Interviews with renowned British Artistic Directors

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Conrad Lynch: “This season we are championing female mid-career artists and the more senior creatives who still have much to offer.”

Conrad Lynch
Conrad Lynch

Conrad Lynch © www.stevenbarber.com

Conrad Lynch has just come from his first season launch in his new position and he’s on a bit of a high. “The reaction from friends, family, audiences and volunteers has been wonderful,” explains Lynch. “We had almost a full house for the season launch; it’s lovely when you get such a positive reaction.”

Lynch is the new Artistic Director and Chief Executive of Theatre by the Lake in Keswick (TBTL) – Cumbria’s only ACE funded producing theatre – which recently launched its vibrant 2017 season – marking the theatre’s daring move to being a producer-led venue for the first time. Bursting with World Premieres, Regional Premieres, new collaborations and new writing – this exciting and ambitious programme aims to surprise and delight audiences whilst highlight Lynch’s desires to offer fresh, innovative and unforgettable theatre for all. This excellent season includes Co-productions with Royal Exchange Theatre, English Touring Theatre, Shared Experience and Jermyn Street Theatre.

Success and Challenges of 2016

Thinking back, he reflects on the successes and challenges of 2016 “It was an extraordinary year for our region, following the severe weather where communities in Cumbria were flooded again – some for the third time in less than a month – following torrential rain and high winds, a certain Dunkirk spirit really came through”- He adopts his best brooding artistic director tone – “With the current global political landscape who knows what is around the corner; part of our job is to entertain and make people forget any worries that they have.”

Arts organisations’ role in making work accessible

Arts organisations have a vital role to play when it comes to making work that is accessible for all. It seems many we are finally waking up to the point that inclusivity, not ticking boxes, can revitalise output and result in more meaningful community engagement. It is very obvious that creative organisations can’t afford not to do these things if they want to stick around. “Diversity is a really broad topic and it’s about different things in different places,” He elaborates. “We need to not only reflect the make-up of the UK on our stages and the artists we work with but look at soci-economic challenges particularly those affecting rural areas, age and gender – this season we are championing female mid-career artists and the more senior creatives who still have much to offer.”

Lets not reinforce the idea that regional theatre doesn’t cut the mustard like London theatre does…

Budget cuts, rising travel costs –make it tough for audiences to get to work in remote areas but let’s not reinforce the idea that regional theatre doesn’t cut the mustard like London theatre does. Not only is Theatre by the Lake situated in the most tranquil spot of Derwent Water, but the artistic programme, and 2017 season is a fine example of a theatre being very cunningly matched to a particular geography and context. Lynch is very clear in his hopes and ambition for the organisation. “We want to make sure we continue to punch above our weight as a producing venue and we want to shout about our work,” He explains. “Going forward, I am very mindful of not working with my mates; it’s really very important to hear fresh voices and work in partnership. We have to provide value for money for the public subsidy that we receive.”

I for one can’t wait to pay Theatre by the Lake a visit, later this year.

 

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Interview with Bryony Kimmings: “Be yourself. Right now I’m in joggers. And I don’t give two fucks.”

Bryony Kimmings
Bryony Kimmings

Bryony Kimmings

Bryony Kimmings is a performance artist and maker of experimental theatre. Her recent collaboration with Complicite, ‘A Pacifist’s Guide to the War on Cancer’ saw dancing tumours in the Dorfman Theatre: An all-singing show that followed the stories of a group of cancer patients.
Her piece ‘Fake it ’til you make it’ was also excellent actually.
Here is chat with La Kimmings about some things. You’re welcome.

Bryony Kimmings, what sort of woman are you? 
The kind who doesn’t gender herself. And the kind that gets angry at this slightly misogynistic question. What sort of human am I? Head strong, loud, shy, caring, cunty, arty, safe, stupid and did I mention loud?!

Wow. Congratulations on A Pacifists Guide, what has been the best thing about directing that show?
Ahhhh I think working with the amazing creative team and learning from them all. The choreographer, set designer, costume, the music bods, dramaturgs. I honestly feel like it was a public baptism of fire but I finished it knowing SO MUCH. It’s kind of fast tracked me into feeling ready to do it again… Better

Does your self-image impact how you interact with other people?
Hmmm I’m not sure what the means. Do you mean does me being vaguely in the public eye affect my relationship. Nah. God no. But it means more people want to be your friend. Which often I like. I’m a social butterfly unless I’m on my period, then I’m a quivering and anxious wreck.

Can you describe your state of mind when you were making A Pacifists Guide?
Erm. Fuck it was a long process. First year: excited. Writing period: frustrated by my own incompetence. March-June 2016: completely consumed with my baby being very very ill. Directing period: manic and doubtful. Press night: proud

I get the impression that you read a lot about other artists and that your own interviews can be a lot more self-aware as a result… Is this incorrect
Nope. I don’t engage much with artists in terms of reading, in fact I rarely read. I engage with artists as piers. But to be honest I’ve been doing interviews for a decade and I know who I am and that includes not having a filter.

What do you wish someone had told you when you were starting out?
Don’t sweat the funding, the websites, the branding…. All that matters is that you get good at making art and quick.

How long have you got off for Christmas?
Two weeks. Myself and my ex partner Tim are splitting time with baby Frank so I have a week to get totally wrecked and a week to literally snuggle for England.

What ten emojis would you use to describe 2016?
?????????

What would your personalised number plate of choice be?
MC BRYAN E

What is your favourite theatre and why?
I fucking love the Purcell Room. It’s grand and great acoustically and so nice to perform to and watch in. I also have a special place in my heart for soho!

Do you have a message for the  readers who have never seen a Bryony Kimmings show?
Stop being a dick and get onboard the art train of truth, desire and pleasure.

