Artistic Directors Bethany Hitchcock and Pascale Kasirabo took the reins of this student company less than a year ago. After In A Nutshell Theatre founders Haydn Evans and Dominique Chapman left to study in America for a year, Hitchcock and Kasirabo were handpicked to take over the roles. Still brimming with the desire to expand the company’s dream a couple of terms after taking charge, they reflect on the progress the company’s making.
So, in a nutshell, what’s the ethos? “In A Nutshell sets out to give every student an opportunity to be involved in drama, regardless of his or her degree”. Both Hitchcock and Kasirabo noticed that non-drama students rarely venture into the world of theatre productions at university. Aware that they were potentially surrounded by budding talents in the history department or physics labs, they sought to change this. Hitchcock describes their aim as a group: “it’s about finding new talent and giving people who might not necessarily have the opportunity normally, a chance”. They do this by mixing things up for every new show: “we have a new director, a new production team and new actors” who bring their own unique and distinct creative interpretation.
Supporting and cultivating individual ideas is certainly admirable, but is it hard to have a unified identity as a company? Not with Hitchcock and Kasirabo keeping a firm hold on the direction of In A Nutshell. They choose a number of plays to produce along a certain themes and then select their individual production companies for each performance run. Just recently they’ve completed a term of Irish playwrights’ work, firstly holding auditions for the director post and between them choosing the director with the most exciting vision for each show. Chosen directors then audition for their actors and technical teams. “This system gives all students the chance to experience a professional theatrical atmosphere, while still studying for their degree,” Hitchcock and Kasirabo observe. And with no bias towards arts students, being involved is simply down to enthusiasm, excitement and vision.
This is a style that keeps the company continuously diverse, growing with and shaping its identity from the influences of those who partake in its projects. However, the real challenge comes when its artistic directors graduate. Kasirabo tells me that when this happens in the next year or so, “the goal is to split the company into two parts, moving one to London and the other staying in Canterbury. The London branch will then attack the Fringe.”
There’s a clear mission here, but one not without its challenges as they seek to establish the company in two locations and break with the traditions that have made the company strong. Hitchcock explains, “there has been a ‘Nutshell family’ develop over the past few months: people from different shows helping each other’s performances out”. Splitting this family up doesn’t necessarily mean losing out. The company is built on the foundation that giving students an opportunity to be artistically creative will repay with great productions but also great contacts for the future.
The longterm aim is to have “past students affiliated with Nutshell, who are working in the arts in London, to be part of a professional production through In A Nutshell Theatre, whether acting, directing or on the tech team”. The London branch of the company would act like “a conveyor belt, using graduates – mainly those who appear in the ‘Nutshell family’ – to take the lead in professional productions”. In A Nutshell has amassed a collective assembly of creative individuals who are key to the company’s success and would-be continual success post graduation.
Hitchcock and Kasirabo are well aware of how competitive the theatrical world is, but putting plans for the future in action now seems to be the best way to ensure the continued life of this particular student company. Of course, the true test of the company’s skill and creativity is only just beginning and for now, they’re enjoying student life as they embark on a spring season of sex, siblings and the self, kicking off with a production of Closer by Patrick Marber. Operation attack-the-Fringe? That remains to be seen…
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Image credit: In A Nutshell Theatre