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Thursday, 26 November 2020

Remembering Professor Noel Witts

We were deeply saddened this week to hear of the death of Professor Noel Witts. Noel was one of Third Angel’s first board members, and remained a friend of the company long after he stepped down. Alex knew him best, as a member of the Performing Arts department at Leeds Beckett University that Noel did so much to shape. Here’s Alex’s tribute. 

I first met Noel in the late 1990s. We were both on a selection panel for the New Works Festival in Leicester. Third Angel had only been in existence for two or three years, and I was very pleased and slightly daunted to be on the other side of the programming table. Also on the panel was Noel Witts, who I hadn’t previously met, but who I knew was an important and influential academic. Due to the logistics of the day and availability of other panel members, Noel and I ended up having lunch together, in a restaurant around the corner from The Y Theatre, which was to be one of the sites for the festival.
Initially, I think, I was slightly intimidated. But there was no need to be. My abiding memory of the conversation that ran through lunch and into our work in the afternoon, is of Noel’s generosity of thought. He was genuinely interested in who I was, who Third Angel was, where I was from – Sheffield – what was going on there in the world of performance, what I thought of the job he and I were doing that day, what work I thought we should be selecting and supporting.
In the years that followed I learned that this was typical of Noel. As a performance academic what he was most interested in was what artists themselves had to say about how they made theatre and performance. His outlook was fiercely international, and his interests were people, performance and conversation. I worked with him a number of times in the following years in Scarborough, where his welcome and conversation were always as generous as the first time we met.
Noel was instrumental in establishing the Performing Arts provision at Leeds Beckett University, which I joined as a part-time lecturer as it welcomed its first cohort in 2006. It was a privilege to work alongside him. His enthusiasm was infectious. Whenever he was teaching, or seeing students’ work, he always saw the positives first: he was encouraging, supportive and inspiring.
We were delighted that Noel then joined the board of Third Angel, bringing with him his wisdom, enthusiasm and sense of humour. Even after he had completed his years on the board, he continued to be a great supporter of the company and we will always be grateful for that. We are richer for having known him, and we will miss him.


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