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Tag Archive | "West End"

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Feature: Stage One – Funding the future producers

Posted on 08 April 2014 by Harriet Stevens

Stage OneLast month, Stage One, a charity funding body that supports the work of emerging theatre producers, announced the latest recipients of its £50,000 and £25,000 Start-Up Investment Fund.

Stephen McGill and David Hutchinson were the winners (respectively), and these sums will be used for the upcoming productions of The Pyjama Game (West End transfer, co-produced by McGill) and Avenue Q (UK tour, co-produced by Hutchinson).

As, for me at least, the role of the producer is a little elusive, I wanted to find out more about the role in general, what drove McGill and Hutchinson towards a career in producing and how they got to where they are today.

McGill explains his perception of the role of the producer: “I suppose the general perception is of the cigar smoking, Dom-drinking West End Producer – who I follow on Twitter and is hilarious! – but in reality, the producer is responsible for most aspects of a production, from the administrative side (which includes budgeting, financing, negotiating contracts, marketing and press of the production) to the creative side (collaborating with writers, directors, actors, musicians, stage management and technical crew), to create a show which hopefully everyone is proud to be part of.”

For Hutchinson, “essentially the producer brings everyone together. It’s their original idea and they conceive of how it could all work as a whole production. They’re the risk taker. They have to have the belief from the beginning.” Hutchinson explains how “risk is a big word in theatre at the moment. I hear it at conferences and in arts discussions all the time.” Hutchinson describes the types of risks that producer is taking as being both financial and creative, as not only are they playing with huge amounts of money but “it only takes one flop to put theatres off your work; one bad show, one project that is under par…” As Hutchinson will be using his Stage One funding to finance a regional tour of the puppetry musical Avenue Q he tells me how, particularly in recent years, there is even more risk associated with regional theatre: “Regional theatre is in crisis. The only way we can rebuild it is with funding people [like Stage One] who are taking these kind of risks”.

Both McGill and Hutchinson agree that the funding provided by Stage One is a vital support network for emerging or early-career theatre producers, and both are thrilled to have received the funding for their individual projects. McGill tells me that “Stage One has been crucial to my development as a producer. As well as nurturing and developing my skills through the New Producers Workshops, the advice and support of established producers is there to ensure the next generation can come through and hopefully continue the success.” And it would appear that Hutchinson is also grateful to Stage One for more than just the financial support as he explains how, aside from the monetary boost, Stage One adds a level of credibility to the project which Hutchinson calls the, “second wave” of securing funding, where the backing of Stage One “really makes everything more concrete as now, as we’re applying for more funding, we already have the cast and have started with rehearsals, as well as having secured some tour dates”.

Although both are now well stuck into their producinf careers, neither McGill nor Hutchinson came to the world of performing arts with this intention, as both initially trained as actors. McGill explains how he came to producing when, “during a particularly long ‘dry spell’ between acting work I was fortunate to work as a production assistant on the transfer of Jersey Boys into the West End. It was so exciting being part of a big production from the first rehearsal – which was my first day on the job – through to previews, opening night and beyond. I learned a huge amount in regards to the work that goes on behind the scenes to get such a big musical on stage and it was as rewarding, if not more so, to be part of the production side of the show.”

Hutchinson tells me how, whilst he was training at LIPA, “we had what they called ‘management classes,’ and they were the first lesson the morning after the weekly ‘£1-double-vodka-red-bull student night’ and everyone would sit there, head in hands, but I was completely fascinated. I graduated knowing that I wanted to produce. But I consider the actor training as a tool. I think it’s important to know how to talk to other creatives and I know that I can speak to actors on a level. It’s a tough career and I respect that; I don’t think that some producers have that understanding.”

Hutchinson believes that the best way to learn is by doing things yourself and that, specifically with a producer, this comes from initially working on small scale or fringe shows where, due to budgeting, there really is no choice other than to take on a vast number of different production roles. But all this experience will eventually pay of as, as Hutchinson puts it, “you realise after doing all of these things yourself that you need to build a team where you can find someone who specialised in all these different areas, but then when you are working on this kind of larger-scale production and you need to speak to a technician and want to use the right vocab, or you’re asking someone to design a lighting plot, you can – because you’ve done it before.”

Hutchinson assures me, however, that even further up the career ladder, the job of the producer isn’t necessarily all glitz and glamour, and those intending to shoot for a career in producing should be prepared for a difficult journey. “We all want to dive in straight at the West End, but you have to start small and then you can up-scale. It’s a real slog. I’ve had five years of battling ‘no’s. I’ve been driving vans down motorways at midnight, washing and ironing costumes because the stage manager’s off sick, so don’t think it’s going to be glamorous!”

