Behind the scenes: Robert Bristow

If you’ve ever attended a play at The Burton Taylor Studio, the 50-seater loft theatre at The Oxford Playhouse, chances are you’ll have been welcomed to in the lobby and given the fire exits speech by a man called Robert Bristow.
Bristow has been the manager of the BT for ten years. He’s the person who reads and selects script submission to be staged in the theatre each term and the person you’ll have to convince if you want to get your show put on.
But who is the man behind the BT and how did he get there? I went to talk to him at the end of last term to find out.

What’s your background and how did you get started here at The Burton Taylor?
“I trained as an actor and I was in and out of shows. I was working in my dad’s furniture shop on Cowley Road when I heard about the job at The BT, so I thought, well, I’ll try that for a while and I’ve been here ever since 2000”.

What was the theatre here like ten years ago and how has it changed?
“The studio had a good system when I arrived. It had, as it has now, fully programmed student terms. Though now there are shows on out of term time as well which makes it a very busy place”.

It might surprise some people to learn that you act as well as manage the theatre; does being around all these student actors make you want to tread the boards again?
“I still act from time to time. I never got a degree when I went to drama school, you just got a diploma, so I decided to go back and do this Arts Management and Theatre Studies course at London Met. I’m doing that at the moment and I have to act and be in performance pieces as part of my degree”.

Do you have any acting heroes of stage or screen?

“I think people like De Niro and Helen Mirren are fantastic”.

And which playwrights and styles of theatre you enjoy?
“I‘ve done a lot of Shakespeare and I love that. I like modern plays as well. Experimental theatre is good, from Brecht to Beckett. I do look for new work to go see”.

What do you think about the process of proposing a play to stage at The BT?

“It is about opportunity. What I like to see is commitment and for people who hand in proposals to really see it through. I’m not expecting them to know all about theatre from the start, it is a training ground. I want to help and give advice. It’s important they do sell tickets and there is a time pressure to that. Communication and coming to the production meetings are key”.

Have you had a favourite show at The BT?

“I don’t always get to see the show. I’ll often sit in on a dress rehearsal and there have been some fantastic companies over the years”.

What’s your advice for anyone considering pitching a show to you?

“Think about the suitability of the material for the space and about having a fresh angle on the play. Be as organized as possible and get good word of mouth going”.

What are you looking forward to this term?

“The New Writing Festival is exciting. We have a slightly controversial play coming up about the James Bolger case. We had to really consider how that would work and consider if it would offend people. We have to look carefully at a student show that tackles a big issue. And I’m looking forward to Athol Fugard’s Statements. It’s another hard-hitting show”.