Interviews with renowned British Artistic Directors

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Emma Bettridge, Bristol Old Vic Ferment: “I’ve never been bad cop…”

Producer Emma has got her hands full. The reason is that many of the companies she has nurtured and commissioned are about to fly the flag at Edinburgh Festival. Emma Bettridge is the curator and producer of Ferment, the artistic development department of Bristol Old Vic.

Emma Bettridge

Emma Bettridge © Jon Craig

As the artist development and work are both completely excellent, and as Ferment has quite a lot going on in it, I thought it’d be good to chat to Emma about it all. So I got her on the phone last week.

She starts by telling me what an average day is like, “Quite varied; day to day, I clear emails on my commute, meet with emerging artists and view new work. This week is particularly busy as it is Ferment Festival – a curated scheme and work in progress. What’s really exciting is that we’re currently undergoing a huge front of house redevelopment so there’s a nice space to meet and talk with audiences after the work has been presented. It’s been really positive utilising original spaces to explore new ideas; there are companies rehearsing somewhere in the city. It’s a nice vibe!”

Brilliant. So, to the casual reader what does Ferment do? “We offer tailored advice, and work closely with artists through the rehearsal process – one of the ways the department are able to advocate the very best of the South West. Bristol Old Vic have a track record of backing exciting things, just look at The Castle Builder which was developed with support from MAYK, Bristol Old Vic Ferment and Tobacco Factory Prototype and Sally Cookson’s thrilling Jayne Eyre.” She’s got a point. Furthermore, glancing at the line-up of Ferment and the dynamic work on show at Edinburgh including, Shaelee Rooke, Rachael Clerke, Propolis Theatre, Kid Carpet and Tim Bell to name a few highlights.

Beyond dealing with the fact that this year Ferment are taking the largest number of productions to Edinburgh in its seven year history, supporting eight shows across the festival, Bettridge is negotiating a path through the relentless demands placed on the modern producer. “When it gets too much or something doesn’t go to plan I always say nobody died and it’s only theatre!” So, what about balancing being the bad cop and being everyone’s friend, well… “It’s a broad title! In a way I have a more back and forth relationship – let’s be clear – there are ways of saying no. Working in artist development requires a free flowing and organic approach. I guess we meet in the middle and forge an ongoing relationship. I’ve never been bad cop…”

We chat about how she entered the industry. She says that, looking back “Ten years on I realise that doing my degree was actually really valuable. One of my first jobs was working at The Pleasance in Edinburgh, I saw a lot of shows and contributed to an organisation that does a lot of backing of and developing artists.”

Many of Bettridge’s mentors during the early stages of her career highlight the importance of sending the elevator back down. I ask her who inspired her. “Definitely Sarah Holmes (New Wolsey), Kate Sparshatt (Gecko) and of course Emma Stenning (Bristol Old Vic). I’ve been very inspired by those women working in this industry.”

At this point, I ask her what makes it all worth while and how she measures success. “One has to trust that we are working hard to refresh the pool in order to achieve maximum excitement.”

For more details on Bristol’s Edinburgh shows click HERE

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Director Adam Penford talks about Watership Down, The Boys in The Band featuring Mark Gatiss and more

Ahead of directing Mark Gatiss in ‘The Boys in the Band’ at Park Theatre, Adam Penford is taking on Watership Down at The Watermill. The talented director talks about the value of regional theatre and reveals that he is always dropping egg cups.

Adam Penworth

Adam Penford

You’re in rehearsals currently for Watership Down. How’s it looking?

We’re nearing the end of rehearsals and I’m having the best time. It’s an epic narrative for such an intimate venue, but I have a generous and talented company of actors and creative team, and we’re working together to find inventive and fun ways to tell the story. And the Watermill Theatre is so idyllic. Rona Munro (James Plays, NTS) wrote this adaptation for the Lyric Hammersmith 10 years ago, but Richard Adams, who wrote the novel, lives down the road and all the places referred to in the book are nearby – so it feels like we’re bringing the story home.

You are due to direct The Boys in The Band featuring Mark Gatiss at Park Theatre later this year. Will it be any good?

It’s a fascinating play and well overdue a British revival as most younger theatregoers don’t know it. It was one of the first overtly gay plays and was a controversial smash hit when it premiered off-Broadway in 1968. The premise is simple; a group of gay friends gather for a birthday party and after a lot of booze things unravel. A surprise visit by the host’s old college roommate – a straight man with a secret – tips things over the edge. Think WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF, but camper. It was far ahead of its time so it’s dated very little, and yet it also looks back and plays tribute to the classic American voices of Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee, Eugene O’Neill. It always divided the gay community as some felt it reinforced gay stereotypes, whereas others adored it for being simply honest, so it will be interesting to see how that plays out with a contemporary audience. It’s very witty, dramatic and entertaining – packed full of zingy one-liners.

What was the last show that you watched and enjoyed?
Showboat was terrific. It was exciting seeing Gina Beck and Rebecca Trehearn nailing those strong female roles. I’ve admired all the musicals Daniel Evans has directed and produced at Sheffield and can’t wait to see how he programmes both spaces at Chichester. It’s a pity the show didn’t find a London audience, but it’s a tough sell.

What is the best musical of all time?
Probably a Rodgers and Hammerstein, or a Sondheim, or GYPSY, or GUYS AND DOLLS. But everyone always says that. So one of my favourite shows is LEGALLY BLONDE. I directed a production a couple of years ago and there is not an ounce of fat on the bones of that show. Every lyric, musical phrase, and line of dialogue is driving the narrative and character development. All the tunes are hummable, the music perfectly captures the world of the story, and it’s genuinely funny and moving.

