Whether it be wearing many hats or changing many beanies, Paper Creatures Theatre Company are certainly multi-tasking in their first production. Daniel Perks chats to co-Artistic Directors Jon and Nathan to see how preparations are going:
Are Paper Creatures another in the never-ending wave of new theatre companies? Yes. But that’s not a bad thing. In a world where arts funding is constantly cut, it’s refreshing to see two ambitious individuals who are committed to their craft. The aim is simple – to put on work that holds a mirror up to the next generation.
I caught up with Paper Creatures’ Artistic Directors Jon Tozzi and Nathan Coenen to discuss their first production, Flood. After all, it’s important to be heard as a millennial rather than simply judged as one:
Why did you decide to form a theatre company?
Jon: The idea came to fruition in October 2016 after we met on the Lord Chamberlain’s Men tour. We have this common appreciation for new writing, especially after doing Shakespeare for five months. The idea was to put on a new play, but we are so passionate about new creatives that we decided to form Paper Creatures as a company. We haven’t rushed anything, we wanted our first show to be done right.
Nathan: We gave ourselves the space to make mistakes and correct them, as well as heeding advice from others. It’s quite rare for a company to focus for this amount of time – we’ve been in production for about five months. We want to make Flood, our debut production, the best it can be.
Jon: We have lots of hats on for this too. There isn’t a massive team on board – actor, producer, marketing.
Nathan: I’m a big beanie fan, not so much hats.
Jon: Alright, many a beanie changed.
Theatre is history, it’s constantly something for you to look back on.
It’s such a common track for new theatre companies to rush into their inaugural production.
Nathan: We had some good mentors when we first decided to put the play on who told us to focus on why we are doing this as a theatre company. Is it just to fill in the gaps between being unemployed as an actor or do you have a message that you want to make your mark with?
Jon: We went to lots of new companies too – Falling Pennies, Matchstick Theatre – it got to a point where we were listening to their advice but needed to go and do it in our own way. Let’s put on what we want to do and be less suffocated – let’s fly.
Nathan: The most enlightening thing for me was how helpful the theatre company community is. We had people from Flux Theatre giving advice when we needed it. The new writing world is a wonderful community of creatives.
The new writing world is a wonderful community of creatives.
Jon and Nathan seem composed and considered in their choices. They have taken the time with Paper Creatures that so many new theatre companies fail to do. Proper planning prevents piss poor performance and all that. But the company ethos is not original, it’s not unique. Is this a problem? Are we as a theatre audience being saturated with new work?
Nathan: We stand by the idea that there are never too many voices. That’s a really strong thing to hold on to – if a story is told in a clear, effective way then it deserves to be heard.
Jon: There’s so much opportunity for that in London, there are so many fringe venues popping up – why not turn a pub room upstairs into a theatre? It drives the arts in a world where funding for the sector is always the first to be cut. You will see work from companies that you may not enjoy, but you should always ask why you didn’t like it. That will benefit us in our next venture, our next project – we’re only ever building our knowledge.
We think there is so much theatre, but in the grand scheme of work getting funding, there’s fuck all.
Nathan: Theatre doesn’t have to be frightened of over saturation – I don’t think that can happen. I’d rather have too much than too little.
Flood, the first production, is written by Tom Hartwell. What’s the background to this collaboration with Paper Creatures?
Jon: Tom was the year below me at Mountview – he wrote a play called You Tweet My Face Space, which did really well at both Camden Fringe and Edinburgh Fringe. I like that in his writing he can find both humour and heart, walk that fine line. I spoke with him at the start of Paper Creatures and pitched the idea to write a play that isn’t sketchy, had more of a long narrative thread throughout.
Our viewpoint as a company is to tell simple, bold and compelling stories that hold up a mirror to the millennial generation. We wanted to look at how the millennial generation is more than just technology – we still have feelings, we grieve and laugh.