Finally, do you think the word ‘hipster’ is just used by people who don’t understand youth culture or are they genuinely a bunch of pricks with questionable facial hair?
Hipster as a term is old. It basically means young and cool. Let people alone… But for me  I like individuality and creativity so the current hipster uniform is the opposite of that. Be yourself. Right now I’m in joggers. And I don’t give two fucks.

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Clive Judd: ‘The minute you forget your audience as an active participate, in whatever live art context, whatever your discipline, that’s the minute you’ve got a corpse on your hands.’

The incoming Artistic Director of the Old Red Lion pub theatre talks us through the challenges of running a venue, his priorities going forward – and his favourite app.
The Old Red Lion Theatre Pub is one of London’s oldest and most beloved boozers. The London fringe has become a vital forum for new work and wildly creative ambitions.
Judd replaces Stewart Pringle, who is stepping down after three years in the post. Currently the venue’s literary manager, Judd has worked at the Old Red Lion for the past 10 months and directed shows for the theatre prior to his appointment.
Absolutely brilliant. Well done everyone. Let’s get started…

Clive Judd

Clive Judd

Hi Clive! Congratulations on your appointment as AD at Old Red Lion. What are you priorities going forward? 
Thanks, Carl.
It’s just starting to sink in now and I’m really looking forward to getting my head around the new year. We have a smashing, diverse programme of work lined up for the first half of 2017 which gives me the perfect platform to explore where I think we might be able to go during my time here.
I really want to give our work the widest possible reach, so I’m going to be seeking links with larger buildings and regional companies to test ways we can continue the life of projects outside of the walls of the ORL space. I will also be continuing to integrate our Literary Department into the function of my work, and offer this as a real, genuine support framework for anyone who presents work with us at the theatre.
One concern I do have is that I’ll be spending a good deal of time in the Box Office booth at the ORL which is frankly way to small to house my clumsy frame. Stewart took a photo of me in there the other day. I looked like Zoltar, the fortune-telling machine in BIG.
“You want a concessionary ticket?
Your wish is granted!”
Seriously though, I am over the moon to have been appointed. The place has so much history.
And I was appointed on the day my nephew Toby was born. It’s all really special to me!
You were the ORL literary manager prior to your appointment; what are your top 3 tips for creatives submitting new work? 
Firstly, it’s a proper, considered answer to the question, “What is your project?” Lyndsey Turner put this to us on the National Theatre Directors Course and I think it is  a) more difficult to answer than it seems and b) fundamental to the creation of quality work. We really want to know what the desire for the project or play or process is and why an audience needs to see that on stage right now. If that passion comes over, we can totally get on-board with it.
Secondly, it’s all about ambition. One of my favourite stories is the one about John Dexter reading Peter Shaffer’s ROYAL HUNT OF THE SUN for the first time and deciding the play was for him when he read the stage direction “They cross the andes.” Whilst we are aware of our size in practical terms and the finance it involves in staging any piece of work right now, it’s desperately important that ambition isn’t limited. We get a great deal of “it needs two actors, no props and a couple of chairs” kind of proposals, which need some consideration. If there is a real theatrical reasoning that underpins this, then great, but I get the sense that people think that because the project is viable immediately, practically speaking, that we’ll look more favourably on it.
The third is another really simple thing but it makes so much difference because we obviously get a lot of proposals. Read the submission guidelines. It takes, like, ten seconds to read these on our website or to Google the ORL. Find out what we are doing and how your work might sit with us.
 
Who would you trust more to babysit a child, Lyn Gardner or Michael Billington?
Whoever is free on the night in question.
I remember Michael’s review of HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD because he mentioned he had taken his grandson to see it. I was really close to my grandad so it made me feel a real warmth towards him. He’d have some good stories too. Like when David Storey tried to knock him out on the staircase at the Royal Court…
And I’d imagine Lyn is a really cool babysitter. She’s written a great series of kids books too so, again, good stories!
Have you thought about the challenges of running a venue in 2017? 
For us and for anyone who will be working with us next year, it’s got to be money right? Or lack of it. It can feel completely restrictive and limiting. What is interesting though, is when artists push against restraint. Again, it’s about ambition and what we want to achieve collectively as theatre-makers right now. We can settle for two chairs or we can find a way to cross the Andes.
I think we need to make sure people laugh a bit too, you know. I think we take ourselves way too seriously sometimes. I think we can be serious about our work without taking too many detours through Douchebag City. I’ve driven into that ghost town myself way too many times…
 
