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February - March 2006


A Dream Come True

by Sonny Pathak

It all started a long, long time ago in India. My brother-in-law took me to the set of an Indian movie where they were shooting a wedding scene. I was asked to take the part of the bride’s younger brother and sit next to her. This was enough to kindle a lifelong passion for film and theatre.

I was sent to England in the mid-fifties and soon realised that to support myself my two biggest hobbies, theatre and sport, had to take a back seat. I got married in 1964 and soon after the birth of our first son, my wife imported me to her home town of Hamburg where I joined HSBC in January 1967. A few months after joining the bank, Graham Richardson, our accountant asked me to help with Hamburg Players’ production of "Summer of the Seventeenth Doll". For me this was a lifelong affair with Hamburg Players, as theatre to me was "a breath of life".

Very soon I managed to couple my activities of working in the bank during the day and enjoying my passion for sport and theatre. Although I have retired from the bank, I have managed to keep up with sport and theatre up to this day.

One by one, starting with my wife Reni, I managed to get the whole family involved with the theatre, which was not hard, as they already liked theatre. Today, my wife Reni, both our sons, Sunny Jr, Sanjeev, my brother- and sister-in-law, and my niece are all active with HP.

From the early days when Hamburg Players gave three performances up to the present where we give nine performances, three times a year my involvement with HP grew from ticket tearing to bar, from bar to front of house, from front of house to back stage, from back stage to acting and eventually directing.

I discovered early in life my love for networking and organising, so it came as no surprise that I was asked to join the HP committee in early seventies and at the end of seventies became their treasurer, a post I held up to 1993 when I took over as chairman and Reni who had been helping me with the bookkeeping took over as the club treasurer.

In 1980, thanks to the effort of our Chairman, Peter Bigglestone, we were invited to take part in "Festival Of European Anglophone Theatrical Societies" (FEATS) in Luxembourg. The response was so great that we hired a bus to take us all to Luxembourg. For me personally FEATS was an experience of a lifetime. Although we did not win any prizes, the atmosphere, and the willingness to help, and the fact that we all spent four days together talking, living theatre was something I had not seen before.

It was a start of quite a few new friendships, some of which I am proud to say still exist today.
FEATS for me was where we competed with each other in a healthy atmosphere and where we also shared our love for the theatre and helped each other. It was also great to see how people coped with different aspects of theatre and with what results. In the beginning HP put up some nice plays but our stage set was our weak point. It was also fun travelling to different countries and cities and getting to know them.

It was in the 90’s that we decided that it was not enough to take part in FEATS but that we should seriously consider our entry to host. Up to then we decided to take part and when selected found a play and performed it.

Our plays for FEATS always played second fiddle to our May play which brought in the money. We started planning well in advance and made sure that FEATS was given the same importance as our other plays.

The nineties was also the time where we attracted a lot of young talent like Lexi von Hoffmann, Rebecca Garron, Jason Couch and with the support of experienced people like Peter Bigglestone, Ursula Schmidt, Marion McAlpine to name a few, we started winning prizes.

It was during that time that Peter Bigglestone suggested that we hold FEATS in Hamburg. Quite a few members were not sure that we could manage to do so because of the manpower. We put in our application in 1996 for FEATS 2000 and lost to Geneva.

In the meantime I, together with Reni, went to most of the FEATS festivals, even though HP did not take part. Apart from cementing more friendships, I was keen to see how each group organized the festival.

I knew through my experiences that to hold FEATS for the first time was a full-time job and with my retirement coming, I managed to convince the HP committee to again apply to hold FEATS in Hamburg.

Learning from the past mistakes we tried to make our application as professional as possible and put in a lot of hard work. In 2003 we put in our application to hold FEATS in Hamburg in the year 2005.

It was also the year that our entry to FEATS 2002 in Brussels, "FOXTALES" was the overall winner. I think that, plus our presentation convinced the Steering Committee that we were now mature enough to hold FEATS 2005.

