Tag Archives: New Diorama Theatre

Amy Rosenthal, Playwright Interview: “I’d be surprised if any playwright felt a constant coasting satisfaction; in any freelance career there’s always an element of fear.”

The other day I had a bit of chinwag with Amy Rosenthal who just happens to have two new plays on the verge of coming out. Amy is a playwright who is a very obliging woman so she answered all the questions, and some other ones too.

Here’s what happened during the chat.
1. Greetings! What are you up to currently? 
Hello! I’m currently in rehearsal for my play Pelican Daughters, which is part of the Shakespeare In Shoreditch Festival 2016. I’m one of four playwrights commissioned to write one-act plays inspired by Shakespeare, Shoreditch and storms – to be performed in site-specific locations from 20th-30th April.
Mine’s a modern-day spin on King Lear about three Jewish sisters, focusing on the eldest, Gaby, who’s desperate to please her dad on his eightieth birthday. He’s a naughty old tyrant who once ruled his East London patch and is now prey to redevelopers who want to gentrify the area. It’s about family and roots, and I hope it’s funny. I have a great cast and a terrific director, Kay Michael. It’s lovely to be in a rehearsal room after a period of solitary writing time, and I’m lucky because I then go straight into rehearsal for Fear of Cherry Blossom at the Cheltenham Everyman Theatre.

2. What can we expect from your new play Fear of Cherry Blossom?
Funnily enough, it also focuses on a Jewish family. Dinah and Abby are unmarried sisters on either side of forty, and Abby, the youngest, has become a committed Buddhist. Dinah and their dad Ronnie are alarmed by Abby’s choices, and Dinah wants to pull her sister back to her values, and what she thinks life ought to be. The play touches on themes I’ve wanted to explore for a long time – it’s about Anti-Semitism, which feels pertinent and (on stage) rarely addressed – about inherited, inter-generational fear – and about faith, in all senses. Judaism, spirituality, and how to keep faith with oneself, especially in the middle patch of one’s life.

Amy rosenthal
Amy Rosenthal.

3. Will you tell us a secret about yourself?
I’m Jewish.

4. I didn’t see that coming, Amy… Can you describe your state of mind when you are writing a play?
Tortured? My close friends, especially playwright Phil Porter, get the brunt of it – the fat tears, the self-doubt. The beginning is the worst, it’s as though in order to find my voice, which is essentially light and comic, I have to go through some dark night of the soul that can last – well, considerably more than a night. Once I finally know what I’m doing and the play starts to take shape, I’m very happy. I love my own company, I’m rarely lonely, the play becomes more real than reality. I write from 5.30 a.m. in a joyful state – a bit like the feeling after a migraine. Everything feels light.

5. What cereal do you like to have in the morning?
I’m not a cereal girl. I like toast and I love eggs. Sometimes I have porridge oats baked in the oven into a flat pancake, buttered, with cucumber, because someone once told my mum it’s good for you.

6. Is this industry, are there a particular of personality type that rise to the top? 

I don’t know about a personality type, I’d say a lot of playwrights are quite shy, but what you need is staying power. “Rising to the top” can happen fast, or mid-career, or late; most writers rise and descend many times. I’d be surprised if any playwright felt a constant coasting satisfaction; in any freelance career there’s always an element of fear. It’s a solitary profession and there are long periods of writing before productions happen (especially in musical theatre, which can take years to come to fruition because its so collaborative) so you often feel forgotten or as though the world thinks you’re not working. You have to just keep working, keep faith, and take on other jobs too – teach, run workshops, interact with other humans. It’s taken me a stupidly long time to learn crucial lessons about all this and I’m still learning. But I’m very disciplined now, and very committed.

7. Can you tell us about your Russian Doll painting sideline? 
The great David Edgar, who taught me playwriting at Birmingham University, also inspired my mad sideline. David collects Russian (matryoshka) dolls – mostly political figures. He commissioned me some years ago to paint his family on a set of blank wooden dolls. I loved it and I’ve been doing it ever since – painting families from photographs. A commission often seems to come along at the right moment and it’s a great antidote to writing because you don’t have to think. It’s meditative. It’s not easy to paint an accurate portrait on a curved surface, and the tiniest dolls are a challenge, but if you get it right they can feel uncannily alive.

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Dynasty Dolls.

8. Is your life an open book?
I wonder. I’m not at all secretive and I like making people laugh, but on the whole I’m the listener in a lot of my exchanges.

9. If I were to hand you a book from the future, and it was the autobiography you wrote when you were 80, would you read it?
I don’t know. I’d be scared. Is there an index?

10. Anything that you’d like to add?  
Not really, I think I’ve gone on at length.

That’s that then. 

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Amazing.
‘Pelican Daughters’  to be performed as part of Shakespeare in Shoreditch Festival 2016, 20-30 Apr, tickets available to purchase at  New Diorama Theatre 

New Diorama Theatre, David Byrne interview: “Everything we’re offering is directly set up to meet a need that our artists have.”

The New Diorama Theatre is an 80 seat theatre just off Regent’s Park in London. NDT is champion for the development and support of emerging and established theatre companies. The Artistic & Executive Director at New Diorama Theatre is a man named David Byrne.

He has just launched an pioneering Artist Development Programme which includes a cash-fund that is funded by booking fees (currently 40p a ticket). The fund is aimed at companies that the theatre has previously worked with, and aims to help them take their work to festivals such as Edinburgh or larger venues around the UK. New Diorama Theatre is one of London’s best Theatres, we’re talking Grade A excellence; so well done NDT.