If you could change one major historical event, what would it be?
Ah.
I can’t choose just one. That’s impossible.
What are your favourite apps?
I’m currently trying to learn some Italian using Duolingo. It’s fun, but the owl gives me a bollocking every day because I’m behind on my lessons.
I’m a thirty year old man and I’m getting a daily reprimand from a multilingual, cartoon owl!
Is there any such thing as bad art?
Probably. Maybe. It’s not healthy or helpful to think we can judge such things though.
You trained at the Watermill Theatre on the Regional Theatre Young Director Scheme and as part of the inaugural Foundry programme at the Birmingham REP. How important were those schemes to your development? 
Any professional engagement with a theatre is invaluable for a new director in the UK. A lot of learning is done on the fly, trial and error, through improvisation and a lot of reading, and of course a trustworthy network of friends and colleagues. Which I think is important too, right? But the ability to sit in other rooms, and I’m not just talking about rehearsal rooms, but in the marketing office or a planning meeting for a season of outreach work or lifting set in and out of the theatre for get-in/get-out’s, it trains you in the most wholesome way. It certainly makes the prospect of running a theatre for the first time a little less daunting than it might otherwise be…
It is important to me that those two buildings you mention were based outside of London. The problems they face vary slightly from a theatre consuming city like London but in all contexts, the people driving them are striving for the best in terms of quality.
It made me really appreciate the value of the audience too. The minute you forget your audience as an active participate, in whatever live art context, whatever your discipline, that’s the minute you’ve got a corpse on your hands.
Have you ever been missold PPI?
STOP.
What are your top five new plays of this year? 
Despite my rallying call for the regions, this is the first year that my theatre-going has been exclusively London-based. Which is really bad. But…
ESCAPED ALONE by Caryl Churchill was great and I’ll possibly see that again in the new year. Worth an hour of anyone’s time.
I thought YEN by Anna Jordan was superb too. The combination of Anna’s urban language with Ned Bennett’s visual dramaturgy. That’s good theatre for me.
This is possibly an unpopular choice but Wallace Shawn’s EVENING AT THE TALKHOUSE is a great play. And you will not convince me otherwise!
THE FLICK by Annie Baker wasn’t a new play, but it was new to the UK and it would actually feature in my all-time top 5. It’s a masterclass in the documentation of ordinary human life.
The last one (and this is fairly biased) would be John O’Donovan’s IF WE GOT SOME MORE COCAINE I COULD SHOW YOU HOW I LOVE YOU which was at the ORL in September. John is the real deal and he’s going to have a big 2017.
Would you rather be unusually tall or unusually short?
Short. Would solve the box office problem…
Is there anything you’d like to add? Cheers! 
Nothing other than lets all get after 2017 and give it a good old go.
And come and see our stuff whilst your doing that, of course…
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Rebecca Jade Hammond, Artistic Director, Chippy Lane Productions talks about championing Welsh work beyond Wales

Rebecca Jade Hammond.

Rebecca Jade Hammond. Artistic Director, Chippy Lane Productions (2016)

Watching Theatre in London is like picking a chocolate from the confectionary counter at Harrods; you’re spoilt for choice. Picking anything on a budget needs to be calculated. Sat in the auditorium of The Temporary Theatre (RIP), on a cold February evening at The National during Sherman Cymru’s production of Iphigenia in Splott; I witnessed a profoundly Welsh piece centre stage in the mecca of great Theatre. I was over the moon. Iphigenia in Splott was a reminder of playwright Gary Owen’s singular voice; this was work running along ethical lines and leaving a valuable legacy behind for audiences.

Audiences are thirsty for quality regional work: people want to watch performances that tell stories from everywhere. To laugh and connect with tales from different cultures. I have put my experiences to good use and have created a company with a focus on what I feel most passionate about: Welsh Theatre.

My company, Chippy Lane Productions (CLP), is named after the (in)famous Caroline Street in the heart of Cardiff. Affectionately known as “Chippy Lane” by locals and visitors alike. This is a place brimming with Welsh culture, where people come together to connect, laugh, cry and eat chips before getting the taxi home at the end of a night. Since CLP’s inception on the 1st of March (St David’s Day), we have produced three projects with a fourth in the pipeline.

When it came choosing CLP’s debut project, I wanted to create a buzz. There was no question I start with one of our most successful Welsh playwrights: the aforementioned Gary Owen. The appreciation for his writing beyond Wales is undeniable. Next year, Owen returns to the Royal Court with KILLOLOGY, directed by Rachel O’Riordan in a co-production with the Sherman Theatre.

Our production of Love Steals Us From Loneliness boasted an authentic Welsh cast, a creative team that have worked for The National Theatre and a Linbury Prize Winner. What can I say, it exceeded all expectations. I am a firm believer in surrounding oneself with people who can challenge you to become better and this project did just that. The production received an overwhelming positive response from audiences and critics, gaining four and five star reviews for the London premiere at Camden People’s Theatre in July. On reflection, I believe it was the right decision in choosing one of Owen’s earlier plays for our first project. The success of the production has led on to further work, we were delighted to receive an invitation to be part of the programme at Chapter Arts Cardiff in December. Having accepted the invite, we are equally excited to bring the production home. A full circle in some regard.

An Evening of Welsh Playwrights, our second offering in October, was a collaboration with The Bloomsbury Literary Festival and The London Welsh Centre. As part of this year’s Bloomsbury theme on “language” we were asked to produce a rehearsed reading event. As Artistic Director, I selected two notable Welsh Playwrights; Tim Price (The Internet is Serious Business) and Brad Birch (The Brink) and designed a bilingual event in both Welsh and English. We engaged two local actors to perform the pieces, directed by two Welsh directors from The Other Room, Cardiff. This theatre was the first outside London to be named Fringe Theatre of the Year at The Stage Awards 2016.

In the interest of seeking out fresh and emerging Welsh writers, I set up a scratch night under the banner Chippy & Scratch. The aim of the night was to give writers the opportunity to bring their work to a stage. In August, we put out a call for submissions and received a great response.  The event was a tremendous success and I intend to make this an annual event (returning in Summer 2017). It has facilitated relationship building with Welsh writers, and has led to further talks around matching someone to our next project for 2018. That production will be a piece inspired by Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie.

Creating your own work can be very fruitful and meaningful and being “Mistress of my own destiny” (as Emma Rice once said) can effect positive change. So far our work has been met with much support and an appetite. My aspiration is to continue this work with heart, in the hope of one day becoming the “go-to company” for Welsh work and Welsh writing to be shared and enjoyed more widely across the UK.

Long may this wonderful experience continue.

Rebecca Jade Hammond Artistic Director Chippy Lane Productions (2016)

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Interview with Tom Morris, Bristol Old Vic: “Part of what we do is making stories about people that audiences can be entertained and inspired by and there is a market place for that.” 

