Cayman Drama Society’s theatre manager to bow out after stellar career

 The final curtain will come down on Peter Phillips’ 30-year ‘career’ as theatre manager of the Cayman Drama Society in January 2011.
   The hidden hand behind so many of the company’s best-loved productions, he also doubles up as stage manager when required.
   A CDS co-founder, Phillips celebrates his 80th birthday this July, and has decided it’s time to hang up his hammer as the company’s unpaid theatre/stage manager. “We’re all volunteers but that doesn’t mean any of us are any less committed to the theatre,” he says.
   In fact during his three decade run, Phillips has also been responsible for most of the society’s lighting design, set design and set construction.
   To say that this Jack of all trades will be sorely missed, when he and wife Penny, the current chairman of the company, step down from the Executive Committee, is an understatement.
   His reasons for bowing out are simple: to spend more time pursuing other interests.
   
See How they Run
   Phillips, whose community service contributions to Cayman were recognised when he was awarded the Cayman Islands Certificate and Badge of Honour in 2007, set up the company with John and Valerie Morgan Stanley Panton, John Maples and John Furze in 1970.
   Between them the friends enriched the cultural life of Grand Cayman by taking over a flagging production of See How they Run during its pre-production phase. The title of the CDS’s first-ever production has proved prophetic and has come good these past 30 years.
   The trained electrician and former administrative manager of Caribbean Utilities Company stepped in as the company’s first theatre manager.
   “We originally performed at George Town, Town Hall. It had a small stage but no dressing rooms. We built temporary ones on the side of the stage and put up our own lighting, which was meagre but did the job.
   “We didn’t have a dimmer board, so I rigged up an inner tube with standard house dimmers to move the lighting around the stage. It was a bit primitive but it worked,” he recalls.
   
   
Jack of all trades
   As anyone who understands anything about the theatre knows, the role of theatre manager is quite involved. Once the director and cast have run through the action on stage and finished rehearsing; it’s the theatre manager’s job to then coordinate the technical rehearsals, checking and setting up lighting, sound and props. Once that is done then the theatre manager and the director   sit in on a combined rehearsal.
   The stage manager is in charge of everything concerning the staging aspects of the show. Following the technical rehearsal there is the dress rehearsal and the stage manager takes over the show.
   Colin Wilson himself a longstanding member of CDS says: “In the 35 plays I have either written, directed or produced for the Cayman Drama Society, Peter has been involved in two thirds as stage manager, lighting/design, or set design/manufacture, and all three in some.
   “The first play I wrote and directed was Alice, Queen of Wonderland back in 1986 and Peter was in charge of lighting.
   “My last, Watler’s War was in 2008 and Peter was stage manager, set designer and manufacturer. This does not include the many productions where he was stage manager and I was either on stage or his sound engineer.”
   
A busy man
   Phillips dedication is even more remarkable given that, as with all the company’s posts it’s an unpaid job that he does while running his own thriving business (Phillips Electrical).
   “Part of his role as theatre manager is to try to ensure that the Cayman Drama Society and the Prospect Playhouse reflect as much professionalism as is possible within its meagre budget,” says Paul de Freitas another company stalwart.
   Stretching that budget also means him taking on ‘roles’ above and beyond his actual remit.
   “If the alarm goes off at midnight the security centre calls me, if the toilets are leaking I fix them,” Phillips says.
   This theatre  manager’s passion is coming up with stage sets and special effects.
   “Many of the fabulous and mind-perplexing special effects used in CDS productions came from Peter’s fertile mind,” says de Freitas. “One of the best was in the play Double Double in which an actor, Clive Munyard, fell down a set of stairs constructed stage left and ends up dead on the floor upstage centre in full view of the audience.
    “You can imagine the surprise on the faces of that audience when, at the conclusion of the scene and play, the same actor walked through a door at the back of the stage.
   “I won’t be telling you how it was done or who was on the floor – we may need to call on it again sometime,”he added.
   Wife Penny recalls another example of Phillips’ set designing talents, this time for the production of The Seahorse. 
   “This was one of my favourite sets built by Peter,” she says.
   “It was of a waterfront pub, and not only did it rain outside the door and window, we also had a kitchen sink behind the bar on stage which had functioning faucets with running water.  This is quite unusual, particularly the rain effect, because of course there is so much electrical equipment backstage in any theatre it has to be done properly or not at all,” she recalls.
   
Rallying the troupe
   One of the company’s army of volunteers, Phillips has always been there to rally his fellow members.  This skill was never more evident than in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Ivan, de Freitas recalls.
   “After Hurricane Ivan, it was clear that CDS was in trouble since most of the walls surrounding the stage had been ripped away.
   “Peter led other volunteers in building a temporary stage roof and walls enabling a very quick return to operational status. Not content with this, he led a drive to make the theatre better after reconstruction, obtaining planning permission to extend the side wings and rear of the stage, and increasing the height of the roof so that scenery could be flown in.
   “All of the necessary equipment required… was designed and installed by Peter with some assistance from other theatre management members – but all of the systems design and most of the work was done by him – in his late seventies,”he said.
   
Consuming passion
   Being so committed to the CDS is something that comes naturally to Phillips, according to fellow CDS member Colin Wilson.
   “If you call Peter he is either at home or at his office but mostly at The Prospect Playhouse,” he says.
   “I think he has two wives and I have wondered which one he loves most. Probably both equally and therein lies the reason – his wife, Penny, also shares his other love, too.”
   With so much of his and his Penny’s free time wrapped up in Cayman Drama Society, Phillips acknowledges it will be hard to step down.
   Wilson says: “I cannot imagine the Playhouse without him. It will certainly not be the same. And he is the only person who knows how to fix any problem with the building either on stage or off it.”
   “It’s been such an all consuming part of my life,” Phillips admits.
   “It wasn’t a decision I took lightly and I think it would be better to walk away from it entirely,” he says.
   So what will Phillips do on leaving the Cayman Drama Society next January?
   “We love revisiting places we’ve travelled to before such as Las Vegas,” he says.
   “Penny and I are really looking forward to spending quality time together and with our family.
   “Being the theatre manager is a bit like being a doctor in that I’m constantly on call and almost everything else has to be scheduled around it.”
   Finding a replacement, someone who is such an all-rounder, may well prove difficult for the CDS. But anyone wishing to apply for the post will

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