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Theatre on the fly popping up in Chichester

Posted on 29 June 2012 by Eleanor Turney

Kim Pearce, 26, is Trainee Director (Regional Young Directors’ Scheme) at Chichester Festival Theatre. She is also Associate Director of Chichester’s Theatre On The Fly, a new pop-up, community-based theatre, which aims to engage the young people of Chichester. She tells AYT’s Eleanor Turney about her career to date, and her plans for the future…

Tell me a bit about yourself. What have you been up to since graduating from Warwick?

After graduating from a very experimental and lab-based Theatre and Performance course, I spent a brilliant year finding my feet by making various shows and assisting on site-responsive work . It was an interesting time around Warwick – exciting young companies such as Curious Directive were coming together (they voted for their name in my house, I’ve got the piece of paper somewhere!). I then took the Birkbeck Theatre Directing MFA, and straight after that won a Regional Young Directors’ Scheme residency at Chichester Festival Theatre.

What’s been the highpoint of your career so far?

Just now, Theatre On The Fly is occupying all my mind and so I’m going to call that the high point, although I’ve assisted on some really special shows. Having been a part of work like that will always be important to me – anyone who saw Con O’Neill’s astonishing performance as Eddie in A View From The Bridge at the Manchester Royal Exchange will know what I mean.

What advice would you give to other young directors starting out?

Craft/Art – don’t neglect either. Never stop reading, even when you get frantically busy with the delivery of a project. If you make sure you keep reading things which aren’t about the project when you can, then six months later when you emerge, you are less likely to be running on empty.

The Birkbeck MFA taught me that you will learn from your peers as much as you will from mentors. Develop a group of other young directors that trust you and can talk to you about your experiences. The great thing is that if they help you, you can help them in return – it’s a basic exchange that seems to keep the profession alive.

Lastly, I’ve been told by someone who has seen a lot of young directors come and go that very few of us know how to behave in an office – lack of etiquette. So those office temp jobs do pay off.

Tell me about the opportunities that Chichester has offered you.

I just stood outside and got a bit emotional as I listened to applause from the first audience enjoying a show in a theatre I’ve had a hand in creating – that’s an opportunity to cherish! The training Chichester offers is primarily about artistic direction, and being involved in the life cycle of a pop-up regional producing venue has been a remarkable experience. I’ve made suggestions and seen them come into effect on a large scale. I’ve been allowed to take risks, for example commissioning an audio play entitled Here. It will be running as part of the Theatre On The Fly season. It’s about the iconic architecture of the Festival Theatre, and allows people to explore the structures on site from a new perspective. Explaining the kind of show where the audience walk around wearing headphones to a regular CFT theatregoer is like talking a foreign language. However, once you get past that initial barrier, they are up for anything – it’s a characteristic that got the Festival Theatre built by public subscription in the first place.

I’ve had also some incredible assists – Jonathan Kent on Sweeney Todd, Rachel Kavanaugh on The Way of the World, and I was associate to the legendary Dale Rooks on her huge Youth Theatre production of The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe.

I’ve had the chance to be one of their young Turks – along with the Co-Artistic Directors Anna Ledwich, Michael Oakley and Tim Hoare and our Associate Producer, Holly Reiss. We get to stand on our temporary, site-responsive theatre and lure audiences from the interval of Trevor Nunn’s Kiss Me, Kate over to have a look. It’s fun to be the young pretenders on the fringe. Of course, in actual fact the support from everyone across the CFT organisation and the season’s productions has been overwhelming – from the inception of the project to appearing in our Sunday play readings to Trevor giving us a shout out on the radio.

And tell me about the pop-up theatre – how does it work? What do you hope it will achieve?

It’s exciting because Theatre on the Fly is something which very rarely happens. Back in the ’80s, Chichester had a brilliant and spontaneous Tent Theatre, where young talents such as Sam Mendes (who was 25) got a first break. The days of institutions trusting such promising young directors seem long past, but Jonathan Church has allowed us learn our craft as mini artistic directors, who not only have to run our own building but had to build it in the first place! And the promotion of emerging young talent goes right through the project – the stage, light and sound designers all represent a new generation of practitioners.

It’s no less exciting as a feat of engineering – our architects are Assemble, an award-winning young design-and-build collective responsible for the amazing temporary arts spaces The Cineroleum and Folly for a Flyover. Its ethos is unique, equally committed to breath-taking design, community participation and recyclable materials. It has created a temporary theatre which can do far more than a permanent one – it can open itself to the surrounding park or enclose you in new worlds, and it boasts an exposed fly tower revealing the beautiful motion of hemp ropes and counterweights. The volunteer input has been extraordinary; the amazing thing about CFT has always been the community buy-in, but this has been exceptional. We’ve had at least 50 people, some young, some retired, families, loyal theatre-goers and people who’ve never heard of us, all learning some simple skills and making a theatre rise out of nothing. And it’s been a joy to see bits of old theatres – whether it’s old seats from Oldham or sets from London – get reinvented to build our own.

Of course, that’s all before you even look at what’s going to happen inside! The three main plays represent Chichester debuts for three really exciting young directors, who have very different tastes. First up is Blue Remembered Hills, which has just started previewing. It’s about a group of children in the West Country during WW2, and Anna Ledwich has directed it to use the new space in such an inventive and immersive way that you can’t help thinking we built the theatre for the show! Playhouse Creatures, directed by Michael Oakley, is set to turn the space into something very different – a more enclosed, bawdy Restoration space, and we’ll transform again when we premiere Penelope Skinner’s new play Fred’s Diner, directed by Tim Hoare. Excitingly, all three are choices which would not usually be programmed in permanent theatres, and each is aimed at introducing a slightly younger audience to CFT.

So what’s next for the young people of Chichester?

Taking ownership of this space, whether that is through performing in it, having work read in it, dancing at the silent disco in the auditorium or coming to our productions and events. Whilst we hope that Theatre On The Fly is something the regular CFT audiences feel they can embrace, we have our eyes set on this being a theatre that a younger audience feel they own.

And what’s next for you?

Directing! I’ve got a while yet to go at Chichester, but a Theatre On The Fly-scale project is quite a straightforward operation once you get it figured. It’s a pattern you can take anywhere, and adapt to fit the mood and character of the place you are. My beloved(ly troubled) home town Luton is undergoing regeneration and I’ve always wanted to revive the fortunes of the cavernous art deco cinema in the centre of town…

Blue Remembered Hills, Playhouse Creatures and Fred’s Diner will be at Theatre on the Fly, Evenings 8pm, Matinees 3pm until 2 September. Tickets £17, with concessions and day seats available. To book online, go to www.cft.org.uk/totf or contact the Box Office on 01243 781312.

Image credit: Chichester Festival Theatre’s Theatre on the Fly

Eleanor Turney

Eleanor Turney

Eleanor Turney is the Managing Editor of A Younger Theatre, as well as a freelance journalist, writer and editor. She has written for The Guardian, The Stage, The FT and Ideas Tap, and worked for the Poetry Society and the British Council.

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