Tom Morris

Tom Morris © Mark Douet

After a triumphant run and high praise from audiences and critics, the director has had the last laugh with The Grinning Man’s success.
The Grinning Man was a huge risk for Bristol Old Vic, currently celebrating its 250th anniversary year. The show was warmly received and is surely destined for another life. Who’d have thought that a musical based on the Victor Hugo novel and cult silent movie The Man Who Laughs could be so moving, thrilling and powerful?
If regional theatre wants to safeguard its future it can’t play safe. It’s risk-taking that keeps theatre alive. Despite funding cuts and global uncertainty we are living through a rich time for theatrical experiment – as witnessed at Bristol Old Vic.
Tom Morris is Artistic Director of Bristol Old Vic and has been Associate Director of the National Theatre since 2004. Previous productions at Bristol Old Vic include: King Lear, The Crucible, Swallows and Amazons, Juliet and Her Romeo, and Messiah (Bristol Proms, 2012). FYI: Tom was also co-director of War Horse, widely considered to be the most successful theatre production of all time.
The Grinning Man has just finished a successful run, I had a chat with Tom last week about that, his desire to stay relevant in a shifting theatre landscape, and his love for Bristol as a cultural powerhouse.

Hi Tom! The Grinning Man is *very* good. How did you celebrate?
We ended up in Renatos singing songs from Jesus Christ Superstar eating food and drinking together. It was brilliant.

What are your top tips for an aspiring director?
Well, move to Bristol. Not because you are going to get a great job precisely, but because there is a creative community and audience in this city that can sustain the framework. There is also a developing Fringe in Bristol. You learn by doing and you have to want it passionately. I suppose I would also say: get on with it. Trying to find the right environment to flourish is half the battle won.

Tom Morris - The Grinning Man Rehearsals 

Tom Morris – The Grinning Man Rehearsals

The Grinning Man
This year is our 250th Birthday and to celebrate this unique milestone we have staged a year-round programme of productions from each of the four centuries the theatre has been in operation. Bristol Old Vic has always looked forward. I suppose the reason for staging The Grinning Man in the autumn, of this special season, is that the product is unusual and pushes boundaries. The Grinning Man is a play with songs about the spirit of Bristol. Part of what we do is making stories about people that audiences can be entertained and inspired by and there is a market place for that.

People are scared of new musicals, sometimes aren’t they?
With The Grinning Man, I suppose the story and model is complicated. Finding a version of the tale that was possible for the audience to engage with, whilst remaining faithful to the novel and exploring form and content was a huge challenge. There was always a danger of us going down a narrative blind alley.
I have to say that there is a lot going on in order to bring a new musical of this size and scale to the stage. It is very expensive to develop and if you don’t get it right or even half right can be a disaster. Having said that, there is a real appetite for new musicals; why that is I don’t know. I guess it is such a powerful kit that you get to play with; tears and laughter. Conventionally, audiences are reluctant to come and see new musicals. What has been particularly strong with this show, in particular, is the word of mouth effect; people have been prepared to overcome the unknown and taken a leap of faith. I hope that they have enjoyed it.

What three things should every new musical have?

  1. Story
  2. Tunes
  3. Passion

Shrinking attention spans aside, did you have to get rid of any bits you love?
God yes! There were whole scenes that ended up on the cutting room floor, for better or worse. What’s been so rewarding is that the entire company felt confident enough to suggest changes, say when something wasn’t working and embellish details with their own identities. But when you have a company as talented as ours and an extraordinary creative team as this it’s a very organic process. The show has developed in leaps and bounds.

Bristol has a growing reputation as a creative city. What makes it so exciting?
Well, huge numbers of creative people move to or stay here because it has a justified reputation. It’s still possible to get cheap accommodation and is very active economically. In order to find work there are massive opportunities for this city and region and that requires investment. Manchester and Liverpool have grasped opportunity for investment massively. Looking forward, the hugely exciting prospects are the Heritage Lottery Funding and next phase of our refurbishment– of which we are hugely grateful to Arts Council England, but also huge number of donations and time from individuals and philanthropy. In order for Bristol Old Vic to be a forward thinking producing theatre of scale we need to be more than a business; we need to be a heritage destination and take a massive leap in order to keep telling the story to flourish to the public. We have deliberately realigned to create and produce new work.

Looking ahead what are you most excited about in 2017?
Last week there was a workshop in London of a new play Junkyard by Jack Thorne about the junk playground built in Lockleaze in the 1970’s, it features music by Stephen Warbeck – We’re co-producing this next year with Headlong, Rose Theatre Kingston and Theatr Clwyd. I am very excited we are a part of that.

We need risk-takers more than ever, how do you balance risk adventure with number crunching?
You might assume that I am the one with the wildly imaginative and ambitious artistic ideas and Emma is the sensible one. That is not always the case. We have fairly nuanced conversations, with support from our excellent team and board of trustees. You plot a course. Playing safe doesn’t really work, the theatre has only survived so far because of the city’s relationship and love for it. The city has infamously rescued it and essentially it is a quarter of a millennium love affair, which like all love affairs has had its fair shares of ups and downs.

Cheers! 

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Interview with Director Gary Condes: “In an age of calculated self-aware subtle comedy, LUV will provide a belly laugh.”

Gary Condes

As he directs LUV at Park90 with Park Theatre, director Gary Condes reflects on rehearsals, the Emma Rice fiasco and his favourite old wives tale.

LUV is a 1960s riotous celebration of the absurd lengths we go to when struck down with the terrible affliction known as love. After reuniting one fateful night, old school pals Milt and Harry uncover each other’s miserable life stories before hatching a plan to find their happily-ever-afters. I decided to chat to Gary about a whole manner of things.

Gary Condes

Gary Condes

Hey Gary! You previously directed Miss Julie and Some Girl(s) with Buckland Theatre Company and are back at Park90 with LUV. What do you like the most about working with Buckland?

