Category Archives: Interviews

Spotlight: Kashman Harris, Writer

Kashman writes for Eastender’s online spin-off E20, which was conceived in 2010 as the naughty little brother of the main show. The show’s writers, all aged between 17 and 22, were found as a part of the BBC’s new talent initiative. The show has created two series, and the third has been announced.

Why did you decide to become a writer?

I’m motivated by the chance to be heard, like most writers I guess. Though writing is something I developed a liking for from a young age, telling stories always seemed to have a cathartic effect on people. I wanted to be someone who could do the same.

What piece of art can you remember having an impact on you?

I remember from a young age watching a variety of TV shows, Quantum Leap springs to mind, mainly how it was my first experience with a genre hybrid of drama and sci-fi done so seamlessly. Also 2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick, as it’s the most original and inspiring piece of film I’ve ever seen, it made me realise how films could pose questions to an audience and make them think.

Are there different obstacles facing black and ethnic minority writers?

If there are any obstacles it’s finding the outlets for work, but they are there, it’s just how hard you look for them. I can’t say that I’ve faced many obstacles in regards to my ethnicity. There are new schemes within corporations, such as the BBC, where they are expanding their horizons to reach groups that they wouldn’t normally. Such schemes give minorities a chance to enter the industry from a grass roots level, and that’s essentially how E20 started.

What are the common stereotypes that appear in stories about young people?

I think the common misconception is that young people, regardless of colour, have this definite, uncivilised way of talking. In other words, slang. It’s important that writers who choose to write stereotypically show both sides of the coin. It’d be wrong to act as if the stereotypes didn’t exist, but it’s also possible to have a story where young people are not represented in a stereotypical light.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a writer?

I’d recommend Talent Circle, but also joining up with your nearest theatre group, mine was the Oval House Theatre in Kennington. If you have an idea, get it onto paper as quickly as possible. Mainly it’s to be patient with yourself and understand that the results won’t come if you’re not putting just as much work in. Writing is a complicated career choice, but if you’re truly passionate about it then you’ll be able to persevere.

Follow Kashman on Twitter, and click here to find out the latest on the BBC’s E20.


Spotlight: JQ of The Q Brothers, Writer and Composer

The Q Brothers are from Chicago. In 2008 they took Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing and put a hip-hop spin on it to create Funk it up About Nothin’. They have taken the play to Chicago, New York, Australia, and the Edinburgh Fringe. The play is now showing in London’s Theatre Royal Stratford East.

What piece of theatre can you remember having an impact on you?

Bring in the Noise, Blue Man Group. I guess I liked things that were a little outside the box.

You’ve performed in Chicago, New York, Edinburgh, and Australia. How does the audience in London differ?

The audiences in Stratford are the most diverse we’ve ever had. It’s the type of audience most theatres dream of having. They are really doing something special here and we are so glad to be a part of it. That said, I think the story is universal and anyone would enjoy it if they are into fun characters and clever wordplay.

What would you say to a young person to encourage them to see the show?

We are really proud of the piece and people of all ages find it exciting. Most young people I know find Shakespeare boring even if they appreciate his genius. All we are doing is trying to give the audience an experience of what we think it might have been like to see Shakespeare in his time.

What do you say to the critics who say this isn’t Shakespeare?

I have nothing to say to them. If they have actually seen the show and don’t think we are true to Shakespeare, then they don’t really know Shakespeare. Most of the people that show up and have a preconceived notion of the show are completely won over once they actually see the piece.

If Shakespeare were alive today, would he be rapping?

Absolutely. He would be telling stories just like he did before, like Slick Rick and Eminem.

Funk it up About Nothin’ at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East runs till May 7.

Spotlight: Alexander Feklistov, Actor

Alexander Feklistov graduated from the Moscow Art Theatre School in 1982, and worked for the Moscow Art Theatre for twelve years. He went onto create the 5th Moscow Art Theatre Studio. He is currently playing Caliban in Cheek by Jowl’s Russian production of The Tempest.

Why did you decide to become an actor?
I became an actor because of the mystery that lives in theatre. From my early childhood I wanted to know: what’s behind there? Behind Uncle Tom’s cabin.

What early theatrical experience can you remember having an impact on you?
I cannot forget Anatoly Efros’s Cherry Orchard. It was performed by great actors Alla Demidova and Vladimir Visotskiy and the action took place on a cemetery. Nothing I saw afterwards in my whole life has touched me as deeply, and it astonished me how this production of The Tempest affected me in a similar way.

