Ahead of the callout deadline for their first week-long festival, Daniel Perks catches up with the duo behind Pint Sized - Matt Maltby & Nick Oliver:

It’s exactly five minutes of recorded conversation with Matt Maltby and Nick Oliver, the Artistic Directors of Pint Sized, before we get around to anything that actually pertains to their nights of short plays. That’s not because the three of us waffle (although I have been known to go off on a tangent fairly frequently), but because I am genuinely so excited to finally meet these two that my ability to interview vanishes into thin air.

Pint Sized

Matt Maltby & Nick Oliver

As someone who is desperate to champion new writing, I have had Pint Sized on my radar for quite some time. For over three years they’ve created nights with a difference, events that are more than watching a series of works in progress. Just five or six scripts are programmed at a time; each is directed by such upcoming individuals as Tatty Hennessy and Rafaella Marcus; the playwrights themselves get mentorship from the likes of Simon Stephens and Lolita Chakrabarti. That’s a pretty sweet deal. But why another night of short plays, albeit one that offers up something different?

‘The first one was really driven by the fact that I wanted to write and be in a short play!’ admits Nick Oliver. ‘I thought,

“Wouldn’t it be great if we made a really high quality short plays night?’

‘We both wrote and directed one each – it was very much our night!’ adds Matt Maltby. ‘Nick directed mine, I directed Joe [Eyre] in Crocodile.’ Joe has since gone on to co-found Joyous Gard, which brought three plays to the VAULT Festival 2018 – Tiger, Joe’s second work; I Have A Mouth And I Will Scream, Abi Zakarian’s powerful piece that started out as a short in a Pint Sized production; and Timothy, a dark comedy by David Barnes’ who first brought Wooden Overcoats to Pint Sized before developing it into a successful radio show (now in its third season).

Joyous Gard Vault Festival 2018

All of these works, indeed all of the pieces that have been staged over the years, have some key elements in common, ‘It has to be high quality and has to stand alone powerfully enough for an audience that night,’ notes Nick. Matt nods in agreement, ‘We’ve always tried to keep the net as open as possible, even if that means we come across as quite vague. We want to create a space in which you can fail, but we also don’t want you to fail! We’ve had some stuff take massive risks – I Have A Mouth And I Will Scream was a really out-there choice.’

Abi’s play was my favourite piece in the entire VAULT festival this year, but I don’t agree with Matt in thinking that it was an outside choice. I wonder what that says about the organisers if they see this all-female cast, with a diverse set of ethnicities, as a risk. But before my doubts have space to breathe, Matt and Nick jump in – they’re the first to admit that they aren’t currently the best at championing diversity, and their commitment to altering that is laudable:

‘We’ve been aware for a long time that we’re two white, cis-gender, heterosexual men with similar tastes,’ says Matt. ‘Diversifying the lens through which we see things is vital. As part of the submissions process, the last stage will have a team of 25 diverse representatives to help us make the decisions. Pint Sized Goes Damsel was the first formal step towards democratising, creating a more representative writing team. That’s part of our journey for the next year.’

Pint Sized

Damsel Productions co-founders Hannah Hauer-King and Kitty Wordsworth

Pint Sized Goes Damsel was indeed an exciting move, pairing up The Bunker’s two resident companies to create something that champions both new writing and female representation in the arts. And both Kitty Wordsworth and Hannah Hauer-King, the women behind Damsel Productions, are an inspirational duo who tirelessly battle the misogyny of this industry by putting women at the centre of the narrative.

I don’t sit here and profess to be the epitome of diversity myself – I am a middle class, white man with a private education, in a similar fashion to both Matt and Nick. I can relate full well to Matt’s observation that privilege is more than simply financial, ‘I came from a background where I always backed myself, always believed in my ambition. I came out of Oxford with a ridiculous amount of confidence that whatever I wanted to do would just magically happen. That’s something not talked about very much in the context of access and diversity. We talk in quite financial terms often – having financial support – but there is also something bred into people of privilege,

“You deserve this; this will go really well.”

