Interview: Burnt Orange Theatre Talk ‘Fast’

Burnt Orange Theatre Company are heading to the Camden Fringe with Fast, a political piece which centres on the voices of the young and the passionate. The show plays at the Etcetera Theatre 10-11 (tickets here) August so I caught up with artistic directors Rosie and Ella to talk all things Fast…

 To begin, tell me a little about the company and the name – when and how did Burnt Orange Theatre Company come to be and what’s the vision?

RT– Burnt Orange came about from Ella and I striving for a creative outlet, we’d worked together before and loved it and we had discussed forming a company many times. We both had incredible experiences in youth theatre when we were younger, so we had a shared passion for providing that for other young people, and the base concept was born. The name itself is a nod to a production of Avenue Q we did together in 2016, and the garish orange clothing we wore to promote the show. 

EN– The company’s vision and niche is that we don’t want to be seen as just another youth theatre company – we want to place our young actors in the same arenas as professional companies, and have their efforts and skills valued in the same way. Also, as part of Burnt Orange, our young members aren’t just actors/directors – they are fully fledged company participants and all processes involved in running a theatre company are opened up to them. We are trying to inspire and educate our members about the theatrical industry, which as we all know, isn’t just about performing. It’s an education I craved when I was a teenager.

What drew you to Fin Kennedy’s Fast as your debut production?

RT– Ella and I spent a long time looking for a script which centred completely around young people and their voices, without being patronising or asking young performers to play adult characters. I am always drawn to political theatre and theatre which sends a clear message, and Fast seemed to be the best combination of the two. Fin’s script was also developed and written at a school in Camden, so bringing it back there felt appropriate. 

EN– For me, the script in particular stood out because it touches on so many issues that intersect with young people today – body image, climate change, obesity, environmentalism, diet culture and youth protest. Working with young people on a text that is relevant is so important, and Fin’s script seemed like the perfect fit.

Both your company and this production are clearly geared towards championing young people – do you feel that the worth or potential of young people is still not fully appreciated in theatre yet?

RT– I don’t necessarily think its that young people aren’t appreciated, more that they struggle to be placed at the centre of a process. We feel that too often there are 16 or 17 year old characters being played by 20-something actors and while that isn’t necessarily a negative thing, it undersells what young people can do and simplifies youth theatre as a concept. We’re simply hoping to provide opportunities that counter that. Its been great recently to see age appropriate casting in shows like Dear Evan Hansen, something we hope will carry on! 

EN– Burnt Orange aims to engage young people in all aspects of the theatrical industry. So regularly we see youth-orientated theatre projects just focusing on performance opportunities, but we challenge this by opening up all of the process behind the theatre company to our young members. Many of our members enjoy acting, but are also curious about writing, producing, directing and more! As part of our rehearsals, we’ve invited people working in the industry to speak to our company members, to shed light on some of the realities and processes of working in the arts. This way, we can really unlock the potential of young people in theatre – by giving them access to industry in all its forms.

Your character Cara is an opportunist, adopting a simple community act of doing good for charity to draw attention to wider issues she feels strongly about. These days communities can spend lifetimes at a distance from one another – do you think communities in general should unite more for causes for the greater good?

RT– I think what Cara represents is what many communities need, and what we’ve seen recently in people like Greta Thunburg, and that is a strong leading figure to push others to change or to become more aware of issues that surround them. There is so much incredible work done in communities, across London particularly, but I think it is easy for communities to feel helpless and voiceless. That’s what Cara counteracts, and what we hope she will inspire other people to do too.  

EN– The play really focuses in on the differing opinions of characters within the same community – they argue and debate fasting, diets and food, and no one really agrees wholeheartedly. However, in spite of their diverse views, they unite and make a stand – and I think that is one of the great messages of the play. In our quite divided times, it’s easy to argue over the details and nuances of issues, but it’s the final action that matters.

Cara’s protest choice is a hunger strike, but what kind of protest do you feel is the best for promoting change and prompting direct action?

RT– I think it completely depends on the cause. Anything which causes no harm but spreads awareness and engagement with an issue to promote action is a worthwhile protest in my eyes. 

EN– Anything can be a protest if it promotes change! But in order to do that in today’s bureaucratic world, the act needs to lobby a governing board on any level. In our play, Cara challenges her school, her local government and national supermarkets.

In your marketing you mention the impressive traction gained by organisations like Extinction Rebellion and those opposing climate change via school strikes – why do you think active, large-scale acts of protest are seemingly becoming more common?