What was the last item of crockery you broke?

I always drop egg cups.

As well as working extensively at the National Theatre, what opportunities have you been afforded in the regions? [DEATHTRAP]

I directed a production of Deathtrap earlier this year at Salisbury Playhouse which we’re hoping to tour next year. I’d previously directed Stepping Out there and it’s a lovely venue with a loyal audience. Gareth Machin, (the Playhouse’s Artistic Director), has always been supportive, we met when he was working at National Theatre Studio and he gave me my first staff directing opportunity there. Growing up in the East Midlands, my first theatre experiences were all regional (Nottingham Playhouse, Derby Playhouse, Leicester Haymarket) so I feel very passionate about the value of local theatre and would like to do more.

What makes a good Director?

I don’t think there’s a single approach to directing. It’s such a personal thing and attempting to imitate another director’s method leads to confused work. My own approach is combining an instinct for the material with a lot of research, and this leads to a vision of how to best serve the play/story. I think being able to clearly articulate that vision, whilst remaining open to collaboration, has led to the work that I’d deem my most successful.

What is the best career advice you’ve ever been given and by whom?

When I’m worrying about whether I should take on a project or not, Nick Hytner always tells me to just do it. His advice is to do as much of your own work as possible in the early stages of your career because it’ll make you a better director, and not to worry about trying to forge a particular career path, or how your choices and the resulting productions may be judged by the industry or press. It’s very liberating.

Can you tell us something SCANDALOUS?
Well I could tell you many things, but I’m obviously not going to.

What’s your favourite emoji?
The classic smiley. Although I still type it out laboriously like a computer illiterate fool : )

BOOK YOUR TICKETS FOR WATERSHIP DOWN

BOOK YOUR TICKETS FOR THE BOYS IN THE BAND

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Alastair Knights talks about My Fair Lady 60th Anniversary concert, his next directorial venture and more

Alastair Knights

Alastair Knights set to direct My Fair Lady 60th Anniversary concert

The cafe is bustling with people. Alastair Knights is on a break from rehearsals for Jim Cartwright’s The Rise and Fall of Little Voice at the Union Theatre. Knights leads us to the bar area and we sit on an old sofa. He’s just returned from America and is a little jet-lagged. Last Summer Alastair directed The Spitfire Grill to great acclaim at the Union, went on to direct Kings of Broadway; featuring music from shows and an all-star cast of West End talent. He was also behind the St James Theatre RE:act scheme. Now, he is set to direct the hotly anticipated My Fair Lady 60th Anniversary Concert later this month.

Alastair Knights

Alastair Knights

How much of the industry is who you know vs what you know

I ask him how much of the industry is who you know vs what you know. “Oh God. Who you know! Friends help each other out. You need to be talented and prepared, that’s a given. But what you do need is luck. You need that little moment and if you don’t get it you’re fucked.” It’s clear from speaking to Alastair that a little luck goes a long way.** It was in 2013 that Knights and Musical Director Alex Parker devised and directed Sondheim’s A Little Night Music and staged Putting It Together – A Musical Revue at G Live in Guildford. Putting It Together was a hit later at the St James. One man in the audience was Robert Mackintosh, who runs the St James Theatre and brother of theatrical producer Sir Cameron Mackintosh. He adds “I had my luck because Robert Mackintosh decided to drive to Guilford to see Putting it Together. I wouldn’t be here now if that hadn’t happened. Actually, I’d say it’s 60% who you know and 40% what you know.”

Favourite off -West-End-Theatre

We discuss London venues and I inquire his favourite off-West-End theatre. “The St James Theatre. They gave me my first opportunity in RE: act, a short-plays initiative, and over the last year we have worked with 120 emerging artists. Writers are paired with upcoming directors and actors to create a response piece to productions. It’s an exciting place to be.”

Actors are the bravest people ever

Sitting in one of London’s most vibrant pub-theatres, it is apt that Alastair speaks of his admiration for fringe theatre workers; It’s here that shows can be calling cards for emerging artists. “I’m strongly for Fringe Theatre. I think actors are the bravest people ever. It’s so exposing.” He delves deeper into this advocacy, “There is a lot of discussion around low pay work, but fringe theatre gives actors and directors such wonderful opportunities. I would have never been asked to do Little Voice at a West End or big regional theatre. For me, working somewhere like The Union is a creative and collaborative dream.”

Whats next on the direction list

Alastair’s modesty is endearing. Some directors talk like they’re reading from a script; Alastair speaks with utter conviction and clarity of thought. His enthusiasm is persuasive to the point of being faintly intoxicating. I probe to find out what is next on his directing wish-list. He beams “Fanny and Stella! It’s a new musical I’m working on with composer Eamonn O’Dwyer. It’s about two female impersonators in the gruesome underbelly of Victorian England. We have the rights to Neil Mckenna’s book and we’ll workshop the show next month.”

More about the My Fair Lady Concert happening at St. Paul’s Church

For someone at the start of their career Knights has a lot already under his belt, his ambition is palpable. He tells me about the My Fair Lady Concert he will be directing, “Amazingly, Liz Robertson called Cameron Mackintosh and he suggested Alex Parker and I put it together. We are celebrating 60 years since the first Broadway performance! It’s a gala performance at the iconic St. Paul’s Church, Covent Garden, the location of Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins’s first encounter. We have an incredible cast including Patricia Routledge, Kara Tointon, Frank Skinner, Gina Beck and many more telling the story of the inception of the show, along with songs from the musical itself. The evening is generously supported by Cameron Mackintosh and all proceeds are going towards St Paul’s Church to improve access.”

