No spotlight, please, says theatre stalwart
5:09pm Sunday 12th January 2014 in By Barrie Hudson
Alan Wrixon, 67, chaired the Arts Centre for the Community Group, which recently failed to take over the Swindon Arts Centre. He lives in Wroughton and is married with two grown-up children.
ALAN Wrixon has been involved with countless stage productions, but limelight outside the theatre world isn’t his idea of fun.
“I only ever put my head above the parapet to try and protect Swindon Arts Centre for up-and-coming generations.
“Now that the project’s over I’d prefer to disappear from view again.”
Alan has been involved with the Swindon theatre scene for well over 40 years.
He’s chaired the Western Players for 30 years and chaired SALOS – Swindon Amateur Light Operatic Society – for a similar period and is now vice president. He joined Friends of Swindon Arts Centre six years ago and became chairman a year ago.
Parallel to this career is one in hydraulic engineering. He worked for Vickers for 25 years and has been with Hymac in Witney for 22. It’s a world that still fascinates him.
“I’ve been up on things like Tower Bridge and the Thames Barrier, and all sorts of military things I can’t talk about,” he said.
Alan was born in Southampton and came to Swindon with his parents as a boy. His father, Ronald, was a Vickers engineer who worked on the second Spitfire prototype. His mother, Alice, was a Post Office clerk. The move to Swindon in 1957 was prompted by the relocation of Vickers.
Alan attended what was then Headlands Grammar School and later Ferndale, which was a technical college.
“It was at the time when they were thinning out the technical people from the academic people, but because one was a grammar school and the other was a technical college it was seen as a failure – but I’ve done better than some of the people who stayed on.”
He laments the lack of emphasis on engineering as a career option for young people in the years that followed.
“The reason I’m working now is that there are none of me aged between 50 and 60. We get the youngsters that we’re training but there’s a great hole in the middle.
“I wanted to go into engineering. It was no more than that. It was a predetermined route in those days.
“I applied for six apprenticeships and got them all – tell that to the youngsters today.
“Swindon was a hotbed of engineering then – Pressed Steel, Plessey, Vickers, the railway, Garrard’s.”
Another passion is cricket. “I played cricket for Vickers, but I had an injury when I was 18 – my knee. I took up umpiring and when I step out on to the cricket ground in four months’ time it’ll be my 50th anniversary as an umpire.
“I was chairman of the cricket club for 20 years. I was a trustee of Supermarine Sports and Social Club for 10.”
Suggest to Alan that this, plus his engineering career, is evidence of a passion for organisation and getting things done, and he doesn’t disagree. He is also a person of strong principles, such as refusing to use any of the shops and businesses built on the old cricket grounds of Swindon.
In a way, his involvement with theatre stemmed from his involvement with engineering.
“When I finished my evening class at about 21 I thought, ‘What the hell do I do now?’ “Well, I could sing, so I joined SALOS. Being young and fairly fit I finished up with the dancers in spite of my bad knee.
“I got dragged along to the Western players by these girls from SALOS to be one of the dancers for the Western Players panto. It didn’t take that much dragging...”
Alan performed with the groups for 15 years, but also discovered a talent for stage management – the nuts-and-bolts business of ensuring sets work, scenes change rapidly and no object spoils the illusion for the audience.
It’s an engineering problem, in other words. I was essentially a performer – the background bit came completely by accident. The Wyvern in those days had a club where all the theatre-type people went, and somebody said they hadn’t got a stage manager for performance. “Well, at 24 you can do anything, can’t you?”
His favourite project? “The stand out moment was about five years ago. SALOS did Beauty and the Beast with a professional set which was all moving parts.
“It was a massively technical production and cost £125,000 to put on. At that point in time I was stage manager and chairman of the society.”
Alan also had a place in a melancholy moment of Swindon history.
“I was stage manager for the last performance at the Mechanics’ Institute. That was ‘74. I didn’t pull the curtain down but I was the man who made the signal to bring it down.”
Asked about the value of theatre in communities, he has no flowery pronouncements to make. “I get asked this so often. It’s something I do, it’s something I love, it’s something that keeps the family together.”
Alan met his wife, Christine, through the Western Players. One daughter is a theatre administrator and the other, a nursery nurse, is married to a theatre technical manager. He set up The Arts Centre for the Community Group in a bid to ensure local groups would always be guaranteed an affordable venue for productions.
The failure of the bid – control was given to the operators of the Wyvern Theatre – still rankles.
“The sad thing is that local businesses were supporting us and other people were supporting us –we could have done that successfully and the council wouldn’t let us try.”