Caliban has been performed in many ways onstage: a woman, punk rocker, and Rastafarian. What made you choose to play Caliban the way you do?
Caliban is a child, but he was abandoned and not brought up properly. You feel sorry for him, he can be very irritating, and it’s a very Russian part.

Shakespeare has been performed in Russian to Hindi. What is it to you that makes Shakespeare translate well into all cultures?
I think Shakespeare can be played in any language, but we’re only trying to do it justice. We enjoy his poetry, his verse, but once we start talking about the interpretation of the plays we never have the same viewpoint.

What would you say to a young person to encourage them to see this play?
I think it’s a very simple and honest production, simple but not simplified, and it has huge potential in it. We as actors are trying to catch up with the form of it and it’s never boring.

The Tempest at the Barbican runs from 7 April till 16 April.

Spotlight: Max Hoehn, Actor and Director

Max is a part of the Oxford University Dramatic Society. He has just been awarded a first-class degree in History at Queen’s College, Oxford. He first came to the Edinburgh Fringe in 2007 with ‘Danton’s Death’, and returns this year with an adaptation of Mikhail Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita. He has co-adapted the play with Raymond Blankenhorn, and also directed and acts in the work.

In Master and Margarita you play the Devil, what attracted you to the role?

The Devil in Master and margarita has one of the most famous openings in Russian literature. He’s full of wit, charm and flair. In other scenes he evolves into a grander, Milton-esque figure. Capturing the different parts he plays in the book while preserving a recognisable charisma has been one of the main challenges.

Jesus, Satan, and Pilate are the main characters in the play. How did your perception of these figures change over the course of adapting, rehearsing, and performing the play?

Jesus, Satan and Pilate are hugely important because we all have our own preconceptions about what they’re like. Bulgakov gives each of them a different, surprising twist. In casting and rehearsals I was keen to avoid any slide towards traditional portrayals of these characters. Pilate in Soviet uniform was an interpretive decision to suggest a link between Bulgakov’s Jerusalem and the Stalinist world and to avoid any iconographic spin on the scene.

You have adapted, directed, and are acting in the play. What did you gain from the experience?

Directing, acting and co-adapting the play has meant I’ve really invested a huge amount in it and that has helped me to be committed heart and soul to the project. It’s not something I’d repeat in the professional world but for the fringe you can just about get away with it.

What would you say to a young person about the Oxford University Dramatic Society’s Master and Margarita to encourage them to see it?

The production of Master and Margarita stays faithful to the spirit and complexity of the novel while also presenting it in as imaginative a way as possible to make it engaging for those who don’t know the book. We’ve toured Oxford and London to full houses and a lot of positive feedback, particularly from Russians. I think it’s a vibrant engaging story that deserves to be seen.

What other play at the Edinburgh fringe have you seen that you would recommend?

That’s easy, Derevo at the Pleasance is a Russian show by a company Harlekin and is by far the most powerful thing I’ve seen so far. Its combination of dance, mime, and circus tells a simple set of stories with great beauty and heart.

Master and Margarita, at the Edinburgh Fringe, runs from 16 August till 30 August.

Spotlight: Geraldine Collinge, Royal Shakespeare Company’s Director of Events and Exhibitions

Geraldine has run her own theatre company Jericho Productions, worked for Battersea Arts Centre and the British Council. In 2009 she joined the Royal Shakespeare Company to work as the Director of Events and Exhibitions. She is responsible for taking the work of the company outside the theatre and to the public, and Such Tweet Sorrow, a professional production of Romeo and Juliet on Twitter, is the latest example.

As Such Tweet Sorrow draws to a close, how do you measure its success?
The purpose was to expand in a new form, to try new ways of working, and to reach audiences who can’t come to Stratford. We said at the beginning it wasn’t about the number of followers, but about the level of interaction from the followers. I loved that before Juliet’s birthday, when she was having a Masked party, people made their own masks and uploaded them onto Twitter. That for me is one of the real measures of success. It’s a longer-term hope that people will come and see productions, but it’s more about changing perceptions of the brand and making Shakespeare feel less remote.

There has been criticism over the modern language. Why was this chosen?
The project was about doing a contemporary version of Romeo and Juliet for Twitter. If we wanted to do Romeo and Juliet in its original language online, we might not have used Twitter as a platform. It was definitely about the contemporary, the improvising, the experimental. The actors were improvising a lot of the tweets and were free to use their own language. Juliet is a nineteen-year old performer, for example, so a lot of it is in her idiom. I think that’s a part of the energy of the piece, it’s part of what works about it.

