RTST, Anthony Almeida: “The work has got to cost and it has got to matter to me.”

Anthony Almeida has won the 2019 Royal Theatrical Support Trust (RTST) Sir Peter Hall Director Award, which will see him helm a full-scale production at Curve in Leicester.

The accolade is open to anyone making the transition from smaller stages into larger-scale productions with a grant of £50,000 being applied towards costs of staging the Production.

This RTST promotes theatre nationally – in the regions beyond London and is presented to an up-and-coming director who demonstrates exceptional directing skills in a competitive process. Almeida’s chosen show will open next year at Curve, and will subsequently tour the UK as a co-production with the Rose Theatre Kingston and English Touring Theatre.

We are huddled at a table at Shakespeare’s Globe, London. Upstairs, theatrical royalty Vanessa Redgrave and Sir Ian McKellen are hosting a reception for invited guests and industry figures. Almeida, 32, finds it difficult to talk about himself, although he engages generously, he is visibly nervous. This is his first interview.

Sir Geoffrey Cass & RTST 2019 Sir Peter Hall Director Award winner Anthony Almeida

Sir Geoffrey Cass & RTST 2019 Sir Peter Hall Director Award winner Anthony Almeida

So, we talk about his shiny black outfit: “Ha! Wearing all black is about escaping I suppose– the reason I direct is so people can look at other stuff and not me,” he explains.

“I feel excited. I feel ready. It seems like it’s taken a long time to get here because I’ve only ever done the jobs that I want to do, as opposed to work that I feel that I have to do. As a director, first you’re referred to as emerging then you are called fledgling and then you are called up and coming. Now, though, I’m ready to go.”

Has it sunk in? “Yeah. I just feel ready,” he says. “The process was so demanding; This year’s selection panel included Curve’s Nikolai Foster, RSC deputy director Erica Whyman, designer Grace Smart and director Lindsay Posner. There was a written application, a workshop that involved me directing a scene with actors and then a long formal interview. It was like being on The Apprentice,” he says, laughing.

Who did he share his award win news with first? “I rang my dad. He didn’t say anything, he cried. My parents have always been tremendously supportive. I don’t come from any theatre stock; It’s a privilege to be here tonight.”

He continues: “I’m a Bristol boy, but it is interesting this distinction between theatre and regional theatre; it’s just theatre isn’t it? But when it is talked about it isn’t about geography, it is what is London theatre and what is non-London theatre.”

So how might a director in Shetland achieve that goal of making work on minimal resources? For Almeida, it has to do with fostering the balance between making interesting work and exploring the civic responsibility of theatre. His work to date has been all about “community focussed work,” whether that be in pupil referral units, working with people experiencing homelessness or in refugee’s detention centres. He adds: “The work has got to cost and it has got to matter to me. This kind of work isn’t additional – for me it is the work, that’s why I do this” states Almeida with admirable, if idealistic, conviction.

I ask which theatre directors inspire him most. “I would say Amit Lahav, Ivo Van Hove and Sally Cookson,” he says. “Sally is all about the work and the art and it’s her work that has taken her on the journey. Her work is completely joyful. Ivo for his dramaturgical rigour but how theatre is about ideas. And Gecko Theatre’s work is visceral and his sculpting of image and body in space just gets my pulse racing.”

How will he know he’s achieved what he wanted to? “Two things – that people leave the theatre and that they keep the conversation going and reconnect as a result of watching the play and long-term success would be that I’m still working, Carl, and that we are still having a conversation about it,” says Almeida.

Almeida sums up his advice for any up and coming theatre director. “I’d say find your tribe,” he says, “they might not be on your doorstep but go out and find like-minded people – people have said to me in the past: if you like it –  do it  – you’ll find a way, but it doesn’t quite work like that. That’s why opportunities like today are so vital.”

Nancy Medina: “There is something emotionally sad about the arts world not embracing more representative stories, because it would be a lot less rich without them.”

It is 2.30pm and today is all about Brookyn born director Nancy Medina. “I am thinking: what am I doing here? How did this happen?” she declares, laughing.

We are talking at Shakespeare’s Globe ahead of an industry reception where Medina will be presented with the Royal Theatrical Support Trust Sir Peter Hall Director Award. “A few years ago I co-directed a scene for The Sam Wanamaker Festival and I shared a photo online with the caption: ‘From the South Side to the South Bank – this Brooklyn girl has come far,” she beams.

Is she nervous? “I feel really positive and I’m very grateful, this is all very surreal,” says Medina. Her breakthrough into mid-scale regional touring theatre directing is a real cause for celebration. She is a director of colour, a parent and a woman in her thirties.

Nancy Medina in rehearsals)

Nancy Medina in rehearsals

In 2017 Nancy won the Genesis Future Director Award at the Young Vic, she has spent fifteen years on “the fringe of NY and UK”. She has lived in the UK for 10 years and says that making her mark as a director, has been, at times, an “up-hill battle”. She explains, “I was new in the theatrical landscape and it took time to find where I fit in to that. I was trying to figure out how the stories I find most meaningful can also be meaningful to audiences here,” she says.

On the subject of diversity she prefers the word “representative,” she says that she does see progress but thinks it is slow. “One of the things that we as artists struggle with is that we are trying to make meaningful work but we don’t often get that larger space for wider audiences to see it,” says Medina.

“Most stories I love tend to be universal. If you want to increase audiences and establish new audiences then you have to start showing people themselves on stage. If you want to inspire more representation across the board, you must allow space for that.”

Sir Trevor Nunn, Nancy Medina, RTST Chair Geoffrey Cass and Mark Hawes

Sir Trevor Nunn, Nancy Medina, RTST Chair Geoffrey Cass and Mark Hawes

I ask if she has ever compared her career to any of her peers. “I try not to compare myself to others, I do sympathise with directors that feel stuck. I myself have often felt that way. You have to come back to exactly why you do what you do – and the reason I do what I do is because the stories that I put on stage are everyday people – because their lives matter and because my life matters.”

How did she stay positive when she hit brick walls? “I would say: don’t worry about all that and keep going. If I don’t fit into this scene maybe the scene will fit in with me. Keep choosing the right text and collaborators, it has to be the right project for you,” Medina reasons.

We discuss further inequalities within theatre, such as gender and race and what is programmed, the size of that space and where it is produced. She says: “There is that word ‘risk’ that gets thrown around quite a lot, but there is something scary and emotionally sad about the arts world not embracing more representative stories because it would be a lot less rich without them.”

On that point, Nancy adds that it is a unique opportunity to premiere August Wilson’s Pulitzer-Prize nominated Two Trains Running for Royal and Derngate and English Touring Theatre. The play is set in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania and explores changing perspectives on race. The production will tour to theatres across the UK.

 Two Trains Running – a co-production for Royal and Derngate and English Touring Theatre will run in 2019.