I love Buckland’s desire to produce work that examines the nature of human behaviour through plays that focus on relationships and to put them in intimate studio spaces so that audiences experience immediate and affecting theatre full of emotional truth.

Luv

Luv. Click on the image to book your tickets

How are LUV rehearsals going? 
Great! We are spending the early stages mining the script and improvising to work out what the characters are really doing in each scene and why they are doing it. As a result we are acquiring a deep and specific understanding of the characters behaviour which will help to build nuanced and fuller performances.

What attracted you to direct LUV?
It’s a charming, unique play with heartfelt humour that gets us to face those existential questions that arise when examining the very nature of ‘Love’, how we define it and we measure it. It’s strengths lie in its colourful characters, extreme circumstances, laugh out loud dialogue, physical comedy, social and philosophical commentary and it’s infectious energy. The attraction for me was the mix of absurd humour and touching moments and the opportunity to make audiences feel happy, sad, joyful and full of despair all in the same show.

Are you sad about Emma Rice stepping down from The Globe? 
From the outside there seems to have been a misunderstanding about the style of work The Globe thought they were going to get from Emma Rice and what they ended-up getting from her. The glove didn’t seem to fit. Emma will find another platform for her work easily enough and The Globe will find someone else who best supports their philosophy. Can’t blame them both for trying.

What can audiences expect from LUV
In an age of calculated self-aware subtle comedy this production will provide audiences with a good old cathartic belly laugh at how self-indulgent humans can be with their own suffering. Expect a delicious high energy romp through a multitude of matters: marriage, relationships, loneliness, lost identity, desires, ambitions, failures, suicide. The performances will be bold but grounded in emotional truth so that audiences can connect to the characters suffering through laughter. A mix of absurdist humour and Broadway comedy: Mel Brooks and Neil Simon give birth to Eugene Ionesco.

What’s your favourite old wives’ tale?
If you are unable to fall asleep you are awake in someone else’s dreams.

What is your best advice for actors at auditions?
Don’t look at it as a job you have to get. See it as an opportunity to present your work. Prepare fully, deeply and make specific choices about your scene or monologue and then go to the audition to show them your work. Treat it as a presentation of what you’ve created, but you’ve got to do the homework beforehand.

Who is your favourite director?
Rimas Tuminas, Artistic Director of Moscow’s Vakhtangov Theatre Company. He manages to create an audacious mix of heightened and symbolic theatre which is underpinned by performances of deep and full emotional truth. His Uncle Vanya being a perfect example of this. It is theatre as art which illuminates & elevates.

Say in 1,500 years they discovered something you had directed on film what would you like them to find? 
It would be a film I haven’t made yet but is in development. It’s an autobiographical piece about family and takes place between the family run restaurant and the family home. I would like them to find it in 1,500 years and hope it helps people to understand something about human nature and its capacity for both deep suffering and great joy and that it’s the ‘experience’ of living that is important.

Why do you think Park Theatre is so successful? 
I think it’s due to the combination of seeing quality productions of interesting plays, thought provoking subject matter and fine acting in intimate and involving spaces.

Anything you’d like to add? 
If you want an alternative Christmas show to come and see LUV, this is it!

Luv in on at Park Theatre from 8 December  2016 – 7 January 2017

CLICK HERE TO BUY TICKETS OF LUV

CLICK HERE TO BUY TICKETS OF YOUR FAVORITE LONDON SHOWS 

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Interview with Amit Lahav, Artistic Director of Gecko: “The role of an artist is to challenge the status quo.”

It seems that we are getting better at being honest with each other about our own frailties.

Institute is driven by Geckoʼs desire to explore complexities in human nature; our impulse to care and our complete reliance on one another. We are entering a time in which we are potentially more fractured and disconnected than ever before – when the time comes, will anyone really care? But a Gecko world is never as it first appears…

Gecko have teamed up with mental health charity Suffolk Mind to launch a series of  workshops & participatory opportunities.
I had a phone chat with company director and all round theatrical wizard Amit Lahav recently.
Here is what we discussed:

Amit Lahav

Amit Lahav

Hi Amit! Congratulations on Live from Television Centre – the collaboration with Battersea Arts Centre and the BBC – It really highlighted the values of British independent theatre. You’ve had quite a year haven’t you.>
I couldn’t be happier – it was outrageously ambitious and we couldn’t have pushed harder. We explored the extraordinary Gecko language inside TV and film, we went 1,000% with BAC who produced it and went in all guns blazing. It was something that everyone believed in. I think with the BBC wanted us to make something incredibly theatrical – I am genuinely proud and I had to think as a film maker, which was incredibly challenging.

There is a lot of debate around how live screenings of shows have changed theatre; for better or worse. They are increasingly popular with audiences. What do you think their impact on live arts are? 
It’s incredibly important to keep engagement live. We are in a dangerous situation of becoming disconnected in a society that has a hidden loneliness. Don’t get me wrong, there is an enormous benefit having work seen by larger audiences, but the present connection with audiences is something I wouldn’t want to move away from.

Institute is a remarkable production exploring troubled men. 
At the heart of Institute is the question to do with masculinity and culture, in these times people are trying to survive more than it seems. It’s subterranean, on a multitude of levels, the experiences men have on an internal and external level.

Does it feels like more is required of audiences than just talking about the ‘issues’ and how have people responded to the show out on tour?
We have so frequently come across people who have been affected by Institute, who at the end of the production have been unable to move from their seats. They want to talk to us, to someone. Out on tour there is someone from the charity Suffolk Mind as well as a panel discussion with service providers. Uniquely, as well there is someone local to the venues who have proximity to that venue and have used those resources available to them.