RT– There is a lot to protest against at the moment! I think what we see in the youth strikes and large scale protests at the moment are groups of people who have decided to take matters into their own hands, be that because of a lack of support from elsewhere or because of the need to make change happen faster. This idea is echoed in the production – the protagonist decides to take matters into her own hands, and

EN– Also, in our connected, Instagram-fuelled age, large and heavily visual protests gain traction as they are able to be reposted and ‘memed’. To some this may seem futile, but it’s actually really important to get momentum and messages out there. The school strikes and Extinction Rebellion raised so much awareness because the protests were everywhere – on our phones, on our front-pages and in the news. 

Fast has clear politically-charged roots – is your intention to educate and mobilise as well as to produce theatre which engages and entertains?

RT– The politics of Fast are specific to the town that Cara and the other characters live within, so the purpose of the production isn’t to ask the audience to fight for Cara’s cause or to try to draw attention and rally around a more universal issue. Rather, it is to activate the audience and encourage them to consider issues in their community that they could counteract with their own actions. 

EN–  No one comes to the theatre to be told off – and that is definitely not what our production will be doing. Rather, we’d like to open the conversation about change in an interesting and engaging way. We’re staging the debate, and the audience are as involved as the actors!

What does it mean to you to bring this show to the Camden Fringe?

RT– We feel lucky to bring Fast and Fin’s writing back to Camden, and we can’t wait to get our actors onto a professional stage. 

EN– It’s a passion project for myself and Ro, and seeing our company debuting at such a cool and courageous London festival will be a huge achievement.

If audiences take just one thing away from seeing Fast, what would you like that to be?

RT– The show is aiming to show that everyone can make decisions which could influence the world around them, and that everyone has the power to make a choice and make a change. 

EN– That both the performances and protests of young people should not be ignored. 

And finally, to close – in one sentence only, why should people come to see Fast?

RT– It is a show for teenagers, by teenagers, and centres around complex issues that are present in our society. 

EN– What Rosie said!

Now for the quick-fire round of general theatre related questions…

Who or what has inspired you most in theatre?

RT– I have a few… Jo Todd, Michael Johnson and Erin Walcon all taught me at one stage and inspired me in so many different ways. Most importantly, Ella. She makes me a better person and theatre maker, and always, always knows the right thing to do or say. I honestly wouldn’t still be doing this if it wasn’t for her. 

EN– Rosie. Her theatrical creativity drags me kicking and screaming out of my comfort zone in the rehearsal room. 

Favourite theatre genre and why?

RT– I love verbatim theatre, I think the ability to put someones story on stage is the crux of what theatre should be. 

EN– Musicals are my theatre bread and butter, and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to let them go as my fave. They’re universal and offer so many opportunities to break the rules.

Etiquette debates – worthwhile or futile? Where do you draw the line? It’s a hot topic.

RT– Worthwhile to a point, particularly when its about showing respect to the actors on stage.

EN– I agree with Ro – worthwhile when it comes to showing consideration, but need to be rethought if they encourage dated, exclusionary theatre stereotypes and practices.

Do you have a best ‘the show must go on’ tale?

RT– Ella and I did a performance at the fringe in 2016 and there are a plethora from that week. My favourite is when the electric piano, on which we played a score that underscored the entire show, wasn’t properly plugged in and didn’t work for the performance, so we both had to improvise a score on two ukuleles, staring at each other form across the stage trying to stay in time and on the same chord. Some moments were more successful than others… 

EN– My favourite is from when we co-directed a production of ‘Made in Dagenham’ at University, and I ran to Wilko at 6:45pm on the opening night to buy emergency white sheets and thread, and frantically sewed extra linings on some screens in record time. The show opened without a hitch, and thankfully the last minute handiwork meant that you wouldn’t see the quick changes happening behind the screens. I think we attract theatrical chaos.

If you could bring change in terms of opportunities in theatre right now, what would it be?

RT– Unsurprisingly, I’d push for more youth centred work! I want further training to become more immediately accessible to young people and theatres to programme youth shows as part of their main seasons wherever possible.

EN– Absolutely echo what Rosie says. In order to support more youth-focused opportunities though, I truly believe that our education system needs to change to support this, and encourage and foster interest in the arts in the classroom.

So there you have it! Remember, Fast plays at the Etcetera Theatre 10-11 August 2019 and you can find tickets here.

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