John Schwab and Matt Humphrey, “It’s not often that you take time to think about the process of the production.”
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I had any real pictures from productions that I could show them, which I didn’t. I realised that I also didn’t have any historical document other than the production photographs in those programmes as a testament to my career.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. © 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. © 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.