, ,

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.”

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.