On Monday 27th April 2015, Ann Ellison, Artistic Director of The Mission Theatre and Next Stage Theatre Company receives the British Empire Medal (BEM) for services to Theatre in Bath. The award will be made by Her Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant for Somerset Mrs Anne Maw at a ceremony in Taunton. Ann and her husband Andrew Ellison will then visit Buckingham Palace on May 12th as guests at Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s Garden Party.
The announcement of Ann’s BEM was made in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours list 2015. It was a timely announcement since on December 31st 2014 Ann married fellow company director Andrew Ellison. When the announcement of Ann’s award was made just before midnight there was cause for a double celebration as the New Year arrived.
The award recognises Ann as a leading figure in the theatre world of Bath and the surrounding areas, and in particular celebrates her work in the city since 1994 with Next Stage Theatre Company, Next Stage Youth, and, since 2005, as Artistic Director of The Mission Theatre.
Ann taught drama in the city’s schools from 1974-1991 as well as running youth workshops at The Theatre Royal Bath and the Merlin Theatre in Frome. Ann regularly directed her students in ambitious productions such as Zigger Zagger, Noah and The Crucible, coached entries for the Mid-Somerset Drama Festival, and was a director and actor with local drama groups.
Ann has been Artistic Director of Next Stage Theatre Company for the 21 years of the group’s existence and in that time has directed some of the most exciting, controversial and difficult amateur productions that Bath has ever seen. When the company was founded in 1994, its aim was to provide Bath with “the kind of cutting-edge plays that were not the obvious choice for local amateur drama groups.”
The company has certainly lived up to this aim performing over 165 plays in 21 years. Of these Ann has directed nearly 130 of the most memorable, including: David Hare’s Skylight, which the company was invited by Sir Alan Ayckbourn to perform at The Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough in 2001; His Dark Materials Parts 1&2, a huge production featuring over 25 cast members drawn from the adult and youth companies and performed at The Minack Theatre on the cliffs at Porthcurno in 2007; Festen winner of Venue’s Best Play award in 2008; Intimate Exchanges which Ann took to New York in 2008, Torch Song Trilogy which Next Stage performed in London’s West End for 3 weeks in 2009; the 2012 production of Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem, opening in Bath only a week after the play’s sold-out West End run and The Mission Theatre’s acclaimed 10th Anniversary production of Michael Frayn’s Noises Off in January 2015.
Ann Ellison has also run Next Stage Youth Theatre for over 20 years. The 50-stong company, which started alongside the adult Next Stage Company in 1994, welcomes young people from the ages of 11 to 18 with no need for an audition. Under Ann’s direction and encouragement many of the hundreds of youngsters with whom she has worked over the years have gone on to become professional actors and theatre practitioners. Ann has always believed in the power of drama to help youngsters find self-confidence and artistic expression. By frequently working with double casts on major Youth productions Ann tries to give each young actor the chance to shine on stage.
In 2012, Ann set up the ‘Come You Giants’ Bursary – a fund to help young members of Next Stage with the fees involved when pursuing a career in the theatre, including subsidising the membership fees for Next Stage Youth and helping with the costs of further theatrical training at Drama School or University.
Perhaps Ann’s biggest contribution to the theatrical life of Bath has been the creation of The Mission Theatre in 2005. After a 3 year battle to achieve a long-term lease on the building Ann and her team, in the space of 6 weeks, turned a derelict chapel building in Corn Street into a welcoming, intimate, versatile city-centre theatre venue. A permanent home for Next Stage and an affordable performance space for visiting actors, singers and musicians from Bath, the UK and beyond, The Mission Theatre has never received any public funding, is mainly run by volunteers and celebrates theatre-in-the-round.
Receiving patronage from Sir Alan Ayckbourn CBE, Sir David Hare, Keith Michell and Dame Harriet Walter CBE; sponsorship and funding from some of Bath’s generous arts’ patrons such as Andrew Brownsword CBE, Andrew Fletcher OBE, David Medlock and Brian Roper and commanding the artistic respect of the hundreds of actors, young people, school children and audience members that she has inspired with her creativity and passion for theatre over the years, it is not surprising that Ann Ellison has been recognised by the Queen with this award of the British Empire Medal.