Back in Hamburg, we were celebrating our success in Brussels, both with winning the festival and our successful application to hold FEATS 2005, when Tony Broscomb phoned from England to say that we had been selected to take part in NDFA "BRITISH ALL WINNERS FESTIVAL" in Hertford. Of course the cast plus quite a few supporters decided to go. We booked in a hostel at Luton and twenty of us went. I asked my family and friends in England to join us and quite a few came to see us. Although we came third, I personally was a bit disappointed with the atmosphere as groups only came for the performance and left straight afterwards thereby we had no chance to exchange ideas.
Back in Hamburg, we starting having doubts about our choice of venue, Reinbek. We discovered that we would have to invest a lot of money in lights.

In the meantime, I got elected as chairman and managed to get Henrik Zawischa as festival stage manager and Carol Klovekorn as hospitality manager. Reni of course volunteered as treasurer. With the key jobs filled, I could concentrate on the administrative side of FEATS. We found a theatre to suit our needs and soon I was busy negotiating terms. Sponsoring was also left to me because of my networking. In the beginning we met every five weeks and each one of us formed our own small team.

It was during that time that we discovered what a blessing e-mail was. Very soon I was regularly e-mailing Angela Dodd and Pat Arn for advice. Thanks to both of them and the rest of the FEATS Steering Committee, most of our queries were answered.

The first year passed and we had gathered a lot of information regarding the technical side of the theatre, information about hotels and so on. The FEATS format was that the festival took place over four days, with twelve groups from all over Europe taking part in performing one act plays. So not only did we have to put up with the wishes of twelve groups regarding the technical side, but also arrange for hotels as we were expecting over 250 visitors. Soon it was time to increase our committee. Fringe with Rebecca Garron, Valerie Doyle, Joana O’Neil & publicity headed by Grania Grözinger were added to it. Each one worked on their own and we all met once a month to compare notes. The major task was the technical manual, which was mastered by Henrik and his team, which included Sanjeev & Jogi.

I got in touch with all my contacts and with the help of Heiner Schäfer of Schäfer & Springler, got our own website designed. Rita Baukrowitz joined the publicity team and Axel Klovekorn helped me with sponsoring which was no easy task. At one of the meetings it was decided that we would pay the fees to two children at a theatre workshop for a year.

Trying to get firms to sponsor was a thankless task. Firms that had promised to help me could not help for one reason or other but some clubs like Anglo-German International Women’s Association, English Speaking Union, private persons like Peggy & Peter Bigglestone, Irish pub Finnegan’s Wake and many others.

Fortunately, a good friend of mine, Heinz-Gerhard Wilkens, persuaded his firm HanseMerkur Insurance to step in as our main sponsors. I don’t know what we would have done without their help. Timothy Collard, the British Consul General, agreed to become our Patron and encouraged the staff at the consulate to help, which was great.

Soon it was 2005 and time was running fast. Things were not always running well but then they never do. In April 2005 the FEATS Steering Committee came to Hamburg to see how we were getting on. They must have been pleased with what they saw because they told us what a marvellous job we were doing. It was nice to hear a word or two of praise as it did our morale a world of good.

Very soon it was D-Day. On Thursday the 1th May 2005 we moved into a hotel next to Altonaer Theatre so that we could be next door. Now there was no turning back. The first group arrived and we shed our nervousness and got busy.

All the hard work of two and a half year suddenly started paying dividends and things started running smoothly.

It was a joy to see how many HP members came over from England to help and support us. Quite a few ex-members did so too.

The Saturday evening party organised by Sunny Jr. was a big success and I heard stories of how people were dancing on the tables at six o’clock the next morning.

Mark Lyndon, our MC put on a show every evening to match the other groups.

Monday evening, the prize giving ceremony went like a dream. I must admit all the hard work paid off as everyone was telling us what a great job we did. Next day was spent clearing up. Russell Whiteley, our adjudicator from England stayed an extra day so I could show him a bit of Hamburg.
A few days later we left for our holidays and while in London, I told my brother our experience and he persuaded me to put it down on paper so that one day he could publish it in his magazine.
In conclusion, I can only say that it was one of the high points of my theatrical experience and I can only thank all the people who helped.

It was a time to turn dreams and ideals into reality.

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