I had a chat with him about this exciting scheme…

1. What three things should every amazing artist development scheme have?

If a theatre or organisation is truly serious about artist development their programme should be:

a) Take the lion’s share of the risk away from the artists they are supporting. Too many organisations are risk averse while saying they are supporting theatre-makers who are, often literally, risking everything to make their art. Venues need to ask themselves – is this providing enough money and resource for these artists to make this work viable and can the artists pay themselves?

b) There are NPO theatres out there offering 50/50 box office splits with early-career groups – which they’re marketing as equal risk with their artists. It isn’t. These venues have funding and support that artists at the start of their career can only dream of. For an artist development programme to be really brilliant venues have got to stick their necks out.

Devising new ideas that really tackle problems – rather than just ‘artist development by numbers’. When we at New Diorama are looking at new ways we can support theatre companies, we start with the problems that we want to help overcome: identifying the hurdles our groups are facing time and time again. And then we find creative, new ways to help our theatre companies overcome these obstacles. Over the last year, I’ve read pretty much every Artist Development Programme in the whole country. And, on the whole, it was a pretty drab read. Most of packages boil down to a bit of free rehearsal space and a small opportunity to “scratch” work. Of course, theatre companies do need rehearsal space – but as an industry we need to be providing so much more.

While researching, I came across schemes aimed at start-ups in other industries and, wow, a lot of them offer whole comprehensive toolkits of support for entrepreneurial people starting up new ventures. Yet here in the creative industries, ironically, we seem to be low on new ideas. So to be really exceptional at artist development I think you’ve got to be listening to your theatre-makers and finding new ways to make their visions and ambitions a reality.image

c) Really clear what they’re actually developing artists for. When I’ve been touring the country and on my travels in London talking to other Artistic Directors and Artist Development Producers I always ask one question about their programmes: “what are you developing artists for?”

Once we knew our goal, everything else was clear. But it’s essential that these conversations be had. How else can you focus your attentions and resources? How else can you be sure what you want as an organisation for your artists actually matches the ambitions artists your working with? Surprisingly, there are many that seem to have no clear goal. To run a really effective programme you need to know what you’re endgame is. For example, at New Diorama, it’s about making each group sustainable and securing a long-term future for their work. So we work on their organisational skills which, when taught, will stay with them for a lifetime. We’re investing in leadership skills alongside helping with the artistic. We’re building audiences for each group – whose tickets sales will be the basis of their income for years to come.

  1. Wow. Tell me more about the ND Artist Development programme. Where did it come from?

Our Artist Development programme has come from years of listening to the groups we support. All theatre companies are different – they make art in unique ways and they often have a intricate relationship with each other – so they all do things in their own ways. However, many of them find themselves facing the same problems.

When you read through the offer we’re making to early-career theatre companies you’ll notice we always start by talking about the problem we’re overcoming. Everything we’re offering is directly set up to meet a need that our artists have.

 

There are a few strands of work that aren’t just targeting at fixing things for our supported artists but are there to solve problems we have as an industry as a whole. For example our new Female leadership Fund and our 30 weeks of free BAMER rehearsal space is our contribution towards two of the big issues the arts is currently facing.

But most of all, it came from the love of the work our supported companies produce. I feel like I’m both the Artistic Director of a venue championing these groups while also being their biggest fan. Everything we do to help them is selfish on my part – as I get to see more and more of their inspiring theatre.

  1. Some people take issue with the fact that female artists speak words written by men. How do you feel about that?

Some of the best performances I’ve seen from female artists have been in production of Shakespeare and some of the best performances by men in plays by Caryl Churchill or Timberlake Wertenbaker or Lucy Prebble.

I don’t think the argument holds water. It’s not who has written a play that matters – it’s what the characters are saying.

  1. Do you think good theatre people should be following trends or trying to establish them?

Depends on the trend! There are movements in theatre, and it’s great when we, as an industry, come together to push in a certain direction to improve things and get things done. I wish it happened more. It’s also fun to create new ideas and be at the top of the agenda. The best people do both.

  1. The commitment to emerging talent via Incoming Festival is extraordinary. It must have been planned months in advance.

Yes, it is. Working with Eleanor and Jake is one of the highlights of my year.

I love what INCOMING does for artists – paying them for their performances with a proper fee AND giving them half of their box office.

I love what the festival offers for audiences – with all tickets just £5 it means they can take a risk and they do: in previous years over 70% have never seen work by the company they booked for.

And for the for the sector as a whole – the free workshops are great, it has a truly nationwide programme – with many groups performing in London for the very first time – and a huge number of regional programmers and artistic directors come and see the work. It’s a chaotic, creative and wonderful ten days.

  1. What’s the best emoji?

Is there a wizard one? That. Or the cheese one.

emoji-cheese
Cheese emoji

 

  1. What do you see at the moment, theatre wise, that excites you?

Right now I’m looking at the programme for 2016’s National Student Drama Festival. The last few years they’ve been really punching above their weight. I can’t wait to see what this years group do.

I’ve been standing back with pride at Rhum and Clay’s latest show, HARDBOILED, directed by Beth Flintoff that’s been performing at NDT to such enthusiastic audiences (and a great five star review in Time Out).

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Rhum and Clay, HARDBOILED

 

And I’m excited at not just delivering the Artist Development Programme we’ve just launched but growing it – we’ve already got ideas of how to make it even better and more exciting.

BYE DAVE.  🙂