In Such Tweet Sorrow Mercutio is stabbed at a football match. How much does the adapted plot relate to contemporary concerns?
It wasn’t about this is a world where stabbings are happening on the street, but it was about this is today’s world and they will be drinking, they might be taking drugs, they will be having sex. So the setting is contemporary, it’s not a kind of political choice. I was glued to Twitter with the death of Mercutio, it sounds weird but I found that totally compelling. We were thinking a lot about how to handle the deaths because we really wanted to make sure that we protected young followers. A friend of mine lost their son sadly when he was seventeen, and his friends had celebrated his life very much through Facebook and YouTube. When I was at school we would have made scrapbooks or graffiti, but the internet is definitely how young people are communicating and articulating their feelings.

What early theatrical experience can you remember having an impact on you?
My family aren’t theatregoers. Reading was my escape when I was young and was how I discovered theatre. I remember being sixteen and I saw an all black Macbeth at Haymarket in the Studio, it was amazing and had a real influence on me. I’m sure it was because of the race politics and the fact that it was an all Black cast. In the eighties when there were race riots it was a powerful political statement in itself.  I think theatre was definitely white dominated and it still is now. That was a very exciting thing to see, but sadly I suspect sadly we still might find that powerful.

If Shakespeare was alive now would he be tweeting? If so, what would he tweet?
He would be tweeting, without a shadow of a doubt. I think he would have tweeted Romeo and Juliet on Twitter. I’m sure he’d be experimenting and trying things to reach broad audiences just as he was when he wrote the plays originally.

Follow Such Tweet Sorrow on Twitter, or watch the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Romeo and Juliet at the Courtyard Theatre, Stratford Upon Avon.

Spotlight: Jeanie O’Hare, the Royal Shakspeare Company’s Dramaturg

Jeanie trained as a sculptor but soon moved into theatre as a Reader, Literary Assistant, and then Script Associate at the Royal Court. In 2005 Artistic Director Michael Boyd invited her to join the Royal Shakespeare Company as a Dramaturg, it is her role to find new writers and develop them.

How did you get into your role as a Dramaturg?

I didn’t know it existed. It is one of those invisible jobs. I went to Art school and became a sculptor. When I worked in my studio I did lots of temping work, and one was working as a PA to Maxwell Stafford-Clark and Stephen Daldry in the Royal Court. It was a way of keeping in touch with theatre and I got work script reading. What I found was that the language I used to talk about sculptures, the three dimensionality of it, works well when talking about plays. Theatre is a very physical way of writing and the language made a lot of sense. I had a good instinct at identifying artists whose primary reason for existence was to be creative.

How much do contemporary concerns affect your decisions when finding new writers?

That’s a really good question. Even though many plays are accomplished pieces of writing, many will never see the light of day if they don’t find their moment. They need to connect with society, what’s going on at the moment, and that is one of the angles you should take when looking at what to produce. I think writers need to be open to being a child of their time. Some writers look around and imagine the play everyone wants, but that often doesn’t work as it becomes too contrived and cerebral. We noticed recently a lot of writers were beginning to write about faith, so we are putting together a set of Faith Season plays at the end of next year. That’s because it’s naturally become something people need to examine. We can spot those kinds of trends and those are the things we need to respond to in our program.

What early theatrical experience can you remember having an impact on you?

I saw a lot of plays in The Other Place, the studio theatre, at Stratford-upon-Avon. There was a production of Anthony and Cleopatra that I found amazingly intense and exciting. I felt completely turned on by the language and I was physically close up to Michael Gambon and Helen Mirren. I also feel like it’s a good night when I’ve learnt something, not about the world but myself. I’ll have a moment, an epiphany, where something gone on in the play and subliminally in my head. I put certain things in place and have a realisation about myself. I think theatre can do that more than other art forms and that would be my addiction. Theatre had always been important to me; I didn’t know there was a job in it.

How can the Royal Shakespeare Company attract a more young and diverse audience?

One of our biggest obstacles is that people think we’re an elitist organisation; if they do actually come to the company they’re amazed that perception is wrong. What we need is ownership of theatre from ethnic minorities, from front of house to backstage. Theatre needs to open up so people see that it’s another one of those industries you can work in. As a Literary Manager you’re looking for someone who is looking at this moment from a fresh angle, so that works really well looking for ethnic minority writers. Great art historically happens at great turbulence. It’s almost like geology, look for where the volcano is going to erupt, then find writers who are experiencing that and going to tell the big stories. If we can do more of that we will have a global sense of the stories we are telling and that will open up what we do.

