Drew McOnie has started a new theatre-dance company, and its first show, Drunk, is currently playing at the Bridewell Theatre. Kate Wyver caught up with him…
Why have you chosen now to start your own company?
I think the company itself started many, many years ago without me really knowing it. I went to train as a dancer when I was 11 and my friends used to bunk off prep and hide in the studios. I’d make up dances and they would all work very hard for me. Some of those dancers have now worked in shows that I’ve choreographed, one of whom is Katy Lowenhoff who plays Champagne in Drunk. I’ve known her since I was 10 and she used to skive off to come and work with me. Moving forwards I started calling it what it is, a company, and started to look for funding, which of course we had to do by labeling it. It was pretty scary, but I’m not regretting it at all.
Your work is breaking the boundaries between musical theatre and pure dance. Where do you see the company sitting within a wider landscape?
Some of the choreographers and directors that inspire me the most are the ones that have actually had careers that span across all genres of dance, and I think the reason that people like Jerome Robbins and George Balanchine are so able to choreograph for both musical theatre and for pure dance is that they’ve never at any point labeled what it was that they do. That’s where I see the company fitting in. It takes different narratives, situations and ideas for shows, and serves it in the way that fits. Sometimes that’s completely pure dance vocabulary and other times it’s incorporating lyrics and songs. So it does kind of sit in the middle of the two bands of theatre.
Was there a certain piece of dance or musical theatre that you saw or were involved in that really inspired you?
I got taken to ballet when I was very young and I hated it because they were telling me what the dance moves were and I preferred to tell them what the dance moves were. I quit and just continued to make up my own dances. Then as I got older I realised that I wanted to do it more and more. My parents took me along to The Snowman, which originated in Birmingham, which is where I’m from. I got the part of the original little boy. I was there probably being a very opinionated little eight-year-old. I was telling Robert North exactly what I thought the choreography should be. He was incredibly generous. It is something that has really affected me as a creative and that’s why I’m very passionate about working with young people. I asked Robert North what he did in the day when I was at school, and he said “This is what I do all day”. And I said “Well, what do you do for money?” And he said “I do this all the time and people pay me to do this”. And it was in that moment, I was like, that’s what I want to do, make up dances all day. That can be my job. So I asked him what it was called and he said a choreographer and I asked him how to spell it and he wrote it down for me. From that moment on I told everyone I was going to be a choreographer.
And you’ve achieved your dream!
I’m working at it! Though, once you achieve a dream it’s quite quick for your dreams to change, I feel like my dreams are always the same distance away from me. As I learn more and get inspired by more, my ideas get bigger. There are a lot of things still to achieve.
What’s next for you and the company?
We’re having a really good time making Drunk. I think we’ve laughed more than anything else and I feel exceptionally proud. I would like to do this every day for the rest of my life. We’ve already got two new productions in development. So it’s basically looking at ways of reaching the audiences and developing new work and a new language.
What advice would you give to young artists and those wanting to set up their own companies?
Nobody came to me and said, “Okay Drew, now’s the moment you have to do this”. Because in the time that you’re waiting for them to ask you to do it, somebody else is already learning on the job. Take every opportunity you can, then move forwards with energy and passion and learn along the way. Just do it and don’t wait.
As Drunk is all about different drinks, and what the drink you order says about you, what’s your speciality drink? And what do you think that says about you?
You’d think that if I was to sit down and come up with an entire concept for a show about drinks and what they say about us that I’d know myself well enough to choose one. The truth is really, I don’t drink very much, and the whole show has been created through my observation of people that are drunk, rather than my experiences of being drunk. So I guess really if I was one of the characters in our show it would be Water, who is played by Gemma Sutton. I’m probably most like Water, but my drink of choice would be vodka!