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Julian Bird with Olivier Award winner Angela Lansbury at the 2015 ceremony

Julian Bird with Olivier Award winner Angela Lansbury at the 2015 ceremony

A life in the theatre: Olivier Awards special

First Published 31 March 2016, Last Updated 5 July 2023

In a special Olivier Awards edition of our monthly Life in the Theatre series, we asked Julian Bird, Chief Executive of the Society of London Theatre (SOLT) to take us on a journey through his busiest day of the year as Executive Producer of the Olivier Awards with MasterCard.

After joining SOLT in 2010, Bird has transformed the awards from a low key dinner event into the star-studded, sensational evening of performances and prize-giving they are now famed for. In his tenure as Executive Producer he has curated numerous show stopping moments like reuniting ABBA stars Benny and Björn, seen theatrical legends including Angela Lansbury and Stephen Sondheim grace the stage and Hollywood royalty walk the Oliviers’ 150 metre red carpet.

Months of planning will culminate on Sunday when the curtain goes up on the 40th anniversary ceremony at 18:30. Here Bird takes us through what he’ll be up to behind the scenes to ensure that everything goes smoothly on what promises to be a very long but very exciting day…

The first thing I do on the day is:

Ring Lee Batty, our Head of Production, to make sure that the overnight get-in of the set at the Royal Opera House has gone okay. I then have a big breakfast to set me up for the day, as I may well not eat properly until very late at night! I also check the numerous emails and messages that will have come in overnight.

An average Olivier Award ceremony day for me will involve:

During the day it’s mostly rehearsals for the ceremony. When rehearsals are done, I make the most rapid change imaginable into black tie and head to the red carpet before the show starts. During the show I am all over the place, but mostly Stage Right with the Stage Manager and Host. When the ceremony concludes around three hours later, the TV edit starts and I head to the after party celebration to see our guests and sponsors.

The people I work with mostly are:

The amazing core production team on the Olivier Awards: Katie Harper, who works with me year round and general manages the awards; Emma De Souza, who oversees the press and media side of the awards; Lee, on the production side; Tim Leist, who has worked with me this year on the producing element, and then numerous other people! It’s a huge team effort.

On the day itself, one of the key people I am with is our host for the year. For 2016 our host is Michael Ball who I first worked with 24 years ago!

My place of work looks like:

On the day it’s the Royal Opera House, which is one of the most spectacular auditoriums in the world, not just in the UK. It has been our home for the awards for the last five years and the entire team there has been extraordinary.

The kit/tool I can’t do without is:

My mobile for messages and emails. I also have a sort of trusted folder I keep all documents, contracts, procedures etc needed on the day that is my “go-to” for everything.

The best part of the day is usually:

When the dress rehearsal is moving smoothly along, and the performers and casts are all happy!

The worst part of my day is usually:

When the technical and dress rehearsals fall behind or we have technical issues – the day is so tight for time that any delays are painful!

I usually finish work…

…at four in the morning and then it’s off to bed!  Seriously, we finish in the early hours of the morning, it’s a mammoth enterprise and takes a lot of people a lot of time.

The most glamorous part of my job is:

Spending time each year with the best talent in the UK who are producing the extraordinary productions we are seeing on stage.

The least showbiz part of my job is:

The long hours, and of course all the paperwork!

My work mantra is:

Work hard, but also try to enjoy what we do. We work in an amazing industry and we should be proud to be representing that and showcasing it in the Olivier Awards.

The advice I’d give to anyone wanting to do my job would be to:

Be resilient, be prepared to say no and don’t be afraid to ask people to do something they might never have thought of doing before.

To produce a ceremony on this scale, the attributes you have to have are:

Hard work, tenacity and, most of all, the ability to build the very best team you can around you.

The winners of the Olivier Awards 2016 with MasterCard will be announced in a ceremony at the Royal Opera House on 3 April. You can be part of celebration at our Covent Garden Piazza event that will feature live performances and a live stream of the ceremony. You can also watch extended highlights of the show on ITV at 22:15.

Keep up to date with all the latest Olivier Awards news by following us on Facebook and Twitter, and by following the Olivier Awards on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr.



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