But it seems that at the end of the blood, sweat and tears that a producer has to put into realising that initial vision that they had for a show, all the work can pay off when the show is performed to an audience, as McGill expressed: “for me, the best part is seeing the production you’ve worked on for months – or maybe years – on stage in front of an audience for the first time. I love the journey a show takes from page to stage and it’s so exciting to finally be able to share it with an audience.

 

Stage One supports new theatre producers with industry-led training workshops, bursaries, apprenticeships, start-Up investment, mentoring and advice. For more information see the Stage One website.

Harriet Stevens

Harriet Stevens

Harriet is an applied theatre practitioner working with young people in London, and a recent MA graduate of Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. She is hugely passionate about theatre and live arts, and spends much of her free time seeing as much theatre as possible.

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Review: Once, Phoenix Theatre

Posted on 06 April 2014 by Ruby-isla Cera-Marle

Once Musical

A chance encounter wherein a young Czech girl asks an dejected Irish busker to fix her broken hoover seems like an unlikely starting point for a love story, let alone a musical. Surprisingly this is the premise of Glen Hansard’s multi-award winning musical Once, now with Arthur Darvill reprising his Broadway role as the male lead who is known simply as ‘Guy’, taking to the stage alongside the original ‘Girl’ – Croatian-born Zrinka Cvitešić. United by a mutual passion for making beautiful music, these kindred spirits go on a tender journey as they both discover what it means truly to embrace life and live in the moment.

In a year that has been increasingly tough for new musicals to stay open, Once has bucked this trend and is even extending its run until July 2015. With such a hit on their hands, finding a new cast that could live up to the calibre of their predecessors was critical. I’m pleased to be able to say that the new recruits certainly have risen to the occasion. No doubt this is largely thanks to the onstage chemistry between Cvitešić and Darvill, which is truly electric. As the Girl, Cvitešić buoyantly coaxes a reluctant Guy to believe in himself by following his dream of forging a career in the music industry. Although the Girl tries to encourage the Guy to leave her behind and try to win back his former lover in New York, the Guy and the Girl are of course the true couple that the audience are willing to be together. In these nameless figures, playwright Enda Walsh has created well-rounded characters that the audience can invest in emotionally, a factor that is all too often glossed over in musical theatre.

In many ways it is easy to forget that you are watching a musical as the creative team behind Once have stripped back many of the traditional conventions associated with musical theatre: impressive jazz hand-filled dance numbers have been replaced with pedestrianised naturalistic movement. Instead of an orchestra pit the actors sit around the edge of the stage throughout the piece, strumming guitars, mandolins and cellos as they provide their own musical accompaniments. The cast of talented actor-musicians fuse the two media brilliantly. This minimalistic approach to the art form is perhaps most effective during Darvill’s rendition of ‘Falling Slowly’, as his raw and heartfelt delivery feels more like you’re listening to an intimate acoustic gig than watching a show in the heart of the West End. Perhaps it is more appropriate to refer to Once as a play that just happens to have haunting melodies woven into the narrative.

It felt only fitting to reward the captivating cast of Once with a standing ovation – for me it certainly ranks as one of the best musicals that I have had the pleasure of seeing. This stellar piece of theatre distances itself from many of the archetypal features associated with the genre and therein lies its charm. I have a sneaking suspicion that even the most reluctant of musical theatre-goers would enjoy Once, a theory that I plan to test out very soon. After all, it would be a crime to see it just the once.

Once is currently playing at the Phoenix Theatre until July 2015. Arthur Darvill will be playing the role of Guy until 10 May. For tickets and more information, see the Once website.

 

Ruby-isla Cera-Marle

Ruby-isla Cera-Marle

Ruby isla Cera Marle recently graduated from Royal Holloway University of London where she studied Spanish and European Literature and Cultural Studies. Currently Ruby is working as Press and Marketing Assistant at Rambert Dance Company..

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Book review: Passionate Amateurs: Theatre, Communism and Love

Posted on 09 January 2014 by Dan Hutton

passionate-amateurs-theatre-communism-love-nicholas-ridout-hardcover-cover-art

The subtitle of Nicholas Ridout’s Passionate Amateurs: Theatre, Communism and Love, and its central argument – “that theater in modern capitalism can help us think afresh about notions of work, time and freedom” – may betray an idea of the work as one of niche interest, useful only to the academic and the geek. But though Ridout’s study is intent on adding to the academic discourse surrounding labour and performance, it also holds wider resonance within present debates about pay and work in the theatrical landscape. By deconstructing notions of leisure, freedom, necessity and community, Passionate Amateurs interrogates liberal and centre-left theatrical ideologies, and in doing so reinvigorates a discussion which has become dormant within the structures of late capitalism.

