We spoke to GTO Louise Thomas about finding time to organise theatre trips and outings for two different groups.

Could you start by explaining how the two groups work?

The umbrella organisation at the Open University is the OU Club – then you’ve got the OU Theatre Bookers Club which I’m treasurer of and OU Trips, of which I am chair. Members of OU staff are on the committees and we organise outings and holidays for staff along with their family and friends. There are about 1,500 people on each mailing list for the clubs.

Let’s start with OU Theatre Bookers, how did that start?

It began 22 years ago when Milton Keynes theatre opened – they asked if we’d like to help bring people to the theatre and the group was formed. We have expanded over the years to go to other theatres as well but go to any show in MK that’s on for longer than a couple of days.

GTO of the Year® finalist 2019 Louise Thomas

Louise’s groups at a glance…

Group names: OU Theatre Group Bookers Club / OU Trips
No. of members: 3,000
Time organising: 19 years
Based: Milton Keynes

You organise extra special theatre experiences too we hear, tell us more…

Yes, we call them ‘money can’t buy experiences’, we do anything from behind-the-scenes events to Q&A sessions with cast members and talks with wardrobe/stage managers. We’ve had post-show drinks with the cast of various shows and had the likes of Alexandra Burke and Craig Revel-Horwood coming along. It’s not just the big stars though, our group are interested to hear from everybody involved in a production.

OU Theatre Bookers Club event

GTO Louise Thomas organised an event with actress Alexandra Burke (pictured centre) who was appearing in The Bodyguard.

Those type of experiences can’t be easy to organise, how do you do it?

Over the years we’ve built up really good relationships with company managers and we’ll contact them to see if we can do something. With The Rocky Horror show for example, we’ve built up some great connections, so we’ve done things with them. Also, some of the shows in London have an educational department which means you can often speak to people behind the big shows to organise different experiences.

We did a costume talk at Les Mis and after the matinee of a performance of Phantom of the Opera we were able to watch the chandelier crash down without all the sounds and effects; it was absolutely fascinating to see the technical side.

How many theatre trips do you organise?

We’ve got a group at the theatre most weeks of the year. We do all sorts from operas and ballets to children’s shows, musicals and everything in-between, we’ve recently had 600+ people at the panto in Milton Keynes. There isn’t a month that goes by when I’m not at the theatre. I joke and say I work to feed my theatre habit. I have been hundreds of times – when it was the 40th anniversary of Rocky Horror, I think we did about 50 shows that year.

What do you love about the theatre?

My mum took me to see my first ballet when I was five and ever since I’ve loved the world of illusion and imagination. It can be anything from a hard-hitting play to a light fluffy musical. The only thing I struggle with is opera; I have tried for years but it’s just not for me.

Some of my favourite shows are…

The classics, I love Phantom of the Opera and Les Mis& Juliet has got to be up there too, we’re going to see that again.

I’ve also been a fan of Rocky Horror for far too many years and I love Matthew Bourne productions.

Why is it so special to go to the theatre as a group?

One of the things I love about the OU Theatre group is that we’ve been able to open possibilities for people who have never been to the theatre before. We get half price or better tickets to the West End. There’s also a sense of camaraderie and just good fun. It’s about passing on the love of theatre and having an escape from normality.

Tell us about the OU Trips group and what you get up to

We do a variety of day trips, long weekends and then longer trips including cruises. In the last year, I’ve been to Italy, Blenheim, Legoland and in November I led a trip to Iceland which was incredible. It sold out in a matter of days and before we’d even left to come home, the group were asking about the next one. This year we’ve got Scotland, Northumberland and the Hard Rock Hotel so far.

OU Trips' holiday to Iceland

Source: Trevor J Pywell

One of the holidays that Louise has organised for her group, OU Trips, is to Iceland.

How do you promote the trips?

Through the newsletter that we email out to everyone. We also use our Facebook page and Twitter account; Twitter is great for engaging with theatre companies.

You’re clearly a busy person, how do you fit it all in?

They say, if you want something doing, give it to a busy person right? My day job is senior manager of Astrobiology at the OU but I have time in the evenings and weekends where I’ll allocate tickets and check the bank to make sure we have payments etc.

How do you come up with ideas of where to go?

Committee members put forward things that they like. It’s also through coming to events such as the Group Leisure & Travel Show. Five of us came to the most recent one in 2022 and we left with lots of different ideas for trips in 2023 and beyond including a spa weekend and a visit to the RAF Museum.

Where have you been recently?

In the last year I’ve been to Italy, Blenheim, Legoland and in November 2022 I led a trip to Iceland which was incredible. We did a week along the south coast staying at the most stunning hotels; we did all sorts, saw the most beautiful northern lights display and visited glacial lagoons.

It’s the third time we’ve done Iceland, it sold out in a matter of days and before we’d even left to come home, the group were asking about the next one. Next year we’ve got Scotland, Northumberland and the Hard Rock Hotel so far.