Political correctness and art don’t *usually* mix well. Institute feels like a genuinely political piece of theatre, would you agree? 
The role of an artist is to challenge the status quo. All Gecko shows are political. In some way being the bearer of truth, Gecko is an important commodity and in these times even more critical.

What would you say have been the most rewarding moments of getting Institute in front of audiences? 
I think that what I have been learning about mental health has been so extraordinary because it’s shone a mirror about where Institute came from within me, there is something very powerful in that. At one end on the spectrum there is wellness and the other there is not. You can be on that continuum somewhere and that stress can be the crossover. The fragility of being a human being can take you by surprise. You might know someone who is suffering. It’s important to reiterate that there is help out there and it’s good to talk about these things.”
Cheers! 

Nuffield / Southampton / www.nuffieldtheatre.co.uk

Performances2 – 5 November at 7.30pm / tickets

Ancillary programme2 November at 9pm – post show panel discussion (free with show ticket)

4 November at 2pm – 5pm – workshop (free with show ticket, registration information will be available on the venue website)

Playhouse / Liverpool / www.everymanplayhouse.com

Performances16 – 19 November at 7.30pm (except for: 5.30pm on 17 November) / tickets

Ancillary programme17 November at 7pm – post show panel discussion (free with show ticket)

17 November at 12pm-3pm – workshop (free with show ticket, registration information will be available on the venue website)

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Paul Roseby interview: “Stick to your bloody instincts. Whether you make the right or the wrong decisions, if you stick to your instincts then you can only do what you believe to be true.”

Paul Roseby
Paul Roseby

Paul Roseby

Paul Roseby is already in the restaurant when I arrive. I am quite nervous at the prospect of meeting the CEO and Artistic Director of the National Youth Theatre of Great Britain. I needn’t be.  Instantly recognisable, it’s the charisma and style. Roseby is quite happy to draw attention using his appearance to break the ice. He waves back at someone across the room from where we are sitting. “I have no idea who that was,” He smiles, “He probably thinks I’m TV personality Duncan Bannatyne, I get that a lot. I’ve had Shane Richie before.” We laugh… I see it.

So now we’re sitting in Soho House on Dean Street, a private members’ club for people in the creative industries about to discuss his career.

Story of Our Youth - Gala Celebrating 60 Years of National Youth Theatre

Story of Our Youth – Gala Celebrating 60 Years of National Youth Theatre © Mark Cocksedge

I start by commending his efforts on the recent one-off gala at the West End’s Shaftesbury Theatre that marked the 60th anniversary of the National Youth Theatre; a glitzy affair starring alumni including Matt Smith, Timothy Dalton, Hugh Bonneville, Daisy Lewis and more alongside 100 current members.  It was no small feat to get such a level of consistent high standard from a cast covering such an age range, it was pretty amazing. These are the hard things to achieve and showed the level of work and commitment of all concerned. I ask him how he thought it went. “It has to be the moment when an auditorium of 1,200 people stood up out of their seats tumultuously for a cast of one hundred young people up on stage.” he says. “It’s what they do if for. Don’t forget, it was very unusual circumstances, with only 3 hour technical time in one of the biggest theatres in the West End and the NYT members were consummate professionals. I originally came from a light entertainment background, so to see people who know our organisation and who don’t know the organisation being entertained,” he beams. “I was very proud of that.”

Paul Roseby in his Union Jack shoes

Paul Roseby in his Union Jack shoes

I compliment him on his choice of footwear for the NYT Gala: Union Jack shoes.  They were by all accounts ‘quite something’. He laughs: “I am an absolute lover of shoes.” He chuckles. “David Beckham has the same pair; they are ‘vintage’ by now! In all seriousness, the Union Jack shoes were a risk given what has happened in the aftermath of Brexit. We need to celebrate the flag in all its diversity and I believe in a union of many things, we are an international organisation.”

I ask him to fast forward sixty years and tell me how he would envisage the 120th Anniversary panning out. “Right, I think it needs to be a celebration like the Oscars as a global event,” he smiles. “A celebration of all youth and creativity rolled into one evening. The 120th Birthday Gala should be an event that is hugely supported by media with sponsorship; which means money and accreditation. Youth Theatre is absolutely a game changer and is a feeder to one of our greatest exports. I’d like it to have international status; we have worked internationally in some very challenging parts of the world: China and Saudi, for example. It should be a global belief system.”  It’s hard not to be swept up in his enthusiasm for the work. As I’ve mentioned at some length before, (blog about Open Court Festival ) there is currently a huge attention in important work being made and performed by young people for adult audiences.

I’m curious to know how he got the job. “It was hard because it was not something I’d done before. The people around the NYT and Arts Council interview panel rightly questioned why I’d want to lead the organisation. I outlined my vision and ambition through the application process not least by creating a digital response by vox popping punters on the Southbank and interviewing leading industry professionals to test the current climate,” he recalls. “To provide a wake up call to what the NYT needed to become in order to become more relevant. There was some stunned silence broken by the late Bryan Forbes with the line: ‘It’s all very well dear, but short of ‘going down’ on Greg Dyke, how are you going to pay for it?’ If only funding was that easy.  I was the outsider. In the end the decision was made that I and John Hogarth would do it together, it took a while for the panel to make up their minds so I and John had an off-the-record conversation and put it to the board that we both lead as a joint ticket. They got the best of both worlds.” Amazing.

Pigeon English at the Ambassador Theatre

Pigeon English at the Ambassador Theatre. Click on the image to book your tickets.

