Shetland ponies escorted by Police, Created in Birmingham, and new exhibition – a day in the life of Hippodrome staff!

Martin Pickard is a Senior Technician at Birmingham Hippodrome.    Martin works backstage where the magic happens.   In his spare time he is a keen photographer who has his first exhibition.

Martin Pickard pictured working backstage at Birmingham Hippodrome

I’ve been working in Birmingham since the mid 90’s, firstly at the Birmingham Rep, via the Sydney Opera House, and for the last 11 years at Birmingham Hippodrome.   I started here just before we had the major refurbishment which greatly improved the theatre’s backstage facilities.  Since then, with the installation of a 44 tonne lorry lift, we can now lower a whole lorry (full of sets, lighting costumes etc) from Street Level (via Inge St) to nearly 5 meters down to stage level in around one minute.   Before the refurbishment all the trailers were un-loaded on the street, and everything had to be brought in via a tiny lift.

Over the years l’ve been lucky enough to work on some of the biggest West End shows including Phantom of the Opera and Miss Saigon, and I was fortunate enough to be here when we hosted The Royal Variety Performance in 1999 attended by HRH The Queen and Prince Philip.   But it’s when I meet stars that I watched on TV as a child that provide me with the most memorable moments, like Johnny Ball (Zoe Ball’s dad) from Think of a Number turning up driving his own transit van of props for a children’s show.

One of the biggest productions I have worked on in recent years is Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.   I was always interested in finding out how Chitty actually flew but, even when I did, it still didn’t take away from the excitement of seeing the car fly high up in the middle of the stage.     

During the run of Chitty I was involved in the theatre’s backstage tours.  It was great to see the excited faces of the children who managed to get the chance to sit in the car – and then the faces of the nervous parents when I told them it cost one million pounds to build!

There’s never really a dull moment working backstage and there’s always a funny story to tell.   I remember one year we were doing the panto Cinderella.    We had 6 Shetland ponies to pull the carriage.    We got a message that the horsebox had broken down around the corner.  We had just ten minutes to go before curtain up when they arrived.  They were  led by their usual handlers and 2 policemen who had walked them down Bristol Road to the Hippodrome whilst being heckled by members of the public!

I’ll have to see what this year’s Dick Whittington brings with Joan Collins leading one of the biggest line-up of stars I’ve seen in a panto – it’s usually during the panto season that cast and crew enjoy themselves as much as the audience.

In the next few weeks I’ll know what it’s like to have my own opening night because as well as working full-time at the Hippodrome, I have a great interest in photography and am looking forward to my first joint photography exhibition at the Moseley Exchange  with Birmingham photographer Louise Holgate. 

Martin pictured with some of his photographs

I started posting my first images on Flickr in 2008.  Almost 2,000 photographs later I’m letting them out into the real world.   As we only recently had confirmation of space availability, the photographs were all printed and framed in less than 3 weeks  ready for the opening night on 2 November.    I must admit it’s one thing showing photos to family and friends but I’m more nervous of this than on an opening night of a big musical!  

Our next project will see us supplying photographic prints to the We are Birmingham shop, the next version of the Created in Birmingham shop that was near the Apple Store in the Bull Ring.   The shop, now in Dale End, is still just a shell at the moment but it is hoped that it will be open by mid-November just in time for Christmas.

And talking about Christmas, with the get-in for Birmingham Royal Ballet’s brand new production of Cinderella, followed by the arrival of the sets for our pantomime Dick Whittington, it really is going to be a very busy festive period for me.

Birmingham Royal Ballet’s new production of Cinderella premieres at Birmingham Hippodrome on 24 November and runs until 12 December.    Joan Collins stars in Dick Whittington from 18 December 2010 – 30 January 2011.

Martin and Louise’ exhibition can be seen at The Moseley Exchange from 2 November 2010 – January 2011.

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