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NT announces Madame Kalamazoo, magical daily stories for children

Earlier this year, children across the UK found themselves suddenly unable to go out or see their friends and family as the world went into lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Once in a blue moon something unexpected happens.

Around the same time, another very surprising thing took place: some children started getting a daily email, from a rarely seen storyteller called Madame Kalamazoo. These children report that the mysterious visitor from the Blue Moon knows their names, makes them laugh, and takes them on daily imaginative adventures. But best of all, she has a special way to connect her readers with other children stuck in their houses.   

 Starting from today,  Madame Kalamazoo’s Magical Mail  will now be available to children across the whole country; delivered via email by the National Theatre.

As National Theatre at Home concludes with the final streaming day of Amadeus (Thurs until 7pm) and school summer holidays start, the National Theatre is excited to be sharing Madame Kalamazoo’s Magical Mail for free from today.   

The special thing about these daily, interactive stories is that they are set in children’s own homes, and feature the children themselves as the main characters. If they choose to, children can go a step further than simply reading their magical mail and can contribute artwork to help move the stories along in an act of collective storytelling with other children across the country. 

Families already receiving Madame Kalamazoo’s Magical Mail love their daily stories and one parent said: “Madame Kalamazoo has been such a welcome distraction and breath of fresh air during lockdown. Every day my son wakes up asking if Madame Kalamazoo has sent a letter and he’s really thrilled when it arrives. Thank you, Madame Kalamazoo.”  

 Parents/ guardians can send a message to Madame Kalamazoo inviting her to write to their children at madamekalamazoo.com or can find out more by visiting nationaltheatre.org.uk. Madame Kalamazoo will start sending her Magical Mail the next day and will send 19 email stories in total. Parents can choose whether to receive stories from her daily or at weekends.

   

   

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Playground Theatre, Peter Tate Interview: “Established and emerging artists will always be free to come here and try out new ideas.”

Back in 2001 Playground Theatre, London was founded as a space for artists to explore creative ideas, without being a fully-fledged venue. After restoration, with a budget of £270,000, the Playground Theatre is opening as a venue with a seating capacity of up to 200 with a flexible stage. This new dynamic theatre is in Ladbroke Grove and just ten minutes from Latimer Road tube station and it was recently announced that the Playground has been nominated for Peter Brook/Royal Court Theatre Support Award 2017.

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Peter Tate in rehearsals.

Peter Tate, who originally found the space, is co-director alongside Anthony Biggs, former artistic director of the Jermyn Street Theatre. The Playground’s premiere production, Picasso, stars Tate. He has had an extensive career as both an actor and businessman. Previously seen regularly at the National Theatre in leading roles whilst, at the same time, running successful commercial businesses.

The softly spoken 66-year-old explains that everything is on track. “Rehearsals are going well – one never wants to say too much at this stage,” he says. “It’s coming together really well. We are currently in technical rehearsals – it’s fine –  the actresses are great. Fingers crossed.”

What are the biggest trials of realising this ambitious venture? “The biggest challenge – and it is completely self-imposed: opening a new venue and this production at *about* the same time,” he says, laughing. “The fit out of the theatre has converged with the opening of the venue. Whilst rehearsing for Picasso I have been involved in helping to create the theatre at the same time. So, it is all hands-on deck!”

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As an industry, it is a miserable time and it seems potent that the inaugural production focusses on the life of Pablo Picasso, arguably the greatest artist of the 20th century but one who has been characterised as a misogynist. Tate is all too aware of the timing whilst working with a female heavy cast. “We have this Harvey Weinstein thing coming out of the closet and of course Picasso had a reputation for that kind behaviour… We are not sanitising what it is but we are very conscious that the situation is happening. Some of the material is challenging but the cast and creative team are all committed and responsive.”

He is, though, justly proud of what he has achieved. “Although we had a lot of success with the projects we developed here, there were many projects that were worthy of going into the public arena were left on the shop floor,” he says, “so now we can get that work off the ground and in front of audiences.”

How is The Playground different from other off-west end spaces? “We are very artist driven – we are not producer driven. I really want this place to be a home for artists to come here to use the space and knock an idea around. We take a fairly unique place in the London scene; an unconditional approach to collaborating. The reason for this theatre really is to create a place without pre-judgement and nowhere really has this ethos.”

The Playground will seek no charitable or government funding: investors paid for the building and initial production costs, but from now on it is meant to run on its revenues. Tate has a firm handle on proceedings. “Obviously now there is a huge amount of money going out now,” he admits, “there are five potential income streams’ and one of the aims is to be absolutely self-sufficient. We have a vibrant café bar, ticket sales, space rentals, one-off events that we are pushing and we will eventually have classical music concerts and a cinema.”

What sets this venture apart is the inclusive and ambitious plans for artist development, theatrical experiment and how deeply it’s plans are rooted in the local community. “I’d love the word to be out there that we are establishing this as a home for artists,” says Tate.

“There is a sense of home here. I’d like to say established and emerging artists will always be free to come and try out new ideas here.”

Picasso runs at The Playground from 5 November to 25 November, with previews from 1 November.

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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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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!