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19 June, 2015

Louis Fleming played a leading role in building arts centres, theatres and concert halls in the UK, mainland Europe and the US

Louis Fleming, who has died aged 89, had two careers, both involving theatre and the arts. In London during the 1960s he helped to set up an arts centre in the Westminster theatre (since destroyed and rebuilt as the St James theatre). Later, he moved into consultancy, and played a leading role in the creation of arts centres, theatres and concert halls in the UK (the Lowry Centre in Salford), mainland Europe (Oslo opera house) and the US, usually as part of urban regeneration schemes.

Louis and his twin brother Bob were born in London of an American mother, Helen (nee Hyde) and a Canadian father, Austin. A pilot during the first world war, Austin was awarded the military cross, and after it ended he went into business. The family moved back to Canada in the early 1930s, and Louis attended school in Ontario. Towards the end of the second world war he served in the Royal Canadian Navy.

Looking for a fresh challenge in peacetime, he found his way to Mackinac Island, the centre established in the US by Moral Re-Armament (MRA), a spiritual organisation that had been established to promote “a hate-free, fear-free, greed-free” world in the buildup to the war (the organisation has been renamed Initiatives for Change). He was immediately drawn to the MRA’s theatrical productions, and found that he had a technical and creative aptitude for stage lighting. He created innovative lighting for the musical Jotham Valley, which played in Hollywood and on Broadway in 1951, and the following year went with a team of colleagues on a tour of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), India and Pakistan.

In 1961 the trustees of the MRA-owned Westminster Theatre in London decided to launch a series of plays under their own management. Louis was invited to London to be stage manager. When the theatre was developed into an arts centre, Louis was involved in the planning, and was appointed its director when it opened in 1966.

Louis returned to Canada in 1975, working in theatre and arts consultancy, first for the firm Artec, and then, in 1982, moved again to become managing director of Theatre Projects’ New York office, providing sound and lighting equipment and services to theatres. He soon moved into the consulting arm of the company, which advises architects and town planners on the interior design and equipping theatres, arts centres and concert halls.

It became clear that the bigger the project, the more eye-watering the budget, the more delicate the negotiations with architects and city planners, the more Louis revelled in it. He was able to combine huge technical know-how with the skills of a diplomat.

In 1990 Louis and his wife Valerie returned to London, ostensibly to retire. But he remained a director of Theatre Projects Consultants until 2006.

Valerie died in 2008. He is survived by their daughter, Elaine, and his second wife, Anita.

Hugh Steadman Williams

First published in The Guardian online edition, 1 February 2015

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