We talk briefly about imposter syndrome. He says that, if he wasn’t doing this he’d be working an office job. “Probably PR. That’s what I’d probably be doing. Definitely marketing, actually, because I like talking.” Well, quite.

The last five photos on his phone

At this point I ask what are the last five photos he took on his phone. He giggles and coyly begins to list: “The Little Voice Poster, me with a teeth whitening strip in California, a soundboard desk here at the Union, me and my best friend in Hollywood and a theatre in LA.” Whilst looking at his phone, it strikes me that I’m five seconds away from being able to contact Cameron Mackintosh.

The thing about being star struck

I ask Alistair if he’s ever been star-struck. “All the time. I think the first time that I worked with Elaine Paige was a huge deal for me. She is so incredibly talented. Her voice is insane; she’s in her 60’s and looks amazing. What’s more in rehearsals she sang Nobody’s Side from Chess at a Danceworks in Fulham, at midday, and proper belted it. A dream. I know I’m going to be star-struck when I start rehearsals with Patricia Routledge!”

Finishing on a Sheridan Smith note

As we draw to the end of our lunch I ask him if there’s anything he’d like to add, or retract. He seems concerned about Sheridan Smith, who has taken time out from Funny Girl due to exhaustion. “I find the Sheridan Smith situation really, really sad. I’ve seen her be absolutely incredible on stage in Flare Path and Legally Blonde. I watched her in Funny Girl and the spark was missing. I hope she takes some time out and returns better.”

The Rise and Fall of Little Voice (@LittleVoiceLDN) runs at The Union Theatre (@TheUnionTheatre), Southwark from 4 to 26 June

My Fair Lady at St Paul’s Church in Covent Garden on Sunday 19 June

 

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John Schwab and Matt Humphrey, “It’s not often that you take time to think about the process of the production.”

 

Royal Court Theatre, Curtain Call, photo by Matt Humphrey

Linda, Royal Court Theatre. © Matt Humphrey – Curtain Call (2016).

Curtain Call: A Year Backstage in London Theatre is the first in a series of photography books by photographer Matt Humphrey and actor/director John Schwab featuring an extraordinary collection of fly-on-the-wall backstage photography from London theatre productions in 2015/16. Coinciding with the 40th anniversary of the Olivier Awards, in addition to exclusive backstage photography, Curtain Call also includes a foreword by renowned actor David Suchet and extended interviews with Chief Executive of The Old Vic Sally Greene, Artistic Director of the Royal Court Vicky Featherstone, casting director Jessica Ronane and actress Kate Fleetwood. The book is now exclusively available to buy from www.curtaincallonline.com

Tell us more about writing ‘Curtain Call’. Where did it come from?
John: Curtain Call was something I had a spark of an idea for when I was showing my sons some old programmes that I had from productions earlier in my career.  They asked if I had any real pictures from productions that I could show them, which I didn’t.  I realised that I also didn’t have any historical document other than the production photographs in those programmes as a testament to my career.  I thought this is something that needed to be addressed.  Theatre is such a visual medium, and there was nothing out there that could be seen once a production had closed.  I also wanted to make a website to service the same need and fill the same gap.  I approached photographer Matt Humphrey with the idea, and thankfully he was 100% up for doing it. It was serendipity that Matt had just finished documenting a year at The Hackney Empire. We started Curtain Call together and we haven’t looked back since.

Is this book for anybody or specifically a theatre audience?
John: I believe that this book is not only for a theatre audience, but also photography enthusiasts as well as anyone who is interested in what it takes to put any project together, be it a play, opera, film, radio show poetry event…you name it.  It envelops all corners of the art world. I think that anyone who enjoys aesthetically pleasing art would admire and get so much out of this book.

Gypsy, Savoy Theatre, photo by Matt Humphrey

Gypsy, Savoy Theatre

Gypsy, Savoy Theatre. © Matt Humphrey – Curtain Call (2016). (2)

How much do you think the general public care about backstage workers?
John: This is why I thought Curtain Call would be such a good idea.  It’s not often that you take time to think about the process of the production.  When we had our visit to “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, the company manager (Wyn Williams) told us that it takes over 150 people to make that show happen every day. 150!  Now an audience member is only going to see 25 or so people on stage and taking their bow.  I wanted to shed light on what it was like backstage – showing that there is more than just the performers on stage that is making the show tick.  I think that with Matt’s photography people are going to have a much better idea of the hard work, passion and dedication which runs through a company to make it the best production possible.  There is a fascination with what goes on backstage in any arena, and we wanted to shed light on the hard work carried out by all the professionals involved in a production

What is your favourite backstage area in the West End? 
John: There are quite a few.  The “hang out” area in ‘Billy Elliot’ was fun.  I do like a Green Room and there are some spectacular ones in the West End – and not for the glamour, but for the space.  The Vaudeville Theatre has a huge Green Room where everyone involved in the production hang out.  It’s such good fun being in there.  The Dressing Rooms 1 & 2 at Theatre Royal Haymarket are absolutely stunning, and something to behold.  But my favourite place of any backstage area is in the wings.  Some theatres have massive wings like Theatre Royal Drury Lane and some non-existent like The Criterion. They are all so unique, which makes them extremely exciting.

