It’s the end of an era at Melton Theatre this week.
The manager for the best part of seven years is leaving after helping to transform it from a venue which showcased mainly local acts to one which now attracts some of the top names in comedy, stage and music.
Michael Harris-Wakelam said the ethos of the theatre had changed totally during his time at the helm.
Now comedians such as Josh Widdicombe and Henning Wehn are just as likely to be performing on the stage on Asfordby Road as somewhere like The Apollo in London.
Michael told the Melton Times: “When I started we relied on the community groups and productions which have been long-standing hirers but it has been a case of supplementing that with acts that people desperately wanted to see.
“We were getting complacent, putting on the same shows and the same people every year.
“I’ve certainly achieved more than I expected to do in the time I’ve been here.
“But it is an ongoing project. There is a refurbishment planned at some stage in the near future and that will make a difference.”
One of the big innovations during Michael’s tenure was the opportunity to add 160 extra seats when top names are being negotiated with.
“Bringing in the extra seats has made a big difference to attracting bigger acts,” said Michael (28).
“We can now increase the capacity by 160 to 500.
“A promoter will see that 500 people paying £20 is £10,000 which is a simple equation to show them how successful a show can be.”
There are other factors which make Melton a great location, according to Michael.
He said: “Melton has got a lot to shout about.
“We have got a brilliant audience which is one of the things you can’t control.
“We don’t have a bunch of hecklers.
“We sit exactly between Nottingham, Leicester and Grantham, which are all driveable distances away.
“A promoter’s eyes will light up at that.
“It’s also a very intimate venue so people are much closer to a performer than if they paid for a ticket at the Nottingham Motorpoint Arena, for example.”
Michael, who is married to Emily with two young children, is leaving for a new challenge at the Y Theatre, in Leicester, which is where he had his first work internship in the industry.
He says he will miss work colleagues at Melton but leaves with a multitude of memories of making a success of his role and rubbing shoulders with some of the biggest names in showbusiness.
One of the most popular acts, he says, has been the Let’s Hang On local tribute act, based on Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, which has sold out three times.
One of his favourite nights was meeting former England cricketer Andrew Flintoff before his show because of warm Ashes memories from 2005.
“It’s one of the most common misconceptions that people think I’m always backstage schmoozing with the acts, but there is a lot to do on show nights,” said Michael, who lives in Melton.
“We do treat them like normal people which is what they like, because they just want to come here to do their job.
“We have always greeted them warmly when they arrive though, and we always hand them a Melton pork pie as a welcome to the town.
“I will miss working at the theatre, but I am ready for a new challenge now.”