This week, we say farewell to our longest-serving staff member at Scottish Ballet. Tim Palmer, our Production Manager, is retiring after 38 years – and we’ll really miss him!
Tim joined the company in 1984, when Peter Darrell was at the helm as Artistic Director. “I was a salesman at the time, selling spotlights, and I had come along to Scottish Ballet to try to sell them spotlights in my usual ineffective manner,” laughs Tim. “Then I realised that there was a position available at the company, so I applied for it.”
Starting out as a stage hand, Tim’s role evolved over the years. It wasn’t long before he was Head of Stage, and then he progressed to become Production Manager.
“This involves liaising with the designers in the workshops, trying to realise their vision while getting the sets manufactured and built in such a way that Scottish Ballet can tour with them,” explains Tim. “The size of the stage will vary between venues, so we’ve got to make sure that the scenic elements can adapt to those different sizes and still look superb.”
Having such a long and illustrious career in ballet means Tim has been involved in countless productions. His favourite, he says, was John Cranko’s Romeo and Juliet.
“It was one of the first – if not the first –productions that I worked on. I love the way it was crafted. The choreography fits with the music, the setting and the scenic elements belong together, and the music is extremely emotive,” he says. “Incidentally, the Czech National Ballet purchased our scenery and costumes for that recently and actually mounted it last week. It was a nice rounding of my career to hear of that production going back on stage again. It tied the circle for me quite nicely.”
When Tim first started out, most set scenery comprised a wooden frame with canvas stretched over it, which was then painted like a big, two-dimensional picture. “Nowadays scenery tends to be more three-dimensional and made of stronger, more robust materials," he says. "And technology has given us so much more capability in terms of what we can do. We have motors and hoists and electronic controls now, but it used to be what I’d consider to be a bloke with a bit of string!”
One of Scottish Ballet’s most technically complex pieces is The Crucible (pictured below). “You’ve got a wall that at different points has to be flat, flying, vertical, leaning forward, leaning back, turned around and even moving over the dancers,” he says.
“The complexity of the mechanics to enable that were quite interesting to get our heads around, and I’d say the technical aspect of that show is really quite noteworthy. One becomes aware when things are noteworthy when your fellow technicians around the country go, ‘Oooh, that’s good!’”
Though he’s of course a consummate professional, even Tim is human – which means that he’s encountered a few wee mishaps over the years.
During a matinee of The Nutcracker many years ago, Tim ended up flat on his face upstage.
“It was the scene where we go out of the living room and transform into the snow scene. When the toy soldiers arrive there’s a small castle that they hide behind, and as we move into the snow scene, two polar bears lumber onto the stage, grab the castle and rotate it.
“During this performance, we didn’t have our normal polar bears. The substitutes came on stage, turned the revolve [a platform that rotates the scene] around, and then we realised that the locating pins that help it pivot were missing. So this thing started rolling down the stage, accompanied by the polar bears who didn’t realise what was wrong!
“So then muggins here ran around the back of the stage, dove under the curtain at the back and grabbed hold of the revolve to stop it going into the orchestra pit. So there I am, lying face down on the stage, the dancers don’t know and are doing their lovely pretty number. The revolve is in the middle of the stage, and when the dancers go around upstage they find me lying there face down holding on to the bloody thing!”
Although Tim has bore witness to changes in staff, dancers and repertory over the decades, he says the spirit of Scottish Ballet has always been the same: “Peter Darrell had a very innovative way of looking at things. His productions were new and cutting edge in their own way. I think we continue to be new and innovative and cutting edge. The various Artistic Directors have always retained the ethos of Scottish Ballet being different, and not just conforming to the normal white ballets. We do those ballets, obviously, but there’s always an edge in there. There are always new choreographers being brought in, and the company is always vibrant and alive.”
And what will he miss the most about working here?
“It’s got to be the people,” he smiles. “I’ll miss everyone that I work with.”
We’ll miss you too, Tim (and your jazzy, joyful wardrobe of shirts!). We wish you a well-earned, relaxing and happy retirement.
‘Tim has steered a very canny ship within the Technical Department with his skill and dedication, an act that will never be matched and will always be admired. He is held in high regard by technical staff at the other theatre venues both here at home and internationally. I personally will miss chatting with him and putting the world to rights, even though we don't always agree – something that has kept us both on our toes, so to speak! ’Matt Strachan, Technical Director at Scottish Ballet