Let us take a moment to acknowledge that National Youth Theatre is not just where Helen Mirren learned to act… For many it is where they grow up, where they learn how to be an actor but, more vitally, how to be a member of a diverse society, judged solely on distinction. Does Roseby appreciate this, standing on the shoulders of giants?  “I recognise however small or great the generosity and goodwill from our alumni. What is great about Helen, for example, is in all honesty why should she care about the NYT today? Fifty years ago it changed her life, but so what? Life moves on.” He explains: “That’s the starting point with our alumni – how do we make it relevant for them today, it might have given them a platform and provided a life changing experience – but why should they continue to get behind our cause? What is worth its weight in gold is that people like Helen talk about our work and the importance of youth theatre, particularly for working class actors, on an international stage. That is invaluable. Inspired by the traditional repertory theatre model, our NYT REP Company course offers free, practical, industry-based talent development in drama and performance over nine months to 16 NYT members.”

Prior to meeting Paul I came from Young Vic, where I attended Act For Change: Diversity and Training for the Industry, the third annual event and panel discussion led by campaigners for better representation of diverse groups across the live and recorded arts. We talk about quotas. I ask how he makes sure NYT members are as rich and diverse as our population.  “Diversity is at the core of our work, without doubt, we all need to work harder. We strive to represent fairly what is out there in the wider world: people who look like us, sound like us and think like us. We are a talent based organisation and as creative leaders we need to create original content that questions the status quo, to tell stories that we’ve yet to see or hear. Be that about homophobia, racism or mental health, my responsibility is that.  That’s my reason for getting up in the morning. I think the diversity debate is a little old fashioned, how we get the real issues surrounding diversity to progress is by getting them in front of commercial drivers and going beyond the public sector.” He continues fervently. “At the next debate we need Cameron Mackintosh, Andrew Lloyd Webber, ATG, Working Title and individuals that stand to make commercial financial gain out of creativity there.” He’s got a point.

Before we part ways, I ask if he has any advice for young graduates. “Stick to your bloody instincts.” He says. “Whether you make the right or the wrong decisions, if you stick to your instincts then you can only do what you believe to be true.”

Amen.

Paul Roseby and Carl Woodward

 

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Daniel Evans: “I don’t draw the distinctions between musicals and plays, I think they both have equal value. I’m not going to rip up that rule book.” 

Daniel Evans
Right then. There’s a Daniel Evans interview below. Daniel is a very obliging man so he answered all my questions, and some other ones too.
Here’s how our chat went.

To kick things off, just as Jonathan Church and Alan Finch shared leadership of Chichester Festival Theatre, Evans, 43, is sharing leadership of the Theatre alongside Rachel Tackley who has also just started as Executive Director.

Daniel Evans

Daniel Evans

 

Born in South Wales he trained as an actor, has two Olivier Awards and a Tony nomination. Previously he was Artistic Director of Sheffield Theatres where his programming included acclaimed seasons of plays by David Hare, Brian Friel, Michael Frayn and Sarah Kane.

We are talking in his office in Chichester. In post for just three months, Evans naturally and energetically fits into this environment, where he barely has time to draw breath between meetings. “Great! I’ve been bowled over, I have to say, by how friendly and welcoming people have been.” He tells me cheerfully. “Not just staff, but also, people who live and work in the region. The audiences here are incredibly passionate about this place and their theatre and it’s a privilege to be here.”

Sheffield Theatres dominated the 2016 UK Theatre Awards recently, winning five awards. Productions of Flowers For Mrs Harris and Show Boat, both directed by Evans, shared the award for best musical production. “I’m really proud of the outcome.” He nods. “The ceremony was on the same day we were all celebrating Jonathan and Alan’s tenure at CFT, so I couldn’t be at the ceremony. Part of me was sad to not be with my now ex-colleagues, but at the same time it felt right to be here to say goodbye to two gents who have done an amazing job. If we can have half the fun and success they’ve had then I’m sure our time here will be good.”

Certainly, Evans is busy cooking up his first season to be announced in February 2017. I ask for a clue about his inaugural season. “No.” He says. “Lots of people are asking for details now, but I can’t tell you or them. You want to make an impact when you do announce, but also, I get superstitious.” He pauses. “I am like that as an actor too. I never quite believe things are going to happen until you are actually there doing it.”

But, will we be fortunate enough to see him grace the stage in West Sussex? “I do miss performing –  I haven’t stopped being an actor – I hope it’s something I’ll do here.” He smiles. “I only managed to do it twice in 7.5 years in Sheffield. Let’s see!”

In the case of Jonathan Church at Chichester’s helm saw hugely successful West End transfers and tours, including the recent Chichester Festival Theatre production of Half a Sixpence which opens in the West End later this month. During his time at Sheffield, Evans mixed plays and musicals with similar success. Presumably he will stick to that tried and tested formula? “I think musicals have become a strong spine of CFT seasons. It’s an opportunity for the theatre to appeal to a very broad range of people and that’s to be celebrated.”

5-charlie-stemp-as-arthur-kipps-in-chichester-festival-theatres-half-a-sixpence-photo-by-manuel-harlan-132

Half A Sixpence, Chichester Festival Theatre. 2016. By Manuel Harlen. Click on the image to book your tickets.

He elaborates. “I don’t draw the distinctions between musicals and plays, I think they both have equal value. I’m not going to rip up that rule book.”

Evans recently wrote an article for The Stage in which he stressed the importance of taking a chance on people to give them a leg-up in this industry. “Lots of people responded to that article, which suggests there is a ceiling for people.” He says. “The Arts Council, our main funder is, rightly I think, making sure the Arts are democratic and accessible which is something that really chimes with me. If you believe in equality and democracy – even if democracy can be complicated at times (- note: the referendum result)  – then you have to care about those tenets. It’s something I believe in strongly. So, as one of the major arts organisations in this region, we also have a responsibility to offer our audiences as wide a range of work as possible. Work from seasoned artists as well as young artists. So what I’ve been doing is meeting people from this area and getting out and exploring this place. It was wonderful to see Paines Plough in the Show Room recently, for example.”