Curtain Call contains exclusive photographs, interviews and stories not available anywhere else. What sort of things can a casual reader expect to find?
John: The casual reader would expect to find exactly that.  Exclusive access to the best of London theatre and get an insight into what it takes to make a show run.  The reader will be allowed backstage, the holiest of holies of the theatre, a privilege that most theatre fans rarely get a glimpse of.  The casual reader will also recognise many of the faces and names in the book and will hopefully get a different perspective of that artist.

The 39 steps, Criterion Theatre, photo by Matt Humphrey

The 39 Steps, Criterion Theatre. © Matt Humphrey – Curtain Call (2016). (1)

Bearing in mind that obviously all photographers folk say “well I just do what I do” and so on, do you keep an eye on the movements of others you perceive to be your competitors?
Matt: Naturally I am interested in what other photographers are doing, and I would actually be very interested to collaborate with them – potentially through Curtain Call. I don’t really see other theatre photographers as competitors – we all have a distinct way of shooting and do different things. I have been fortunate to combine my experience of working backstage with my reportage and portraiture photography, which I think is quite unique, and people like that.

Thanks, lads! 

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Chris Sonnex, Royal Court: Is it possible to engineer social change using theatre as a medium?

Interview with  Chris Sonnex : Tottenham and Pimlico Residencies at The Royal Court

Theatre as a weapon of revolution

Chris Sonnex has come back from the jungle and is clearly unsettled. How did the Royal Court’s Community Producer come to be in Calais? When we meet, recent clashes between police and migrants have erupted, after authorities moved in to dismantle the part of the refugee camp known as The Jungle. I learn that Chris is working as an Associate Artist with Good Chance Theatre; a company at the heart of an international crisis.

“I walked into the office and Vicky [Featherstone] asked ‘Can you go out to The Jungle?’ It was a case of right place wrong time or wrong place right time, whichever way you look at it. However, it was the most incredible experience for me. As soon as I got there I realised that food and housing are their basic needs to live, but that it is the theatre that makes them feel alive.” Chris is a social activist and he clearly shows theatre to be a weapon of revolution.

Tottenham and Pimlico Residencies at the Royal Court

We discuss Tottenham and Pimlico a Beyond the Court residency project launched in 2015 in two dissimilar areas of London. He explains,“The work is similar to the National Theatre Scotland’s model; go into a community, find out what that community wants and create something for those people.”

The London postcodes were chosen specifically for social improvement within the locality of The Royal Court. “Tottenham was a place that was heavily on people’s minds because of the riots. In Pimlico it feels like there is less of a community. We set up a market stall and engaged with people who made five minute plays and offered workshops to those people. ”

Using drama and theatre to explore the personal and social issues

Is this work reactionary rather than radical? It seems the best kind of contemporary community theatre reflects the ruling-class control. There is a clear mission to use drama to explore the personal and social issues in Chris’s work. He demonstrates that theatre is political because it is a universal weapon. This holistic approach to participation draws on a range of disciplines including forum theatre, youth work and conflict resolution. This model is adaptable and progressive within diverse groups of people to create broader experiences. I wonder what facilitating opportunities such as these feel like. He laughs, “The best part of the job is the people. There’s always a danger that this work can be token-istic. We want to make quality work with a personal, social and political conscience.”

The work he describes appears wonderful, but I ask what the tangible outcomes are. Is the Royal Courts’ Tottenham and Pimlico project an add-on? Chris doesn’t think so. “First and foremost I see participant’s confidence and communication skills improve greatly, more broadly they find their voice about their lives and express a new found truth to power. But they also find each other, establish friendships: they come to know empowerment. We are the Royal Court of London; we should be reflecting what is going on in society.”

Group play-making and participation, critical to cultivating social change

For all the many utensils in the hands of those cultivating social change, whether community practitioners, teachers or outreach workers, one of the most vital elements is that of group play-making and participation. It is about building a community, where each member has equal rights and responsibilities. Sonnex has quietly grown in stature at his own pace, but it’s why being part of the company has been so invaluable. “Innovation and new voices are at the heart of what the Royal Court is for.” He adds, “For 3 weeks in July, Open Court will see thrilling new events, performances, talks and projects taking place throughout the theatre. It’s thrilling.”

What you start to sense is a theatre outreach programme not just giving a voice to its local community but a programme that is truly complimenting the bold work on its stages. Case in point, “I See You ” is presented as part of the International Playwrights: A Genesis Foundation Project. This work is not dealing with vague ideas; it is ambitious and rooted in a lived experience.

Note: It was 5 weeks ago that I did this interview with Chris Sonnex. Goodchance Theatre, which had  been the harbinger of joy and hope for the refugees at Calais for the last six months shut down last week. This was necessitated by the displacement and destruction of the community due to destruction of the camps at Calais by French authorities. You can read more details related to the closure below.
‘Influencing’ – How can the Arts make a difference in the world?

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Derby Theatre, Sarah Brigham Interview: “It’s vital that every young person is given access to high quality arts experiences and able to realise their own creativity.”

Sarah

Sarah Brigham  is Artistic Director and Chief Executive at Derby Theatre. Sarah is a powerhouse. Previously the Artistic Director at The Point, Eastleigh, and The Berry Theatre, where she  developed a unique programme of support for established and emerging artists. Amazing. 

We had a discussion about life in general and more. See below.
Hello! You are a hard-working person. If you were to draw a graph of the last ten years, how would it look?
Hello, that question made me smile – my graph is probably like everyone who works in the arts – pretty crazy most of the time but high on fulfilment and enjoyment and a high peak in feeling very lucky to do a job I am passionate about.

