In Part II of the interview with Jon Tozzie and Nathan Coenen, founders and Co-Artistic Directors of new company Paper Creatures Theatre, the pair answer a quick fire round of questions on all things theatre (including hot topics etiquette and celebrity casting)…
Okay, Quick fire! (Okay, okay, this kind of turned out to be quick-ish fire, but the answers are good so I’ve left them un-edited!)
Who or what has inspired you most in theatre?
NC: Mark Rylance. I was in New York, living in America for a bit and I was kind of a bit lost and a bit bored – and I saw Jerusalem. I ended up spending all my money to see it five times and he was the one who got me into theatre and particularly new writing, and that made me move to London. I’m not originally from here, I’m from Australia. I think his approach to the acting community and in supporting new writers is something I very much aspire to.
JT: (Jon is at this point feeling the pressure and is sporting a remarkable likeness to a rabbit in headlights) Okay, okay – what’s inspired me? I would have to say my teachers because I started doing all the acting stuff when I was about nine maybe. I had acting tutors – there were three of them, one of whom I work with now actually – they just opened my eyes to things. I don’t know, I guess you don’t realise how much potential and how much more world is out there. Actually there’s this whole industry – people that if it wasn’t for them being open minded, I’d never go to the theatre or opened my eyes to these lovely schemes we have – if you’re under 25, to go to the theatre cheaper, all these things that aren’t common knowledge but I know about them now.
Do you have any hidden talents that may find their way into a future Paper Creatures Show?
JT: Um, I’m not talented at all. I can ripple my tongue – I don’t know, if I’m doing a talent show…
NC: Can you do it now?
JT: Yes but it’s a bit gross and not really in an interview – that’s not professional in any shape or form! You go first, I can’t think.
NC: Um, I play a bit of music – I play piano and guitar, so maybe one day – and the dijeriedo as well!
NC: I do, yes. If we ever do new writing in Australia, which I’d very much love to do one day as there’s so many brilliant new Australian writers emerging right now from ‘down under’. So if we ever manage to go a bit International I’ll sneak in a bit of dijeriedo.
JT: I’ve got one for you – I’m a really good cook. If at any point there’s a play about a chef or some sous chefs in a restaurant, give me a call, I’ll make a great risotto on stage.
I’m pretty sure I saw a company fry an egg live on stage at some point…
JT: Oh yeah, if you’ve got the money for it you can anything you want. They actually had a whole play called The Kitchen –
NC: (like he’s just heard Santa’s footsteps on the roof) Really?
JT: Yeah, it was called The Kitchen and (NC gasps, he’s so impressed by this information) – and they all had stations and people were just cooking for the whole show.
NC: That’s a GREAT idea.
JT: So yeah, that can be done – we can aspire!
Favourite theatre genre and why?
JT: I think comedy dramas actually, kind of what we’re doing now because I feel like you need light and dark to get the full spectrum of things sometimes. Some highly tense drama with some lighter moments – I think it just shows what humans are like. So I’d say that that’s my favourite style but I quite like naturalistic as well; part of my drama training was rooted in naturalism and treating things as real as possible – like you say, if you’re going to fry an egg on stage, fry an egg – then I’m there with you but if I see a plastic egg I’m gonna go ‘ah, you’ve lost me a little bit.’ Obviously I am open to that stuff but when I really get connected to something, it’s when it’s got naturalism – when it’s got dark and lots of light in there as well.
NC: I think I’d say the same – I think comedy drama – I think that I love dramatic endings and dramatic turns but I think the key to people’s emotions and in helping an audience feel is through making them laugh first – it just opens them up. You know, when we’re in an audience, laughing, it’s a much stronger fall to hit them with something really impactful and dramatic, so I think comedy drama is the way that an audience is most affected.
Etiquette debates – worthwhile or futile? Where do you draw the line? It’s a hot topic right now.
JT: Hotly debated with Imelda Staunton being all (indiscernible gesture – laughs). To an extent I do agree – I think it’s always nice to have a drink, I mean you’ve got to keep hydrated – I mean alcohol dehydrates you but some form of something is always nice. But I think with food – I think: guys, a drink’s fine, but you can last two and a half hours or whatever without getting food, come on – you just eat before or eat after. So I think that’s my stance on that.
NC: I’d say turn your bloody phone off – like OFF. I was in an American theatre about six months ago and a guy put his phone on vibrate, and he must have been the most popular guy I’ve EVER known because it was an hour and a half, the first half, and he must have got about a hundred and twenty messages. It was insane – so I actually stood up and shouted at him (Nathan laughs at this memory of being a theatre etiquette hero…).
There’s a guy who loves his Whatsapp!
NC: I know, it’s just – there’s nothing – (he doesn’t finish this sentence, such is his frustration at the memory).
JT: I can’t stand it.
NC: I know, and that’s what we’re branded with!
JT: -also, I like this no interval thing at the moment. I don’t know what it is, it seems to be this trend in London and also in regional theatres that if you’re going to do a play, just do a one act job. You don’t have to have an interval because you sit through a film normally, so I quite like that idea – it keeps your attention more focused actually – whereas when you’ve got two acts you kind of drift in and out because you know you’ve got that time.
NC: But then if it’s bad…two hours and twenty minutes is looong!
How do you feel about the recent hubbub surrounding celebrity casting?