This is a book about neither community theatre nor communist theatre, though as Ridout observes there are books with the same title to be written about both subjects. Instead, Passionate Amateurs is a quietly but defiantly political work which looks towards a better future, which asks more of theatre than we generally experience in contemporary culture. Where theatre is often seen – in Britain in 2013 – as part of a daily routine of work and leisure, Ridout looks towards cultural theorists and theatrical practitioners to articulate “the very faint possibility and the powerful hope that theatre might offer an image of the unconstrained community of fellow-feeling that might ground a utopian politics”.

Ridout begins, in ‘Theatre and Communism after Athens’, by introducing the figure of “the romantic anti-capitalist”. Rather than seeing romanticism as a traditionalist, nature-loving mindset, he suggests that the movement instead offers us a fervent critique of capitalism. By asking us to switch-on to this mindset, then, Ridout allows us to consider the ways by which “theatre as community” and “relational aesthetics” (whereby we may understand the ways in which we relate to other human around us) may come to be co-opted and subsumed within the capitalist structure. Rather than looking simply at the final product(ion) which, as with Laura Wade’s Posh and Caryl Churchill’s Serious Money, can turn a radical gesture into a mainstream cash-cow with the simple act of a West End transfer, the book asks whether there is “anything to be found within the practice of theatre that might actualize some of its political potential” [my emphasis].

In the second chapter, Ridout uses the example of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya to lay out notions of the rhythms of time pertaining to leisure and work within industrial capitalism. Work, then, “is the labor of self-reproduction”, whereby we must become active – according to industry – in order to continue our own existence. Following this, in the twentieth century, we have the process of “professionalism” and “Taylorization”, which by seeking to improve economic efficiency by breaking it down into easily analyzed chunks seems to legitimate certain processes and creates a structure within itself. In turn, this process has infiltrated the theatrical ecology. Theatre, therefore, is just as much a part of late capitalist doctrine as any other ‘industry’.

Walter Benjamin’s ‘Program for a Proletarian Children’s Theatre’, which acts as a manifesto for the work of the passionate amateur, is the subject of Chapter Three. Here, Ridout suggests that Benjamin’s text challenges conventional wisdom regarding work and creates a scheme which is detached from the normal “working day” in a way which subverts conventional temporal structures. This is a theatre separate from the neoliberal normative, which detaches intrinsic value from labour and looks to the past in order that we may be allowed to stake a claim on the future. Its status as a “children’s” theatre is also important, as the way in which twentieth-century education has become analogous to a factory churning out knowledge and workers undermines any potential the idea of ‘learning’ may hold within it.

‘Of Work, Time and Revolution’ looks at Jean-Luc Godard’s film La Chinoise (1967) not, as a many have done, by considering its prescience regarding the ‘Spirit of ‘68’, but as an experiment in the theatricality found between work and action. The film, which focuses on a group of five university students discussing and acting upon their political beliefs, was made during a time when Godard was considering the way in which his processes may be seen as political within themselves, making “visible political possibilities not otherwise available to view”. Ridout’s argument is that the film offers the view “that there is political value in the formation of a revolutionary cell as an end in itself, rather than as a means towards revolution as such… If so, then this value must derive from something other than work”. Here, then, we return to the idea of the ‘passionate amateur’, who finds value beyond monetary reward and thus “must instead invent for herself new modes of living and working, either within or against the logics of capitalist production”. Here, and in following chapter, the book’s central argument really begins to crystallise, as the parallel themes of the work of theatre and the work of revolution begin to converge so that we may ask the question: do we achieve the final ‘product’ (of theatre and of revolution) through work, nonwork, or “not not work”? That is to say: do we labour for wages or for love?

The final chapter, ‘Solitude in Relation’, comes right up to the present day, using Chris Goode’s God/Head to understand theatre as a network of relations of exposure. In this work, Goode depicts and discusses the idea of solitude, which in the context of theatre’s “paradoxical place of revelation” where we are both alone and together throws up complexities surrounding community and individualism. Ridout then inserts himself, the “professional spectator”, into the argument, considering how the feeling of experiencing ‘authentic’ feelings like love and sensory perception “within the realm of necessity – as part of one’s professional activity” may disrupt the relationship between freedom and necessity.

