greek myths as a child.

The tales of Hercules’ heroism held him enthralled.

He’s made something of an epic leap in his own right – from theatre shows and school workshops to producing the medal ceremonies at London’s 2012 Olympics.

What’s more Richard has bagged some of the best events – weightlifting, archery and shooting.

He says it’s not that far a stretch from where it all started – right here on the Fylde when as a little lad he mugged up on Greek myths and legends.

There are loads of legends as to how the Olympic Games began.

Richard’s favourite is that his childhood hero Hercules instituted the Olympic Games in honour of his immortal father Zeus, after sacking the city of Elis. The Games were held in the wooded valley of Olympia at Elis.

Now Richard will be working with modern giants of sports and taking his own place in history. But first he hopes to go for gold in his own right with a show he claims is Unmythable at Blackpool’s Grand Theatre Studio on Saturday.

Richard grew up in Poulton, attended Baines Sixth Form, and also Whittaker Dance and Drama Centre, but left Oxford University (Pembroke College) and moved to Hong Kong as a business management consultant.

“I was living the dream really,” he admits, “but the problem was it wasn’t my dream. My dream was to set up in the theatre. I loved it. At eight I was in the King and I!

“At 12 I did Joseph. I was at Whittaker’s until I was 18. I kept it up at university, through to the final year, when I did a university play which went to Japan. I met a producer from London who remains a great friend. We got a West End bursary. The itch to do theatre never went away.”

He did just that five years ago and has produced seven plays and established an office in London’s West End running two production companies.

One produces established plays and the other devises original work.

On Saturday he brings his latest work to the Grand Studio.

“I hope it’s the beginning of re-establishing links with the North West. We’ve already relocated the company back to the North West, having been based in London for a while.

“The show goes on tour to Wolverhampton and London before returning to the Lowry and Birmingham in the summer, before a month in Edinburgh and beyond.

“We have also invited the Duke’s Playhouse, Lancaster, to be on our guests on Saturday in Blackpool.”

As for Richard? He’s taking what he calls a “brief sabbatical” from next month through to September ... because he’s producing the medal ceremonies for London 2012.

He’s a keen sportsman – he played basketball at Wembley when at Baines Sixth Form, was vice-captain of Blackpool’s Under-17s side, and went on to coach for his university team.

“There are close links between sports and theatre, sports and drama,” he admits. “I had to give up basketball because too much theatre got in the way – but I still love to watch sport.

“There’s also a similar sense of camaraderie and community and being cross-generational too. It’s a great leveller.”

And he adds: “Producing the medal ceremonies for London 2012 is a really exciting contract to have won.”

Now 30, he admits his parents are delighted and very proud of him – both for his theatrical achievements and Olympian involvement.

“One of the reasons I’ve done so well is because they have been so supportive. It would have been so easy for them to tell me to stick in a secure job rather than go down the path of being self-employed in an often precarious business.”

It also helps to have a head for figures inherited from his dad, who taught maths at Baines for 30 years.

“I wrote a play about maths about five years ago and it went to 150 schools including Baines and Hodgson and even Cheltenham Ladies College.

“We also do staff training, teachers, conferences and the like, and trained staff in Harrods in how to use drama in their work – invaluable for the likes of the toy department!

“As with most people in the arts industry there’s not just one route to making a living. I can’t just say I want to be a producer – I also want to be an education producer.”

The Olympics marks his debut on one of the world’s greatest platforms as part of the off-track Team GB.

“I think it will help to have a theatrical background, there are similarities between producing live theatre and huge medal ceremonies.

“They were appealing for producers as there are so many live events, so I went online and applied.

“Knowing a bit about Greek mythology must have helped.

“But I think my strength rested in being able to produce examples of working in a pressured situation.

“When you’ve got 20 minutes before a show opening and one actor’s at loggerheads with another and the stage manager is in tears and the clock is ticking ... it’s my job to get everybody back on track.

“I once balanced plates at 18 in a show – it’s much the same today. “I was asked what would I do with volunteers if they froze when they went out in front of 80,000 people ... well, really it’s like stage fright on a major scale.

“You look them in the eye and give them confidence, or you replace them with someone with more confidence, put them in pairs or even go out there yourself.

“I’m not alone in this. There are umpteen medal ceremonies, some 805 for the Olympics and Paralympics and all with different podiums.

“At each there are at least three medallists, flag bearers, flower carriers, broadcaster, and more, and they all have seven minutes to get in place and order.

“I’ve just had my schedule through, and I’ll be handling the ceremonies for the weightlifting, archery and shooting.

“I’d have loved athletics and the chance to meet some really high profile athletes, but I’m more than happy with my contribution.

“I’m now familiarising myself with those sports.

“It’s going to be amazing just to be part of it – and in such a very different line of work which, hopefully, will move me forward too.”

Richard reckons it will be a stepping stone to events management.

“When you look at major sports events people don’t appreciate that there are producers behind the scenes making sure it all goes smoothly.

“All the major athletic championships which come to Britain have big production teams behind them.

“It’s a very good way of potentially marrying contract work with freelance work, and enabling me to make funds and keep connected to the things that matter to me within theatre.

“You have to learn to stand on your own two feet and make it happen.

“I always say to anyone thinking of going into theatre you have to enjoy the journey rather than the destination.”

He faces some Herculean labours himself.

“For the weightlifting there are five or six medal ceremonies within an event, within that session. You have a day and a half from an event being won to the medal ceremony so have to make sure everything is in place.

“The cameras have to be ready, the volunteers, flag bearers and flower girls co-ordinated, the medals and anthems ready.

“It has to seem seamless. I have just been trying to acquaint myself with a few national anthems because other than our own and America’s and perhaps France’s I struggle.

“The Olympics fall at just the right time, as Unmythable goes on tour in the summer and three of our shows are booking for autumn.

“We’ll be throwing in some workshops for schools on the origins of the Olympics and such like as part of our living learning work.

“I never studied the classics through the state school system and that’s what I wanted to do – get classics on the school map a bit. The enthusiasm for that has grown.

“The Greek myths are brilliant and timeless and I only came across them, as an actor, in my early 20s, after reading about them as a kid.

“We talk about how the Olympics came to called such and why athletes talk of their Achilles heel. It brings it all to life.”

In the spirit of Horrible Histories Richard’s Temple Theatre company presents Unmythable on Saturday at 8pm.

It aims to demystify ancient Greek mythology, fusing storytelling with song, comic clowning and physical performance.

For Richard the chance to come home is up there with the Olympics.

“I’m really excited to be at The Grand, it just feels so right, to bring work back to where it all started. The last time I was there I was riding a unicycle on stage at 16!”

n Tickets £10, call Grand Theatre booking line (01253) 290190