JT: Ahhh. We’re coming to it from a place of fringe theatre, so we’re more appreciative of our company. Perhaps we’re more appreciative of unknown talent and to showcase that. It tends to be comedy and commercial theatre – West End theatre – and if it encourages people that don’t normally go to the theatre to go to the theatre, I’m all for it because it’s good to be educated in that sense. Because that’s what it’s for essentially – I used to work front of house at a theatre so you can see how it all works really – it’s a way of getting bums on seats and that’s great if it does help but then I think why do people get annoyed when the celebrity’s not on and the understudy’s on? I mean, you’re going to get just as good a performance, trust me. I mean, we went to see Woyzeck earlier and John Boyega wasn’t even in it and we had no qualms about that and it was just like ‘great, let’s see what this guy does, he’ll be just as good I’m sure’ – and he was, he was absolutely amazing.
NC: It should be whoever the best person is for the job, aside from the monetary value. I don’t know – I’ve never thought about it in the sense that if it gets people into the theatre then that’s a great thing, I kind of always liken it to the fact that when you get too much money in theatre, it can lead down a – it clouds the artistic judgement, so suddenly you’re thinking about who’s the biggest star we can get in it as opposed to who would really give a great performance to entertain us. When you have too many producers at the back of the room, that’s when it kind of starts going down the toilet.
Do you have a best ‘the show must go on’ tale? (This question was greeted with surprising excitement and bottled up hysteria at the very thought of telling such tales…their responses were also thoroughly entertaining, so I’ll do my best to capture their delivery of these tales…)
JT: So we met on a play, we did a Shakespeare tour with The Lord Chamberlain’s men – (to Nathan) so you tell yours first –
NC: – Yeah, so we did Much Ado About Nothing and it was all male casting so Jon was my Hero to my Claudia, and we came out for the wedding scene in an outdoor theatre – and I was angry and you know, I was fuming – and I come over, the Friar brings us together and –
JT: – and I’m in a lovely wedding dress at this point…
NC: – Beautiful dress – he looked gorgeous – beautiful! – and I take his hand, and I look over to him for my line and this massive bumble bee just lands – with a really deep hum, like, hmmmmm (I can vouch for Nathan’s bee impersonation skills for his CV now).
JT: It lands on my chest, right here (indicating the scene of the crime, naturally).
NC: (Nathan’s tale is now punctuated heavily with laughter) – and I just see the love and hope from Hero’s earth just escape –
JT: – and you can just see my eyes like (demonstrates the wide eyed horror look beautifully here – before demonstrating the hysterical high pitched noise he was making. Nathan at this point has lost himself to fits of giggles and it’s all thoroughly entertaining for me as interviewer). I didn’t say anything, I just made these noises!
NC: – and I have to like shame her and I threw his hand away and the whole time Jon was just looking at me with this shocked face.
And in all of that neither of you corpsed at all?
In unison: No, no!
NC: Well, uh, we came pretty close. You might not be able to say it in the interview but he was kind of going like (demonstrates a wide eyed dying fish)…
JT: (Mocking) Um, could you vocalise that Nathan?
NC: Ha – kind of going between smiles and shock.
JT: And another one is that we had to sing at the start of the show and one of the characters had to tune the recorder before, so we could get the idea of our first note and on that particular day he just did it the wrong way, so we couldn’t pitch ourselves right. So we sang a three part harmony song, with seven of us all singing a different harmony line, and it was the most painful two minute song ever – not one of us decided to stop it or start again and it was awful. The audience – who normally clap at the end because it’s a lovely harmonised song – they just kind of went (grimaces and slow claps)…
NC: Yeah, it was a slow clap!
JT: They didn’t know whether we were doing it on purpose or we actually screwed up, which we had – the show had to go on!
NC: That was hilarious, and backstage we were just crying!
If you could bring change in terms of opportunities in Theatre to London right now, what would it be? What does London need?
JT: I think when it comes to BAME acting, I feel we are making progress but we’re not there yet and I think that the joy of theatre is that you can be anything you want. Television and film is different because that’s more specific, but you have the joy with theatre to be able to completely use smoke and mirrors in the sense that you can have a brother and sister and one’s Asian and one’s Indian and you can do that and that’s okay. I think there’s certain companies taking those risks and it really does pay off. But we’re still not there when it comes to that and I think with new writing as well, we have so many classics on in the West End and in big theatres and we have new writing at the fringe, but we tend to get adaptations at the moment – adaptations of certain plays, which are great but we’re not headlining with a new play at the big West End theatres yet. So we’re nearly there, but one day we’ll have The Old Vic having a new writing play and that’s that – it’ll be this massive sell out and everyone will really appreciate it. That’s my hope.
NC: I think there needs to be more schemes and more availability for young audiences to come to the theatre and more reasons for them to come to the theatre. I think theatre tickets are incredibly expensive and it alienates quite a lot of classes and also age groups. I think the ones who suffer are the younger generation and people our age, which is a shame because you see a lot of young people at the theatre but they normally have something to do with theatre; they’ll be actors or drama students or something like that. So I’d love to see more opportunities and more reasons as to why young people with nothing to do with theatre can be encouraged to come and see a show.
Finally, to close, sell your show to readers in just one sentence…
JT: It’s a world premiere, never seen before. (Note: Jon actually specified the punctuation here, for maximum impact with his single line).
NC: I think no matter what, if you come and see Flood, there will be one moment that every single audience member will be able to relate to and I think that’s a really special thing, and quite rare.