What would you say to a young person to encourage them to see the Dunsinane and God’s Weep at Hampstead Theatre?

As we’re coming to a general election we have two different types of leadership on offer, and responsibility, redemption, and leadership are themes that bring the plays together. There’s resonances about how one very small decision, especially in Dennis Kelly’s God’s Weep, sets in motion a massive corporate machine and whether or not that can be stopped. If you say to a young person, however, Dunsinane is related to Shakespeare, they may think they’re not going to understand it. David Greig is a very exciting writer who he writes big ideas with a lightness of touch. It’s really accessible, funny, about families, real people going to war and what war does to them. It is not something you have to sit there stroking your beard thinking, that’s interesting, instead it sends your imagination spiralling off into different directions. And it’s got some great swordfights.

Dunsinane, at the Hampstead Theatre runs until 6 March, and God’s Weep, at the Hampstead Theatre runs from 12 March to 3 April.

Spotlight: Dharmesh Patel, Actor

Dharmesh is starring in his first Shakespeare role as Hamlet in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Hamlet. He originally studied to become a Drama teacher and trained at the Hope Street Physical Theatre School. He has starred in the BBC Asian Network’s Silver Street and theatre including Happily Married, Silent Cry, and Satyagraha.

What performance of Hamlet can you remember having an impact of you?

The truth is I didn’t see a production of Hamlet until last year when I found out I was doing it. The first one I actually saw was with Jude Law. I didn’t enjoy it personally, it did nothing for me, but the rest of the audience loved it. For me he wasn’t dark enough and I really wanted my Hamlet to be dark. I was starting to be more critical of how I would play the character, so there was part of me that didn’t enjoy watching it as I knew that would be me in a couple of months. It made me more nervous because it was my first Shakespeare part and it was a big deal for me. I wish I could watch it again now.

You have been performing Hamlet in schools across London for young children. Are there any specific experiences that stood out?

In Lampton school in Hounslow we had a question and answer session, and one of the questions was: “Who do we think the villains are?” Early on one of the kids in a primary school went: “It’s Hamlet.” He then went onto say that because of him five people died. I remember being blown away and thinking that’s the kind of response I want. During the same session someone said Claudius, because he killed King Hamlet and his action infected the whole of Denmark. We don’t even say something as deep as that in rehearsals. If you think about what he said, he was ten years old, he knows that the death of a good kingdom was destroyed because of Old Hamlet’s death. Sometimes when we’re playing the character you don’t really think beyond the play, I was so in my own world that I never for once even thought about that.

What play have you seen recently that you would recommend?

I think it’s really important to watch bad theatre as well as good theatre. When I was growing up we were ridiculously poor and theatre was for the elite during the Thatcher days. I always feel like I missed out as an actor not being able to watch enough theatre as a kid and it was weird going to the theatre as an adult for the first time. Nowadays you get tickets for five pounds for under twenty-fives, there’s so many venues that do great ticket offers, and schools are doing more trips to the theatre. I would recommend seeing everything to a young person, but personally I like to watch bad theatre.

Are there any different obstacles facing black and ethnic minority actors?

For me the biggest obstacle I have is not being seen as an actor. You don’t want to be seen as a colour. It really pangs and hurts everytime. I want to be the best at what I do, and I’m sure every other person does regardless of what it is that they do. You often feel that what you’re being judged on isn’t your ability as an artist, you’re seen as a tick box, and you don’t know whether you’re good enough because of the colour of your skin or because of your ability. So now I don’t care about it, I’ve kind of given up on the whole colour thing because it sets you back. You want to better yourself whatever colour you are.

You starred in Silver Street on the BBC Asian Network. Do you think that specific Asian programs help or hinder progress?

It depends how it’s done. If it’s a poor job then of course it’s going to hinder it, if it’s a great job then who knows. But then if that’s what we’re showing to the rest of our society, is that a good thing or a bad thing? It’s a real catch-22 situation. I’ve seen some all-Asian casts where I was so disgusted that I walked out, but then you can say the same thing about any other play. It depends on how you do the piece of work, not the colour of your skin. I suppose it’s because I’m getting older and I’m starting to realise what my beliefs are and what’s worth fighting for I feel like that.

Hamlet joins the repertoire in The Courtyard Theatre from 1 May 2010.