by Jez Bond
"You're such a Maverick, Jez" said Sean Mathias on the phone this morning. I could sense the glint in his eye, the slight grin and hear the pride in his voice. Like all our Ambassadors, Sean, one of the most respected directors in the industry worldwide, is a close part of the Park Theatre family. It's important that the whole team support everything we do and his line was a response to my telling him of our decision to hire Andrew Fishwick. Like all of us, he believes that everybody deserves a second chance - and that great opportunities now lie ahead...
A year or so ago I learned of Andrew Fishwick's court case and his subsequent sentence. There's very little press on what actually happened in 2005/6 but Andrew and I have had plenty of time to discuss the matter. Essentially the Gift Aid fraud for which he was convicted was undertaken as a rash decision in a moment of panic and inexperience in order to salvage a production from going under. He claimed tax rebates from the government beyond the amounts actually been received. It was proven that he never did it before, he never did it again and he didn't do it for personal gain. He didn't swindle anyone out of money or screw anyone over. It wasn't right, it wasn't clever and most certainly it wasn't legal but we're all mature enough to know that a great many people in our industry have done a lot worse. Unfortunately for Andrew it came back to bite him hard - and the timing couldn't have been worse. In 2010 the government tightened the legislation relating to Gift Aid and, clamping down on the rules, decided to use Andrew's case to 'set an example'. Therefore, despite heavy support from the industry, he was given an incredibly harsh sentence.
With a bitter taste in his mouth, his tail between his legs and having paid dearly for what he'd done he set to work in the city, vowing that if he ever worked in theatre again he'd have to find the right project and he'd have to make his entrance publicly, apologising for his past mistake - and not appearing to crawl back in.
When I asked him to come to site and check out our new theatre nine months ago he pretty much told me to stuff it: "I'm not doing theatre anymore" were his polite words. Yet I persisted, valuing his opinion: after all this was the same man who produced top shows in the West End and on Broadway, who won Oliviers, who, let's face it, knew a thing or two about theatre. Suffice to say that, once persuaded along, his passion for theatre was immediately rekindled.
Much to my delight, Andrew offered to help us with the business plan and financial projections as well as other key strategic documents. It was an immense support and he did it off his own back for the pure love of it. Two months ago, however, he took me out to lunch and said "I have a question to ask you... and", he stressed, "there are a lot of reasons to say no". What followed was a succinct, heartfelt pitch for him to be our Executive Director...
Now immediately one needed to weigh up the positives and the negatives. This was a very hard exercise as the positives were easy to weigh but on the other hand the negatives were impossible. There was no doubt in the team's mind that there was any question of him doing anything fraudulent again. Indeed he'd be the least likely person to do that. As a charity, the board was entirely happy on this front. No, the negatives were simply any bad press that might come out of the appointment. There are those in the industry that might not look as favourably as we do, who might not feel that anyone deserves a second chance. Then, like Sean says, there are the Mavericks.
I'm so thrilled that Andrew's joined me at the helm. The weight on my shoulders over the past few years has been immense and just the knowledge that I will have someone as experienced as Andrew working alongside me, full time, has already lifted the load. People may question the decision, and ask whether he's really the only person for the job...
The relationship between Artistic Director and Executive Director of any theatre is critical. We've had the incredible luxury of a try-out period, time to share our dreams and passions - and, after Melli and I have spent the last two years full time on the project having given up everything for it, the one thing we want is to be absolutely sure that our Executive Director is someone we can trust and respect, someone who can accompany us on our journey and teach us a thing or two. His experience of the commercial theatre sector is a particularly strong asset - and ups our ability to mount financially viable productions quickly within the first few years. Together we want to make Park Theatre a producing powerhouse, to turn things on their heads, to set new benchmarks for how we treat our audience, our staff and incoming theatre companies. To be bold and pioneer new approaches. After all, we're Mavericks.