You are currently in Tech week for Look Back in Anger. What’s going on?
Well its an interesting tech week as we are actually in tech for 2 shows at once – yes we are mad – Its going to be a full on week!  Alongside Look Back in Anger we have commissioned a response piece from the female perspective.  Its called Jinny and its the third in our RETOLD series which sees us cracking opening the classics from the female perspective.  Whilst working on Look Back in Anger I began to wonder when do we ever hear the working class voice on stage now?  And when is that voice ever female. So we decided to commission another writer who has lived and worked in Derbyshire (as Osborne did) to bring this voice alive for 2016 – Jane Wainwright was born in Chesterfield and spent a research and development period meeting women aged 25 (Jimmy Porter’s age) across Derby asking them for their take on class, feminism, love, dreams, ambitions and what they were angry about now.  Interestingly many felt similar to Jimmy there was no an open door to a good job no matter how talented you were, they felt frustrated by the life plan they felt society still imposed onto them and they were frustrated that the voices they heard on their stages, in newspapers and in films didn’t represent their experience.  Jane has taken their wit, their fears, their ambitions and created a female Jimmy Porter for 2016.

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So right now we are in a lighting plotting session for both shows !  Lighting Designer Arnim Freiss is working wonders and Neil Irish’s set is looking fabulous.  We’ve built further into the auditorium than usual so I’m  constantly checking sight lines  as its changed the dynamic of the space in an exciting way.

Look Back in Anger induced a step-change in British Theatre didn’t it.
In many ways yes although sometimes this is overplayed a little as there was lots going on then ,  Waiting for Godot opened a year earlier for instance but you are right it is often heralded as the play which changed the face of British Theatre, it is studied by students of theatre across the UK, it helped put The Royal Court on the map and often the industry talks about plays prior to 1956 (the year the play premièred) and post as two distinct eras.

It certainly put on stage a voice which had not been heard before; the voice of the working man and he had a lot to say, heralding the movement of “angry young men”.  I don’t think we would be in the same theatre landscape if Look Back in Anger had never been produced.  Its a great play – full of complexities but great none the less.

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Brassed Off, Derby Theatre. 2015.

You’ve been a pioneer for artist development locally. What is the next corner to be turned?That’s very kind of you.  Gosh I’m not sure – there are lots of challenges ahead I think we all  know that – the latest settlement for ACE was great but its not a time to rest on our laurels – we need to keep making the case for the arts.  One area that really worries me is the destruction of arts in education.  It’s vital that every young person is given access to high quality arts experiences and able to realise their own creativity. At the moment that seems hugely under threat and if we don’t do something about it then we will be all the poorer not only in 20 years when we are looking for the next generation of artists but also straight away as our children and ultimately our society will suffer.

We also need to turn a corner on diversity – its not good enough that our creative leaders, our artists and our audiences don’t represent the world we live in.

On a more positive note there are so many exciting things happening in the industry at the moment – everyday I meet new artists, new companies who are making work in new ways and thinking about how to take new audiences on a journey so on that score I feel pretty chipper about our future.  I guess my role is to ensure those artists are nourished and supported.

Regional theatre appears to be in mighty shape. What are the biggest challenges to sustain this?
That’s so nice to hear as often the regions get treated like the naughty child and told they aren’t good enough.  Yes there is great work coming from the regions – I’ve had some of my best theatre experiences in Manchester, Edinburgh, and a small village hall in Leicestershire.  Of course funding is a challenge as always and the disparity of funding I think is an issue which needs solving.  Maxine Peake made a great speech recently where she pointed out that the (brilliant ) work she makes in Manchester is judged on the same platform as work from london which has three times the resources to rehearse and make the work.  I totally agree with her – give any director or theatre 3 times the funding and I’m pretty sure you’ll see bolder choices being made and a more consistent product produced.

There is disparity within the regions too. The Northern Powerhouse and the Midlands Engine idea is great but we need to remember the cities on the edges of that also.   Putting a show on in Derby costs the same as putting on a show in a big city although the distribution of funding doesn’t always recognise this. The smaller cities also often don’t have access to the same level of possible philanthropy or audiences.  Having said all of that I absolutely recognise that it would be mad to just drain London or the bigger cities, these are our jewels … It is a conundrum but one we need to crack.

What is your least favourite emoji?
I’m probably not cool enough to be able to answer this question but just looking at them on my phone now I’m not very keen on the angry one and there’s one with dollar signs in its eyes which looks vile!  generally my rule is if you’re really bothered by something say it to the persons face to face , don’t text it or Facebook it and if you daren’t say it directly then be quiet!

MONEY

And what else do you have coming up?
Lots of projects but immediate things I’m excited by are The Departure Lounge festival which will be held at Derby Theatre again this year in July – curated by Ruby Glaskin it allows us to turn our stage into a Glastonbury (we astro turf it and the audience sit on deck chairs and picnic blankets)  and we programme the most exciting work going up to Edinburgh.

I’m also excited about putting Look Back in Anger and Jinny in front of an audience – we open on Friday for 3 weeks then transfer to Bolton octagon.

To conclude, then, is there anything you would like to say to the people (plural) reading this?
Just if you work in the arts keep up the good fight and if you’re an audience member go to your local theatre today and see what’s on.

Thanks for chatting to me, Carl.

Byeeeeeeee, ducky!

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Brian Logan, Camden People’s Theatre Interview: “it seems the stars are aligning nicely for people who make performance in unexpected ways.”

Camden People’s Theatre is a performance space in a former pub, with a dynamic programme supporting new writing and innovative productions.

