A project like the Warehouse needed champions to get it off the ground and in Margaret and Ron Gardiner, we had two of the best. Margaret was not just a stalwart of the ATC, and instrumental in the decision to purchase the Warehouse, she also supported efforts to strengthen other ties between the theatre groups. This involved negotiating a yearly calendar of English-speaking productions and cooperating on a Theatre Arts Quarterly, which for a time publicized all the English language drama in Brussels and Antwerp. Here Margaret looks back on her involvement with the Warehouse in those early years as the activity gained momentum.
I was part of the American Theatre Company when it moved in with the English Comedy Club as joint renters of the main part of the Warehouse, on the left side facing in from the entrance. As I recall, it was Bob Bender who developed this relationship with the ECC and was instrumental in that rental. I held rehearsals as a director and participated less frequently as an actor. I kept in touch with my American background through American theatre, and enjoyed the friendship of many British, Irish, other Europeans and Americans. I remember my 3 children and husband Ron, also an active member and for a time Vice-President of the ATC, going down to paint the Warehouse rehearsal rooms. Ron and I often went there on Friday evenings when there was a bar set up on the wall of the first rehearsal room and we had TGIFs and raised money that way. Peg Hickey, who at the time had for years been the ATC President, usually manned the bar.
I followed Peg as President of the ATC, and it was during my tenure that the owners of The Warehouse decided to sell it. So I was part of discussions with the ECC in support of this. The owners also wanted to sell a ceramic studio across the courtyard to the right of the entrance. Having our own small flexible theatre was obviously marvelous so we all jumped at the chance, and the Irish Theatre Group got involved to help make that happen. It was my successor as President, Irene Fletcher who was active in the negotiations and in the formation of CAST, the joint venture of the ECC, ATC and ITG.
I continued to use The Warehouse as a director and occasional actor for rehearsals. I may have directed the first one-act play in The Warehouse in the rehearsal rooms. During the first Gulf War, the manager of the ATC Café Theatre venue cancelled our booking and I was determined that the show would go on. It was a one-act called ‘Laundry and Bourbon’ set in Texas with three actresses.
With the Studio Theatre a going concern, I directed two one-act plays there and the last full-length play that I ever directed was performed there as well.
In 2009, we moved back to the States. During the ATC’s 50th anniversary celebration year, Jeremy Zeegers contacted me about the ATC’s history during the period when I was involved and so I then learned about how things had changed and how most productions were now performed at the Warehouse Theatre.
I am so glad that the English-speaking amateur theatre scene still exists, and seems very strong even though Brexit must have taken a huge toll. I have so many wonderful memories of working together with others on theatre projects in the Warehouse that I cannot but be supportive. It’s so lovely to think that audiences will sit on a chair with Ron’s and my name on it.