Ahead of a new production, Daniel Perks catches up with producer Jake Orr to discuss In Event Of Moone Disaster and his time so far at Theatre503:
I am indebted to Jake Orr. His website, A Younger Theatre, gave me one of my first breaks as a theatre reviewer and steered me in the direction of pursuing this as a full-time career. I had no formal training in journalism, no qualification in English or Drama, so the team had no reason to believe that I would be any good whatsoever. I had done some reviewing work in food & drink and a few bits in theatre before, but mainly came to them with a passion and a desire to develop. Jake gave me a chance because that is fundamentally who he is – a supportive, caring mentor that gives people new to the theatre industry the opportunity they so desperately need:
Jake: I keep thinking about privilege. Within the arts, there is a duty to give back constantly, to be transparent and open. It’s so important that we support access into the arts, challenge and provoke the way in which we make work.
I had no idea what I was doing when I first decided to set up a blog
You would never expect that looking at it now.
Jake: I’ve unleashed a beautiful monster, but that was never my intention. But when someone got in touch and asked if they could write for me, that’s when the penny dropped. It wasn’t about me, it was about providing a space and being clear about what that space was – in my case, it was young people’s voices.
It has evolved through all my work – A Younger Theatre; Incoming Festival at New Diorama Theatre, championing new companies; teaching at drama schools; through to here at Theatre503. Not only are we presenting the work by the newest playwrights, we are working with theatre companies and directors who are just starting their journeys.
We put our idols up on pedestals and I’ve often thought Jake to be one of those individuals who always had a clear vision, a razor-sharp focus to his career that he has pursued with a passionate, dogged level of determination. There is something inspiring in knowing that even individuals as successful as Jake have moments of self-doubt, of being unsure. It’s refreshing to see that your idols are human too – they work hard and experience the same emotions as the rest of us:
Jake: I trained at Rose Bruford College on the European Theatre Arts course. I graduated and I had that fear of being a performer, so I jumped across into marketing for a number of years. I realised that I was too removed, I wanted to get closer to the art and produce. It was partly born from A Younger Theatre – I was running events, taking young people to their first opera, or ballet, or to see Shakespeare at The Globe. That was me producing but I wasn’t calling myself a producer. I worked with Ridiculusmus for about a year and a half as an Associate Producer. That was the first jump into producing and Incoming Festival followed.
No one taught me how to produce, I didn’t go on a course. I did it by doing
I’m bold with my opinions, I put them out there. I built an organisation on being proud to be young. Then I set up a festival which was all about support. I called myself a producer and put on work, but I still hold on to a fear, the imposter syndrome that we all have.
We feel like taking time out is like a failure of ourselves. We feel like we’ve got to be going all the time because if not, we’re falling behind. But taking time out only makes your stronger at what you do.
Understanding that we make it up all the time, it’s ok not to know, give ourselves a break, is so important. You only learn that by doing it
After a successful career as a freelance producer, he has become the latest member of the Theatre503 team. This is a theatre that Jake naturally fits into, a place that champions new writers and new companies, a place that gives support and opportunity for people with passion and desire to realise their creative vision.
Jake: I get a real kick out of working with people that scare me; you can see their potential, they just need the right things to line up. You know they’re going to take you somewhere through their work and challenge you as well.
One of the things I’m championing in my role as Theatre503 is support and mentoring. Our Literary Manager Steve Harper has so much experience dramaturgically; Lisa Spirling has a wealth of experience mentoring through the JMK Trust; I get the joy of working with visiting producers that come here and offer my support, whether it be with budgets or marketing strategies.
New writing allows you to question everything you know about today and that’s really exciting
Through working with Snuff Box Theatre, both on Charlotte Josephine‘s Blush and Daniel Foxsmith‘s Weald, I started to appreciate what new writing does. It’s the reason I wanted to come to Theatre503 and work with Lisa, Steve and Executive Director Andrew Shepherd – there is a passion here for new writing, new playwrights.
I recently moved the opposite way to Jake, from a comfortable full-time position into a risky freelancing environment. Is it as challenging to go the other way?
Jake: The move across from freelance has been a big readjustment. But it came at a time when I really needed it. I’m not ashamed to talk about mental wellbeing – I had a really tough end of 2016, where I was really struggling.
I was a freelancer for seven years and not knowing what was going to happen next wore me out. You have the most intense relationships with these creatives, actors and companies, they become your family. Then everyone disappears, but as a producer you’re still left on a project until the very end and that can be tough. There’s a need to recognise how misunderstood producers are, a duty of care that producers naturally give to other creatives with no one to look out for themselves.
When you’re freelancing, you spread yourself really thinly. I’m so proud of the work that I’ve produced but I always feel like I can do more. Now I want to plough that energy into a shared vision with Theatre503.
I caught up with Jake ahead of the opening of Theatre503’s latest production, In Event of Moone Disaster. Written by Andrew Thompson, winner of the 2016 Theatre503 Playwriting Award; directed by Lisa Spirling in her first production as the new Artistic Director of Theatre503; this production has the potential to be a real highlight of the year in fringe theatre:
How are you feeling about In Event of Moone Disaster?
Jake: Really good. I watched the first run last week and was really surprised. We spend so long with plays, reading them, getting to know them, talking to the writers – watching was magical to see so many new layers within the text. I’ve always been a visual person, so when I read a play I naturally see the world in front of me and build up a picture in my head.
Part of the joy is seeing how the script gets translated – I’ve loved seeing our designer Sarah Beaton working with director Lisa Spirling, exploring how the design comes across and what metaphors in the play translate. Every time a designer brings in a model box for every production I’ve worked on, there’s the feeling of excitement like it’s Christmas. You get inklings through the process, but it’s about seeing how it can work in this space. For example, a lot of this design is based on curves. we’re working with a very conventional theatre shape, so how do we extend the curves into the auditorium itself in a way that reflects space and horizons as themes that link into the show?
Andrew won the 2016 Playwriting Award at Theatre503, so it must be a special production in the season for the theatre as a whole.
Jake: It’s a phenomenal play, we’ve sat with Andrew for a very long time to build up the relationship. It’s Lisa’s first time directing as Artistic Director too. There’s this feeling of momentum – as an organisation, this is us, this is what we’re about, this is who we believe to be a voice of future writing.
It’s all of Theatre503 coming together, heading towards this production
Jake: After In Event Of Moone Disaster, the next show is The Dark Room – a very chilling play by Australian playwright Angela Betzien. In Event Of Moone Disaster projects so much out, it’s about space, fertility and women. It’s big but emotionally linked. The Dark Room is claustrophobic, it really hones.
Then to contrast that again, we have our panto created by The Sleeping Trees – they bring out the child in me and I love that.
I end our conversation on the theme that runs through the entire discussion – of inspirations, of role models and of those that consistently challenge us to be better. For me, Jake is one such person, so I’m intrigued to know who his are:
Jake: Everyone from Sonia Friedman as a producer, to Matt Trueman as a theatre writer, to Luke Barnes as a playwright, to Middle Child as a theatre company. I listen to these people or read what they’re working on, their comments or observations of the industry – these are the sort of people who are doing what they love and it’s so apparent to see.