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I had a chat-slash-interview with Brian Logan, CTP’s Artistic Director.

Here’s how it unfolded…

Hello Brian. Camden’s People Theatre is very good isn’t it.
Hello Carl. Thanks for saying so. We try to be very good: I’m glad to hear you think we’re succeeding.

With the way the industry’s changing, do you worry about the future for unconventional theatre makers?
I don’t worry too much about the future of unconventional theatre-makers. I think today’s unconventional theatre-makers are tomorrow’s influential and often (by then) mainstream artists. I look around CPT at a generation of playful but dedicated innovators who’re more resourceful than my generation ever seemed to be, and they fill me mainly with hope. And delight.
I also think one of the most significant changes in the industry, or the culture, over the last decade has been the mainstream’s adoption of what used to feel like unconventional ways of doing things. The kind of leftfield, hyper-creative, non-hierarchical, bloody-minded theatre-making habits that CPT has always championed are now commonplace in organisations that used to be the sole preserve of, ahem, new writing and Oxbridge-educated directors. So to me it seems the stars are aligning nicely for people who make performance in unexpected ways.
I do worry, it’s true, about where in London these artists are going to live. I do worry about how they’ll support themselves – although we’re here to help with that in whatever way we can. But I also see plenty to be optimistic about.

Tell us about SPRINT Festival?
It’s London’s biggest and best established carnival of new and unusual theatre. It started in 1997 and this is its twentieth incarnation, which I think is pretty extraordinary. Unlike the other festivals we present at CPT, there’s no theme. It’s just a concentrated, adrenaline-charged shot of what we do year-round, which is support and present the most imaginative, provoking and unpredictable new theatre we can find, usually made by artists at the start of their careers, often engaged with critical questions about how we live now. The Sprint festival is always lively. It’s programmed as democratically as possible – we invite applications from as wide a range of artists as we can. Its shows burst out of our theatre space and into other nooks of our building, and beyond. Visit on any night and we hope you’ll leave with a quickened pulse and a vivid sense of what’s happening right now on theatre’s cutting edge.

As for this year’s Sprint in particular, it’s got a satisfying mix of CPT rookies, old friends, hard-hitting shows, playful diversions and lots else besides. We’ve got the award-winning Atresbandes with their new show Locus Amoenus, the cult Kings of England maverick Simon Bowes with Ding and Sich, and Conrad Murray – star of last year’s CPT hit No Milk for the Foxes – with his council estate-set hiphop theatre piece DenMarked. We’ve got the first ever performance of the winner of our inaugural People’s Theatre Award, Emily Lim and Gameshow’s Grown Up, we’ve got the five brand new projects emerging from our unique Starting Blocks artist support scheme and we have a whole new Sprint strand, called Freshers, showcasing new student and graduate work. So: it’s exciting, and way too sprawling to encapsulate here.

Joe Boylan and Gemma Rowan in This Is Private Property @ Camden People's Theatre. (Opening 15-01-16) ©Tristram Kenton 01/16 (3 Raveley Street, LONDON NW5 2HX TEL 0207 267 5550 Mob 07973 617 355)email: tristram@tristramkenton.com

Joe Boylan and Gemma Rowan in This Is Private Property

How would you describe your perspective on life?
I’ve never been asked nor ever considered an answer to that before. I think I have lots of different perspectives depending what aspect of life I’m currently engaging with. I hope I’m good-humoured, optimistic and egalitarian, but my family, colleagues and arch-enemies may well say otherwise.

Bloody hell. Your ambitious devised production ‘This Is Private Property’ was a bit of a fiasco. What are your thoughts on how it was received by critics?
I’m curious to know why you consider it a fiasco, Carl. Did you see it? It handsomely outstripped its box-office targets, engaged an audience who hadn’t been to CPT before, and – judging by our feedback forms and the cast’s conversations with those audiences – was very much appreciated by many of the people who saw it.

As for the reviews, I thought – as usual – that some of them were on the money, and with some of them, I strongly disagreed. Politically and in terms of their aesthetic assumptions. Obviously, we’d have loved everyone to like the show. But it wasn’t made to appeal to the cultural cognoscenti, it was made to engage with a wider audience, including those living at the sharp end of the housing crisis. Those are different constituencies with sometimes contrasting values and tastes. So – while nobody enjoys getting bad reviews – we were happy to get good reviews as well, and very pleased in general with how the production was received.

I didn’t see it sadly… What is your advice for emerging artists in their late 20s and early 30s?
It depends where they’re at in their career, what they’re working on, what kind of help (if any) they’re asking CPT for. We definitely don’t have a one-size-fits-all artist support thing happening here. Supporting artists is the most important thing we do here, and it’s very important to us that we tailor that support to what any given artist or company needs at a particular time.

What’s the best part of your job?
There’s lots that’s good about my job. Seeing great theatre (for free!). Being in a position to help super-smart and talented artists make their work – and being personally inspired & refreshed by their fearlessness and their new ways of seeing and doing things. Not having to travel at rush hour. Working with my fab colleagues Amber and Anna. The single best thing is the feeling of being at CPT on one of our buzzy festival nights, when the whole place crackles and hums with artists meeting audiences meeting artists, all having new conversations about significant things. And drinking, and feeling alive. It’s a thrill to feel that in some way we’ve helped make that happen.

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Is there anything that you’d like redacted?
D’you mean from the answers above? Nope. Publish and be damned.

Bye bye (!)

And that, ladies and gents, is where our chat ended.
Sprint Festival features adventurous theatre from across the UK and beyond and runs from Tuesday 2 – Saturday 26 March. 

