Interview Michal Keyamo on Junkyard: ‘It’s about the forgotten youth that society deems unreachable.’

The Jerwood Assistant Directors Programme is a development opportunity for six artistic directors per year from the Genesis Network. It offers an extended placement at Young Vic in the form of a paid direction role on a major Young Vic production. Michal Keyamo is one of six 2016/17 Directors. Wonderful.

Junk playgrounds used to have vast drops, dangerous rope swings and were always burning. Junkyard is a musical about these anarchic locations and the young people who created them.

Featuring a score by Academy Award-winning composer Stephen Warbeck (Shakespeare in Love, Wolf Hall, Jerusalem), this brilliantly honest and witty new musical from BAFTA Award-winning writer Jack Thorne (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, This is England ‘90) and Evening Standard Award-winning director Jeremy Herrin (Wolf Hall, People, Places and Things, This House) is a coming-of-age story about friendship and standing up for what matters, apparently.

So, I had a lovely chat with Junkyard’s Assistant Director: Michal Keyamo.

Here is how our chat went.

Michal Keyamo

Michal Keyamo

Michal! How would you describe your perspective on life?
That’s a tough question if i’m honest, I’m still trying to figure it out! I guess where I’m at now I would say that life is what you make it. It can be the most exciting, challenging, stretching experience or it can be a dull, doubtful chore. I think that if life throws tomatoes, lemons, glitter! at you, it’s up to you to make tomato soup, lemonade and a glittered crown, or not. I’m the boss of my own life.

Junkyard kicks off  at Bristol Old Vic very soon. How are you feeling — excited, sick, something else?
These past few weeks have flown by I haven’t had a moment to catch my breath properly but you’re right Junkyard will be kicking off soon. Right now I’d say I’m quite calm but I know my heart will be beating hard before the first preview.

You were on the Jerwood Assistant Directors Programme on Blue/Orange. How beneficial was that scheme for you as an emerging Director?
I can’t sing the Young Vics praises enough. Such a terrific theatre who put a lot of hard work into emerging directors and also people who have an interest in directing but aren’t sure where to start. I actually started with a two – week introduction to directing course to get a flavour of what the directing lark in a professional setting was all about, although I had done small bits before and freestyled everything. I then went on to do the Boris Karloff trainee assistant director programme which was an opportunity to observe a full rehearsal process, attend production and creative meetings and shadow the assistant director. I observed Carrie Cracknell and Lucy Guerin on their production of Macbeth and it was so useful and gave me the confidence to apply for the Jerwood assistant directors programme. It‘s such a great programme. As well as assisting on Blue/Orange, I also directed a short piece written by Roy Williams in the Clare with four other Jerwood assistant directors, went on a weekend trip to Berlin to experience theatre over there and meet with people in various theatres, I will also lead two peer led workshops and spend two weeks at the Young Vic to see how the building is run. It’s such a fantastic programme being able to work professionally with the support and guidance of the Young Vic.

Junkyard Company at the Vench

Junkyard Company at the Vench © Jon Craig

Can you describe Junkyard for people who haven’t heard it?
It’s a story about a building of a community of young people through the building of a playground. It’s about inclusion and acceptance. It’s about the forgotten youth that society deems unreachable and too problematic to deal with and giving them a chance to be seen and celebrated. It also gives a platform to the Adventure Playground Movement which is struggling right now and needs support and a lot of love..There’s also lots of music and humour, who doesn’t like a joke and a singsong?

What was the last play you saw?
The last play I saw was Wishlist at the Royal Court directed by Matthew Xia who also directed Blue/Orange. Had to go and support!

What are the worst parts of being an assistant director?
We’re getting saucy now! Lol. Um, I’d say not having full creative control can sometimes be hard when I have a completely different idea for a moment/scene that doesn’t match up to the director’s vision. I just want to say “do it like this!” but I can’t. I’m there to mould my ideas to support the director’s goals for the piece – I think that this is an essential part of the role which does take a lot of practice. I think another part that, isn’t necessarily bad but can be exhausting, is trying to establish yourself in the room as the Assistant Director. We all want to be respected in the workplace and to feel like an essential part of the team so sometimes I put pressure on myself to deliver amazing ideas and have all the answers which I don’t always have.

Junkyard - Rehearsal

Junkyard – Rehearsal © Manuel Harlan

What are the best parts of being an assistant director?
On a professional level, successfully building a good working relationship with the director and getting into a good flow where ideas are bouncing, and you feel that the trust is growing more and more – that’s amazing. Also, seeing a director happy and confident with their work and knowing that I’ve contributed to that is very satisfying. On a personal level, I’d say learning new skills and absorbing different ways of approaching a text, communicating with actors, how to inject positive energy into a rehearsal room – I get all this for free. I definitely see the role as an apprenticeship of sorts and I’ve taken so much into my own practice as a director.

Being completely honest, has there been any point in the last two years establishing yourself as a director when you’ve thought, “this isn’t working – let’s not do it”?
Absolutely. When I don’t have anything lined up or don’t know what I should be doing next the doubts definitely start creeping in. I’m still searching for the perfect piece to debut my first full length and the more time passes the more I think “Michal, just stop” but maybe that’s where I’m going wrong. Just jump.

If you were to write a Director’s rulebook, what would Rule One be?
Have fun.

Does Jack Thorne make a good cup of tea?
I haven’t sampled unfortunately but if his tea is as good as his writing then we’re onto something…

Is there anything that you’d like to add?
Come to see Junkyard and watch us play! 🙂

More details about Junkyard:

Junkyard is at Bristol Old Vic24 February-18 March; Theatr Clwyd, Mold, 29 March-15 April; The Rose, Kingston, 19-30 April

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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.