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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