Dot Wood, Rochdale's M6 Theatre Company artistic director has final curtain call after 30 years

Sue Johnston and Anna Friel are among the patrons of Rochdale's M6 Theatre Company. Now, its driving force, Dot Wood, is taking a back seat after 30 years. She talks to Amanda Griffiths Photography by: John Cocks

Dot Wood is sitting in the staff room enjoying a last cup of tea as the auditorium next door slowly fills up with children and teachers. It’s the final preview of M6 Theatre’s new production ‘Sunflowers and Sheds’ before it goes on tour. And for Dot, there’s a mix of emotions in the air, for this is her last production as artistic director, a position she’s held for 30 years.

‘It feels a bit like I’m handing my baby over to adoptive parents and saying to them ‘‘please bring him up right,”’ laughs Dot, a former teacher, as we prepare to head into the auditorium.

‘It’s been a hard journey at times, we’ve put a lot of effort in but I know the person who takes over from me will respect that journey we’ve been on. I know I’m leaving it in good hands.’

And what a journey Dot and M6 have been on in those 30 years. Despite setbacks in funding, the team has managed to create a purpose-built studio theatre in Rochdale, where they not only stage theatre for young audiences but also encourage youth theatre groups to use the space to create their own.

It is now regarded as one of Britain’s leading theatre companies, specialising in creating imaginative and accessible theatre for young people.

One of the highlights in that 30 year journey has to be when she was awarded the MBE for Services to Drama in the north west. ‘It was so unexpected. I thought someone was having a joke with me. I spent so long reeling off lists of who should have got one, eventually my daughter said to me “mum, just be pleased you got it!”’

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She adds: ‘M6 don’t just produce theatre for young children but also community theatre in halls or upstairs in pubs producing a range of traditional theatre and bringing it to people who might not otherwise get the chance to see it.

‘I joined in 1982 as Education Liaison Officer. In the early 1990s we lost a lot of funding and we went from 12 members to a staff of just two.

‘At that point I remember saying that even if we can’t do as many productions a year, let’s keep the quality high and be proud of what we’re putting on. And if we can’t do that then we’ll give up. Since then things have gone from strength to strength.

‘Now we tour nationally and internationally. We’ve been invited to theatre festivals in Toronto, Holland and Malta, which is a great compliment but we balance these high profile events carefully with our community based ones. It’s lovely to perform at big theatres like The Lowry, but we still tour in schools, especially in disadvantaged areas.That balance is very important to us.We feel that’s where our work makes the greatest difference.

‘Virtually all of our work is original and we handle universal themes like unexpected friendships across perceived boundaries. We’re often told we create work that is multi-layered, and adults often say that they brought their child never expecting to be moved themselves.’

Now Dot is retiring as artistic director so that she can spend more time with her grandchildren and her own mother.

But after 30 years at the helm will she find walking away hard?The answer is no, because Dot isn’t letting go completely. She’ll be making guest appearances working on a number of creative products with the company, most notably the show ‘Mavis Sparkle’ in the autumn.

‘M6 has been a huge part of my life over the past 30 years. It’s been a wonderful journey and I’m extremely proud of what we’ve achieved over three decades,’ sums up Dot.

‘There have been some tough mountains to climb at times but the rewards have been a thousand fold! Working with inspirational artists to create theatre which brings wonder, imagination and connections into young people’s lives and being able to witness that impact has always felt like the most amazing job in the world!’

About M6

M6 Theatre Company was so named because originally that was the limits of where they were prepared to tour.

Sue Johnston, Anna Friel and Jane Cox are all patrons of M6 Theatre Company. In fact, Jane Cox and on-screen husband Stephen Halliwell (Lisa and Zak Dingle in Emmerdale) were frequently on stage together in the company’s Christmas productions.

Act Now is an exciting participation programme run by M6 with creative activities ranging from youth theatre groups for three age groups to one off sessions helping young people explore issues that affect them

For more information about M6’s touring programme, Act Now or the shows themselves see www.m6theatre.co.uk

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