 

 

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Labels, Joe Sellman-Leava Interview: “There needs to be greater diversity in the arts – in all senses of the word.”

Worklight Theatre’s award winning show, Labels is going on a UK Tour. The show draws on writer and performer, Joe Sellman-Leava’s mixed heritage to explore racism, immigration and displacement.

I had a chat with Joe. See below.

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What’s the point of this UK Tour of Labels?
We want to engage more people with the show and the discussions around it. The issues that it covers are, unfortunately, not going away any time soon, and we feel it’s important that people feel empowered to continue shaping the discussion

Which event in your life made you the person you are today?
It’s hard to pin down one event, but I had a few brilliant teachers in my late teens who challenged and encouraged me in equal measure. I would say this is where the passion and determination for the work I do comes from.

What are the consequences of trivialising racism?
The consequences are that people suffer. In some cases this might be bullying in school or at work, but in other extremes it can mean we see people as less than human, and then treat them as such.

What would you do if you were banned from making theatre?
I’d try to find other ways to ask similar questions, through writing, film or visual art.

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What’s wrong with the industry today?
It’s incredibly challenging for people in the early stages of their careers, and concerning that this may not change even as you become more experienced. I personally think there needs to be greater diversity in the arts – in all senses of the word.

Time and time again we are reminded that diversity is key to creativity. What more needs to be done?
Perhaps thinking about it in a more joined up way? Trying to use the arts as a way of engaging young people from diverse social, ethnic and financial backgrounds. Ensuring that people aren’t shut out from training opportunities because of their school or their parents income. Thinking about more ways for emerging artists to develop their skills and showcase their work. Thinking about ways regions and the UK as a whole can retain, rather than drain talent, as artists become more experienced. Thinking about the wider value of the arts and greater diversity within it; consider how all of these things link together.

Is there anything else we need to discuss?
No.

That’s that then. Ciao, Joe!

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New Diorama Theatre, David Byrne interview: “Everything we’re offering is directly set up to meet a need that our artists have.”

The New Diorama Theatre is an 80 seat theatre just off Regent’s Park in London. NDT is champion for the development and support of emerging and established theatre companies. The Artistic & Executive Director at New Diorama Theatre is a man named David Byrne.

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He has just launched an pioneering Artist Development Programme which includes a cash-fund that is funded by booking fees (currently 40p a ticket). The fund is aimed at companies that the theatre has previously worked with, and aims to help them take their work to festivals such as Edinburgh or larger venues around the UK. New Diorama Theatre is one of London’s best Theatres, we’re talking Grade A excellence; so well done NDT.

I had a chat with him about this exciting scheme…

What three things should every amazing artist development scheme have?
If a theatre or organisation is truly serious about artist development their programme should be:

a) Take the lion’s share of the risk away from the artists they are supporting. Too many organisations are risk averse while saying they are supporting theatre-makers who are, often literally, risking everything to make their art. Venues need to ask themselves – is this providing enough money and resource for these artists to make this work viable and can the artists pay themselves?

b) There are NPO theatres out there offering 50/50 box office splits with early-career groups – which they’re marketing as equal risk with their artists. It isn’t. These venues have funding and support that artists at the start of their career can only dream of. For an artist development programme to be really brilliant venues have got to stick their necks out.

Devising new ideas that really tackle problems – rather than just ‘artist development by numbers’. When we at New Diorama are looking at new ways we can support theatre companies, we start with the problems that we want to help overcome: identifying the hurdles our groups are facing time and time again. And then we find creative, new ways to help our theatre companies overcome these obstacles. Over the last year, I’ve read pretty much every Artist Development Programme in the whole country. And, on the whole, it was a pretty drab read. Most of packages boil down to a bit of free rehearsal space and a small opportunity to “scratch” work. Of course, theatre companies do need rehearsal space – but as an industry we need to be providing so much more.

While researching, I came across schemes aimed at start-ups in other industries and, wow, a lot of them offer whole comprehensive toolkits of support for entrepreneurial people starting up new ventures. Yet here in the creative industries, ironically, we seem to be low on new ideas. So to be really exceptional at artist development I think you’ve got to be listening to your theatre-makers and finding new ways to make their visions and ambitions a reality.

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c) Really clear what they’re actually developing artists for. When I’ve been touring the country and on my travels in London talking to other Artistic Directors and Artist Development Producers I always ask one question about their programmes: “what are you developing artists for?”

Once we knew our goal, everything else was clear. But it’s essential that these conversations be had. How else can you focus your attentions and resources? How else can you be sure what you want as an organisation for your artists actually matches the ambitions artists your working with? Surprisingly, there are many that seem to have no clear goal. To run a really effective programme you need to know what you’re endgame is. For example, at New Diorama, it’s about making each group sustainable and securing a long-term future for their work. So we work on their organisational skills which, when taught, will stay with them for a lifetime. We’re investing in leadership skills alongside helping with the artistic. We’re building audiences for each group – whose tickets sales will be the basis of their income for years to come.

Wow. Tell me more about the ND Artist Development programme. Where did it come from?
Our Artist Development programme has come from years of listening to the groups we support. All theatre companies are different – they make art in unique ways and they often have a intricate relationship with each other – so they all do things in their own ways. However, many of them find themselves facing the same problems. When you read through the offer we’re making to early-career theatre companies you’ll notice we always start by talking about the problem we’re overcoming. Everything we’re offering is directly set up to meet a need that our artists have.

