Opera North Blog

My year in the Howard Assembly Room


Following an intensive year of hands-on experience in lighting, sound and just about everything else involved in putting on events in the Howard Assembly Room, we said goodbye to our Technical Apprentice George Doyle at Christmas. Here he reflects on some highlights of his time with Opera North.

“Time does fly when you’re having fun, and this last year has gone by so quickly I cannot believe it. My time as the technical apprentice with Opera North has been so much fun, and it’s taught me some important life and work skills. Working in the Howard Assembly Room has been a fantastic opportunity and over the course of my year-long journey I have met some fantastic people - from within the company, and from all around the world. 

It’s been very interesting to see how performances have been put together from start to finish, and to be involved at the organization stage. There’s a great satisfaction to be had from seeing a band on stage performing to a packed audience and knowing that you were part of the process of getting them up there.

Working here really has opened my eyes to the world of live music performance, and the challenges involved in bringing bands to Leeds from around the world. We spent a nerve-racking day waiting for the legendary South African group Mahotella Queens, who were held up with visa problems at the airport in Amsterdam. It was fascinating to see how various departments co-ordinated their efforts to get the band here, and when they eventually arrived (without time for a soundcheck) their performance was amazing - one of my most memorable evenings in the Howard Assembly Room. 

Another highlight of my time here was working on the production of Flit, which completed its rehearsals in the Howard Assembly Room before a premiere at the Edinburgh Festival and a national tour. When the show returned for a performance here it was interesting to see how it had transformed during this process. Instruments, sound equipment and an elaborate set incorporating video projections and effects had to be got in and out of the venue on the day of the performance, and we didn't finish until the early hours - a long but very rewarding day.

Mbongwana Star's concert as part of the Yorkshire Festival in June is another vivid memory. The group’s two singers were in wheelchairs, which meant we had to build a long ramp at the front of the stage to give them access. When I asked the director of the band what lighting he wanted and what my limitations on haze effects were (as some bands don't like it), he said: “Put it this way George, if we can see the audience, and if the audience isn’t dizzy from lighting effects, you’ve done it wrong”.

This was a powerful performance with incredible energy and great sounds. My favourite part of was the roar of applause from the audience during the band's final song - the room was hazed out, the lighting was brilliant, it sounded amazing and the audience loved it. This was definitely a moment when I was proud to say I was the technical apprentice.

This last year with Opera North has been fantastic experience and I hope the next Apprentice enjoys themselves as much as I have. The scheme is a brilliant way of introducing people such as myself to the creative industries, especially if the individual is not considering university. I now feel ready to move on to my next stage in my career, but I’m going to miss Opera North. I’m looking forward to keeping my foot in the door and using the skills I’ve picked up with some freelancing for the company. The work they do is fantastic, and during my time here I’ve seen things on stage that I’d never have thought possible.” 

Supported by Leeds City College, the Howard Assembly Room Technical Apprenticeship is now in its sixth year, giving individuals with an interest in technical theatre hands-on experience in all aspects of a working venue. In January we welcomed our new Technical Apprentice Sean Webster.

Mbongwana Star. Credit: Tom Arber
Mahotella Queens. Credit: Tom Arber
Mbongwana Star. Credit: Tom Arber
Flit. Credit: Opera North

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