Matt attributes a portion of this privilege to the reason that Pint Sized got the opportunity to grow in the first place, ‘We had no idea what we were doing, but I wrote an email to Jermyn Street Theatre back in 2015 with some insane promises – it comes from that entitlement that I had.’ But Matt does himself a disservice here – it’s one thing to acknowledge his privilege but it’s another to disregard his extensive level of skill because of it. Privilege may have opened the door for Matt and Nick, but sheer talent keeps this duo going from strength to strength.

Nick is also quick to jump to Matt’s defence, just another insight into why these two make such a complementary team,

‘I was delighted that we managed to get the first one off the ground, but Matt was always looking to do better – forward thinking, with ambition for Pint Sized to be the best it could possibly be.’

Pint Sized

I see a lot of myself in Matt – he’s his own toughest critic, the first to admit that things could be better rather than stand back and take joy in the success as it occurs. It’s a vicious cycle that I remain trapped in. But bit by bit, Matt’s guard comes down and his love for the project creeps back in,

‘It’s one of the many things that’s nice about us working together. I always have my eye clearly on the horizon – Nick is very firmly in the moment. The thing I’m proudest of is that people say we’re nice to work with. When we do a show, I’m in the tech box coordinating the day, and Nick is in the theatre looking after people.’

‘Hopefully the balance comes across in the show as well – ground-breaking, exciting pieces of theatre, and pieces that are really fun to send you out on a high,’ adds Nick.

The thing I’m proudest of is that people say we’re nice to work with.

And fun is at the centre of Pint Sized – it’s more than just a night of short plays. Tickets are £10 to keep costs down; a band plays in between each piece so that the energy of the room stays high during the transitions; the networking opportunity in the bar afterwards is just as important as the work itself,

‘I interviewed James Grieve for a podcast – he wondered why plays don’t have the same atmosphere as a gig,’ muses Nick. ‘Often theatre takes itself quite seriously, but with a short plays night you have an opportunity to create a sense of fun, a vibrant atmosphere in the bar afterwards.’ Matt is similarly keen to recreate that gig atmosphere, ‘There’s an audience for gigs who aren’t going to the theatre because they don’t feel welcome or represented there. Both in the way that we try and meet writers, the way that we structure our callouts and the way that we try and create a show, we’d like to deconstruct that. It’s part of creating a different set of narratives.’

Joyous Gard Vault Festival 2018

I Have A Mouth And I Will Scream

Not just that, but in order to truly capitalise on the mentorship and networking opportunities that Pint Sized provides, there has to be an opportunity for discussion and debate. This is further proof of the duo’s success – a number of playwrights have gone on to enjoy further projects and opportunities as a direct result of these nights of short plays,

‘I’m properly proud of what has happened for some of the writers as a result of those invitations,’ exclaims Matt. ‘Lucy Burke got her agent from Glitter Punch. It’s an hour-long show but she gave us a fifteen-minute version, directed brilliantly by Tatty. Tatty’s one of the directors that we’ve always looked to when we’ve got a hard piece – and Raf, who directed I Have A Mouth in a week.’

Vault Festival 2018 Glitter Punch

Lucy Burke’s Glitter Punch

Understanding that desire to help, to add value, to give theatre makers a platform, is key to appreciating the magic of Pint Sized and to acknowledging the infectious enthusiasm that both Nick and Matt have for the project. From doing one or two-nighters, it was inevitable that a week-long festival was on the cards,

‘We’re excited about it – it feels like the natural next step for us,’ concludes Matt. ‘We wanted more people to come – there’s a disproportionate amount of work that goes into a show just to do it twice. This way, we can support more of the writers throughout the week with workshops and Q&As as well. We can also give our longlist more support and provide more feedback.’

The callout for the first one-week Pint Sized is open until 1 July. I imagine they’re already scouring through 1,000+ submissions. I know that they will read every single one and give each piece the attention it deserves. It may seem like a mammoth task, but that’s how committed these two are. It’s that level of dedication that inspires me every day – Matt and Nick are a pair that I aspire to emulate in my own practice.

Maybe that’s why it took me so long to meet up with these two, and why it takes me so long to actually get into the interview itself. I could soak up the energy, the dreams, the passion from Pint Sized all day.

 

 

Pint Sized is looking for submissions for its first week-long festival at The Bunker Theatre in October 2018.

The deadline for submissions is 23:00 on 1 July 2018. For more information, please visit the website.