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There are a few strands of work that aren’t just targeting at fixing things for our supported artists but are there to solve problems we have as an industry as a whole. For example our new Female leadership Fund and our 30 weeks of free BAMER rehearsal space is our contribution towards two of the big issues the arts is currently facing. But most of all, it came from the love of the work our supported companies produce. I feel like I’m both the Artistic Director of a venue championing these groups while also being their biggest fan. Everything we do to help them is selfish on my part – as I get to see more and more of their inspiring theatre.

Some people take issue with the fact that female artists speak words written by men. How do you feel about that?
Some of the best performances I’ve seen from female artists have been in production of Shakespeare and some of the best performances by men in plays by Caryl Churchill or Timberlake Wertenbaker or Lucy Prebble. I don’t think the argument holds water. It’s not who has written a play that matters – it’s what the characters are saying.

Do you think good theatre people should be following trends or trying to establish them?
Depends on the trend! There are movements in theatre, and it’s great when we, as an industry, come together to push in a certain direction to improve things and get things done. I wish it happened more. It’s also fun to create new ideas and be at the top of the agenda. The best people do both.

The commitment to emerging talent via Incoming Festival is extraordinary. It must have been planned months in advance.
Yes, it is. Working with Eleanor and Jake is one of the highlights of my year.
I love what INCOMING does for artists – paying them for their performances with a proper fee AND giving them half of their box office.
I love what the festival offers for audiences – with all tickets just £5 it means they can take a risk and they do: in previous years over 70% have never seen work by the company they booked for.
And for the for the sector as a whole – the free workshops are great, it has a truly nationwide programme – with many groups performing in London for the very first time – and a huge number of regional programmers and artistic directors come and see the work. It’s a chaotic, creative and wonderful ten days.

What’s the best emoji?
Is there a wizard one? That. Or the cheese one.

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What do you see at the moment, theatre wise, that excites you?
Right now I’m looking at the programme for 2016’s National Student Drama Festival. The last few years they’ve been really punching above their weight. I can’t wait to see what this years group do.
I’ve been standing back with pride at Rhum and Clay’s latest show, HARDBOILED, directed by Beth Flintoff that’s been performing at NDT to such enthusiastic audiences (and a great five star review in Time Out).

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Rhum and Clay, HARDBOILED

And I’m excited at not just delivering the Artist Development Programme we’ve just launched but growing it – we’ve already got ideas of how to make it even better and more exciting.

BYE DAVE. :-)

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Masterclass Launch ‘In Your Hands’ Campaign

Masterclass want you to write your passion/profession on your hand and upload it to Facebook/Twitter/Instagram using the hashtag #InYourHands

Right then. Here’s a Q&A with Josh Brown (Press and Marketing Manager at Masterclass and Theatre Royal Haymarket).
To kick things off I asked Josh some questions. Josh is good at talking about Masterclass’ place in the Theatre cosmos, and how the ‘industry’ works in 2016.

Here’s how the chat went.

Hello! What are you doing at the moment?

Well, it’s been pretty hectic. We’ve just launched our new In Your Hands campaign and have been redesigning all of our marketing material to fit in with the rebrand!

Please tell me a bit about the #InYourHands Campaign.

Creating career opportunities in theatre is challenging, but I think a far greater challenge is instilling the confidence and self-belief in young people to actually put themselves forward for such opportunities. In a nutshell, that’s exactly what Masterclass’ In Your Hands campaign aims to address. We want to empower emerging theatre makers and to foreground the diverse range of career routes available within the Arts.

HI YA! Josh Brown, ladies and gentlemen.

Whether you’re working as an Actor, Stage Manager, Journalist, Director, Technician, Producer, Reviewer, Marketer etc (the list is endless!), be proud of what you do and never shy away from an opportunity because you feel under qualified or intimidated by the sheer volume of other creatives out there. Instead, rest safely in the knowledge that everything you work to achieve, really is the future of our industry.

So basically you’ve rebranded Masterclass, launched a campaign and continue to schedule some brilliant schemes and opportunities for young people and it’s not even March?

Haha! Well the rebrand has been in the pipeline for about a year now and I think all of us knew we were going to hit the ground running for 2016! It’s a really exciting time to be involved with Masterclass. The whole team work incredibly hard to ensure that the programme can offer these unique opportunities to people aged 16 – 30. This year alone we’ve offered out 3 paid apprenticeships in Design, Directing and Stage Management to work on Breakfast at Tiffany’s and, as you say, we’re just launched a new campaign – It’s relentless! I love it.

Photo credit Alex Rumford

Do you feel that too much power in the industry is held by people with little to no taste in Theatre?

Well, I think that’s probably dependant on the definition of taste. There are some wonderfully original, thought-provoking pieces of theatre being created, particularly in fringe venues, and it’s just a case of shining a spotlight onto this work for a mainstream audience.  Ultimately, it’s the responsibility of those working in theatre today to empower and inspire emerging theatre makers of tomorrow. The future of our industry really is in their hands!

 And what else do you have coming up?

On Tuesday 9th Feb, we’ve got a Masterclass with Indhu Rubasingham, Artistic Director at the Tricycle Theatre, and she’ll focus on new writing, which should be really exciting! Then on 1st March we have Ruth Sheen coming in to work on characterisation and improvisation – again, another really exciting session to be involved with!

Indhu Rubasingham (above)

We also have some really big announcements and plans for later on in the year so make sure you keep an eye on our website across the next few weeks and sign up to our mailing list!

One thing is for sure, the future of Theatre is definitely safe in the hands of these people.

N.B. Please use a solvent free and non-toxic pen!