We talk about mental health. He says that, “I think openness generally is a good thing. If something is ubiquitous like mental health why wouldn’t we talk about it? When you think one in four of us will be affected by mental health and the greatest killer for men under 45 is suicide, then it has to be a really important issue. Particularly working in the arts, we are looking at what it is to be a human being – e.g. the complexity of having a mind and body – those existential questions are something that theatre can explore better than any other art form because you are in the room collectively as it is happening. There has been a reluctance in the past to acknowledge these important issues.”

The Boys In The Band

The Boys In The Band

What was the last show he went to see? “Last night, I saw Adam Penford’s production of The Boys in The Band at the Park Theatre. I liked it very much. I’ve seen the play twice before: it feels to me like a seminal piece of writing about gay men. It was interesting to be in an audience of predominantly older gay men; some of those people who lived through legalisation of homosexuality, the Wolfenden report, NY Riots, Stonewall then AIDS and- gay marriage. It was a very moving play and production. I came away thinking it was sad that some of the issues in the play are still with us. While I was glad that time has passed and things have moved on, it still felt very resonant.”

We talk about the recent imposing of a standardised system for measuring artistic quality by Arts Council England on National Portfolio Organisations. Nevertheless, despite a muted sector response and warnings that it will require a “quantum change” in organisational attitudes to data.

He shrugs when I suggest that the scenario is not exactly ideal, so I ask how he would respond using only emojis? He laughs. “I’d use the forward facing emoji and those two big eye emojis, because at the moment we are all still finding out what the scheme requires, what they mean and how they will be used. In principle, there’s a good idea in there which is about wanting to make sure the qualities of people’s experience is top notch… Maybe they’ll ask us to respond in emojis?”

It’s clear that Daniel Evans has a lot to offer and I leave thinking that he is completely brilliant. A man of many talents that Chichester is very lucky to have. Evans is in the right place.

 

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Interview with producer of This Place We Know, Sophie Watson: “I’d just like to put on record that I’m not advocating putting Billie Piper in a time capsule.”

Sophie Watson
Bush Theatre has taken over the Uxbridge Road while the venue is undergoing a year-long redevelopment project. This Place We Know is a bold series of six commissioned short plays performed in spaces on and around Shepherd’s Bush.
This Place We Know has seen six world premieres of specially commissioned plays; this is a unique example of a theatre redefining what new-writing might do and how it might correspond to the local community. I thought it would be a good idea to chat to the producer behind it all: Sophie Watson.
Watson talks about Arts Council imposing ‘quantitative measures of arts quality’, Billie Piper in Yerma and more.
Sophie Watson

Sophie Watson

Hello! What are you working on at the moment?
The Bush Theatre is currently undergoing some changes that will make us more accessible and more sustainable, in the meantime, we’re out and about producing theatre in West London. We’re in our last week of ‘This Place We Know’ a series of short plays commissioned as a love letter to the Uxbridge Road and next up we’re remounting ‘The Royale’ by Marco Ramirez at the Tabernacle.

What is your most treasured possession?
In my theatre life, my playtext of ‘Many Moons’ by Alice Birch – the first play I ever produced.

Who or what is your biggest influence?
I don’t think I could pick one, I’ve always been so inspired by my colleagues; the team at the Bush are heroes.

The best kind of theatre often breaks the mould, how do you juggle risk-taking with sustainability?
When producing for an organisation you can’t look at a play in isolation, at the Bush we’re constantly looking at a season as a whole and asking ourselves whether we are offering our audiences a balanced programme. An example of that would be working with a playwright that audiences know and love and following that up with someone they may never have heard of, and hopefully there’s enough trust for audiences to come on a journey with us and a new playwright.

This Place We Know brings together a series of specially-commissioned plays in and around Shepherd’s Bush.  How have you prepared for this logistically?
I have been working on this project for many months. We commissioned the writers at the end of 2015 and then my first task was to introduce myself to almost every business on the Uxbridge Road to see whether there might be an opportunity to work together. It’s been important to think outside of the box, we ended up producing a play in a karaoke bar which I didn’t approach at first as I couldn’t imagine pulling it off but there’s a lot of good will in Shepherds Bush.

Gender inequality is a huge problem in the arts, however, there’s no shortage of women working in the arts, have you ever faced obstacles in your career?
This is a challenging industry to find your way in to regardless of gender, but I have to say that broadly I haven’t faced any obstacles that I would attribute to my being a woman. I hope I can use my position to support more women coming up through the industry as well as to profile female artists.

What are your thoughts on Arts Council imposing ‘quantitative measures of arts quality’?
I am sceptical about the introduction of these measures as an accurate way of measuring success. I’m also concerned about the additional administrative burden for organisations. I have read of concerns lately that organisations are carrying too much administrative resource, with some suggesting that this is to the detriment of the art/artists, but I find that a difficult argument to balance when looking at the demands placed on us all.

What would you bury in a time capsule to represent theatre in 2016?
Billie Piper. Is that weird? I can’t stop thinking about her performance in Yerma at the Young Vic this year. Plus, she’d have loads of other interesting stories about pop stardom.

Do you think we’ve become too obsessed with ourselves?
I think that we have always been obsessed with ourselves and with other people; particularly how we look, think and feel in relation to those other people. The difference now is the level of insecurity created by the various modes of presentation available to each and everyone of us. It continues to be the role of theatre to help us answer those questions.

What is the worst job you’ve ever had?
Christmas at Marks and Spencer.  Don’t ask.

What is the best job you’ve ever had?
Producer at the Bush Theatre of course.

Anything you’d like to add?
I’d just like to put on record that I’m not advocating putting Billie Piper in a time capsule.