Tom went off to Tenbury Wells to do another gig – it’s a town that every year gets flooded and every year the Government do fuck all about because it’s deemed too. That all fed into the story we have now, Tom was fascinated with how this flooded town affects the millennials that live there.
If a story is told in a clear, effective way then it deserves to be heard.
How does it feel to be at Tristan Bates? A great place for new writing.
Nathan: Fantastic, they’re a huge proponent of new writing, which we greatly admire. The space itself is great – spacious but with an intimate vibe. It’s important for the play that we’re doing to have its premiere in London.
It’s so much about the home town, your roots and where you come from. London is filled with people both from London and also those from small towns, or foreign towns. Everyone can relate to the idea of going back to their home town, seeing that mate they haven’t seen in a while and reminiscing for the next hour. But when that reminiscing stops, you don’t know what to talk about next. You get those weird feelings of abandonment that sometimes come up when you have a couple of drinks.
I remember leaving Perth and moving to LA during high school and was sad leaving my mates behind. But went back about six months later and found out my best mate in Perth was depressed. I was so shocked by that – he didn’t know why I felt like I had to go.
Jon: I’m a Londoner and have friends from all over the globe that I’ve met here. Why is there a pull that brings everyone here specifically? By contrast, my pull is to escape London for a little bit but then come back.
There’s an issue of alcoholism that comes through the play too – Tom is very interested in this idea in our age demographic. Drinking culture is very common here, but when does consistently drinking turn into something more serious?
Jon and Nathan make interesting points about young adults. Feeling abandoned, depressed and unachievements in comparison with their peers are common. It can drive anyone to drink – whether it be to forget or to remenisce.
As a millennial, I certainly feel as though the bottom of a wine glass holds the answers to my problems. It never does, but that doesn’t stop me searching. Alcohol abuse is a huge problem, but is there a reason for such prevalent levels of it in our generation?
Nathan: We will look back in twenty years’ time at what technology and smartphones did to us in the same way that the generation above do now on smoking. How does it affect you if you’re spending hours on a phone and that is your only way of emotionally connecting with people?
Jon: You’re shut off completely, it’s a way out. Yes, there are major perks – it’s lovely to see how people in different places are doing, but it stops you looking up.
Nathan: It’s an addiction that people have no idea how to face. Nowadays our generation is consumed by a YOLO ideology, which comes through partying and living life to the full. Alcohol is a consequence of that.
Jon: There are some characters in the play that are going past that point too – they have commitments, getting married and starting families. It feels like you make a massive change to your life and have to cut things out – finding that balance to do that.
The millennials generation is very much in the middle of making those decisions – leaving the party lifestyle behind and make a commitment into something considered to be more adult. So, Flood is very timely really!
Theatre is history, it’s constantly something for you to look back on. Hopefully we’re telling stories of the people of this time, so others can learn from it.
Let’s put on what we want to do and be less suffocated – let’s fly.
Who are your inspirations?
Nathan: I was on a very different trajectory originally to where I am now. I was in LA for three years doing the TV & Film grind, I didn’t find it very fulfilling. Then I went and saw Jerusalem in New York. I went for a month and saw it four times, I almost ran out of money and would have had nowhere to stay for the last three nights!
Mark Rylance is someone who I greatly admire – he balances the joy for classical work with a huge support for new writing and young people. It got me into theatre; I started reading Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller from there. Since being in London, new writing has opened my eyes.
Jon: At drama school, you hope to make it to the National Theatre and the RSC, but in fact the industry is so much more. Coming out of drama school, you learn that the world isn’t nearly as narrow-minded. Venues like The Bunker, Theatre503, Soho Theatre are what it’s all about.
Since graduating my mindset has completely flipped – initially I thought I would succeed more as a classical actor. But now I’m more excited by new writing – what inspires me are fellow creatives.
To read more about Paper Creatures inaugural production, Flood, playing at Tristan Bates Theatre from 31 July – 5 August 2017, follow them on Twitter (@paper_creatures) or visit the website – www.papercreatures.net