It’d be untruthful to say that Ridout’s arguments are easy to follow for the casual reader, but, as with all good things in life, focus and engagement allows the meaning to rise to the surface. Complex academic ideas are more often than not introduced with useful examples, and Ridout’s coined terms – especially the titular one – are introduced and reintroduced with insight and useful examples. Without wanting to become guilty of indulging neoliberal-industrial rhetoric, this is (perhaps somewhat paradoxically) a necessary, valuable book which forces a re-examination and re-appropriation of existing labour systems, in British theatre and beyond.

The downside to all this is that Passionate Amateurs, as a highly-priced book with an academic tone, is unlikely to reach a very wide readership, meaning its arguments about work and theatre, which have the potential to shake up the way we currently make and watch theatre, will remain confined to smaller circles. As Daniel Bye pointed out in his recent blog on pay in the arts, “Theatres do not thrive in a market economy and so we need to find ways of behaving as though we are somewhere else. Of behaving as though we’re individuals talking to one another within a community, rather than as market nodes seeking to maximise our human capital”. It is this “somewhere else” that Ridout’s book asks us to consider, and by structuring the argument in a way that lays out the cards on the table before turning them over to reveal their image, he allows the reader to see the clear relationship between theatre, work and time. Crucially, it is a book which is unafraid to discuss and contemplate what ‘communism’ may look or feel like in the twenty-first century, which is no easy thing after the traumas of the past. As Ridout himself points out, “It is nearly always easier to speak of love than it is to talk about communism. The trick, here, is almost to do both, somewhat amateurishly.”

Dan Hutton

Dan Hutton

Dan recently graduated with a degree in English and Theatre Studies from the University of Warwick. He is a theatre-maker, freelance theatre critic and a company director of Barrel Organ Theatre.

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Review: Henry V, Noel Coward Theatre, Michael Grandage Company

Posted on 05 December 2013 by Rebecca Pinnington

HENRY V

In the final production of his season of five plays, Michael Grandage brings a gripping and exciting rendition of Henry V to the stage, with an excellent lead performance from Jude Law.

Opening the show, Ashley Zhanghaza is suitably dynamic as the Chorus, delivering his speeches with a lively energy which engages his audience from the off. Zhanghaza’s costume of a modern Union Flag t-shirt is a particularly interesting device, which reminds us to compare the glory and valour portrayed in Shakespeare’s play to representations of war today. Grandage’s merging of this character with the Boy who is seen with Nym, Bardolph and Pistol gives the Chorus a feeling of greater insight into the action, rather than simply taking the role of an onlooker.

In the title role, Jude Law shows great depth of character and versatility, in one moment imposing and authoritative with all the grandeur of a great king, and softer and kinder in the next. Captivating throughout, he is especially brilliant when musing on the burdens of being king on the eve of battle, and delivers his speeches to troops in a way that made me feel strangely patriotic. The wooing scene in the second act is also charming and provides a nice relief from Law’s previous stoicism, showing a more tender side to the character. Law’s performance is perfectly nuanced and completely enthralling.

Grandage’s show is carried by great acting performances, and the supporting cast are very strong. Ron Cook is on superb form as Pistol, dominating the stage as the funny, irritable rogue; Matt Ryan is magnetic as the forthcoming and amusingly patriotic Welshman Fluellen; James Laurenson is the picture of the stiff upper lip as Exeter; and Jessie Buckley is graceful, elegant and endearing as Princess Katharine. It is, however, rather difficult to pick out individual players as exceptionally good when the whole cast works so well together.

The set is bleak and imposing, and functions very well to convey the harshness of battle – although it is actually appropriate for every mood and scene, from the dark battlefields of Agincourt to the grandiose French court. The lack of complex set is also effective in letting the acting tell the story. Sudden changes from dark to bright lighting were occasionally close to blinding me, but clearly demonstrate the introduction of new moods and locations.

This is an exciting and well-staged play which finishes a very strong season for the Michael Grandage Company: a Shakespearean adaptation of exceptional standard which really merits seeing.

Henry V is playing at the Noel Coward Theatre until 15 February 2014. For more information and tickets, see the Michael Grandage Company website.

Photo by Johan Persson

Rebecca Pinnington

Rebecca Pinnington

Rebecca is a second year modern languages student at University College London. In between reading French philosophy and conjugating irregular verbs, she watches and performs in as much theatre as possible, especially musicals, which are one of her two greatest passions (the other is cats). As well as AYT, she has written for Broadway Baby at the Edinburgh Fringe and her university newspaper.

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