Interview: JustOut Theatre’s Gabriel Stewart Chats About New Radio Play Series JustOut Stays In

JustOut Theatre have been keeping busy while theatres are closed, launching JustOut Stays In, a series of radio plays written and produced by Northern creatives. The company is eager to give Northern-based artists new opportunities to share their work and with the project well and truly underway, I caught up with Gabe Stewart to chat about these weekly radio plays and the company’s commitment to providing a platform for Northern talent…

How have you been doing in lockdown? Have you managed to engage with any online theatre content you can recommend to the theatre-starved and culture-hungry?

As a theatre company, lockdown has really changed everything about the work we create, especially because we thrived on creating communal spaces to share and develop new work. So while not the most desirable thing, it’s certainly caused us to break out of our comfort zones and try new things, like JustOut Stays In. We’re glad to see that we’re not alone and that there’s plenty of other companies and organisations that are continuing to create work, like our friends at Rocket Box and Up ‘Ere Productions.

So you’ve just launched JustOut Stays In, a weekly radio play series. Tell me a little bit about how the idea for this series came about.

Well, we actually had just launched a monthly scratch night in March, which feels like a million years ago now. Unfortunately we had to put that on hold due to Covid-19 but the basic idea behind it was to build a community of Northern creatives including writers, directors and performers. So we thought how else could we build that same community and get Northern writing out there in a Coronavirus world? Radio Plays! It is a perfect way to showcase new writing and is a great opportunity to push ourselves as a theatre company to try out a completely new format. So, we’re still learning all the time.

You’re seeking to promote the work of Northern-based creatives, so are you working with an existing pool of talent as well as actively seeking connections with new creatives?

We’re doing both! We’ve managed to build up an amazing community of people who we have worked with before but are always trying to build that network and provide opportunities for as many people as we can.

And how are you going about selecting, casting, rehearsing and directing these radio plays? Are your processes becoming easier as lockdown gradually lifts?

We get together at the end of every month and go through our favourite submissions to narrow it down to our picks for the coming month. We actually had our first in-person meeting a couple of weeks ago… Casting mainly comes down to which actors on our database we believe best suit the characters. Once that is all sorted, we get rehearsing and, depending on the length of the pieces and the confidence of the actors, have anything from 1 to 5 rehearsals before recording over the ultimate power that is Zoom.

It is then off to days of editing from one of us to put it all together into the finished product that you hear. Of course, there are always going to be problems with this process because working with minimal equipment and over the internet is a challenging thing to do, but we hope that the audiences will give us the benefit of the doubt for any mistakes that we make because of the difficult conditions we are working within.

And aside from the northern-based creatives stipulation, are creatives writing to any specific guidelines?

Our only guidelines for submissions is to keep it concise so the story can really come through via the radio play format. We love to read all the different ideas and themes that people write about, so we tend to not have many other guidelines apart from that, although we probably will
avoid a play if its too ‘corona heavy’!

I think I would too at this point! So what would you say are the top three things a really great radio play should do?

1. Work as purely an audible medium! This may seem obvious but it’s so important to stress that the difference between a good radio play and a great one is where it can tell an amazing story without needing to resort to visuals, instead telling the story purely through sound.

2. Transport the listener to another world. At JustOut we love the way in which theatre can take an audience to different worlds, and a radio play is no different. Fill your stories with interesting characters and exciting events, and it will be all the better for it!

3. Leave the listener with a desire to explore further. The best part about a good story is the way it sticks with you and burrows deep beneath your skin! A good radio play should make you want to know more about the themes discussed, the places you’ve been to, the people you’ve met, and make you excited to learn more. If a radio play has you
going down an extensive Wiki wormhole, then it’s done its job right.

And what can listeners expect from these radio plays in terms of running times and such?

We have such a diverse array of plays it’s hard to pinpoint an exact expectation! We have plays ranging from 5 minutes to 45 minutes, contemporary pieces about love and heartbreak, to period pieces about plague and deceit, to horror comedies. Each week is really unique and
that’s what’s so exciting about the project.

Great stuff. Do you intend to keep going with the series beyond the initial six plays available and do you envision the project continuing beyond the reopening of performance spaces?

We’ve already chosen more scripts and are working hard to get those performed, recorded and edited over the coming weeks! Right now we have plays scheduled up until the end of August and are just about to pick our September releases. Because we like to work in small and intimate spaces it might be a while until these are safe again, so the radio plays will certainly continue for a long time. When that reopening does come, the plan will be to see what we’ve learned and are wanting to do, and how the new theatrical landscape will accommodate that. This might be restarting the scratch nights, carrying on the radio plays or doing something completely different. You never know…

How can creatives get in touch and submit their work and what does the selection process look like at JustOut HQ?

Very simple, just email and we will have a read and consider it at the end of each month, along with all the other submissions. We are especially keen to see more diverse voices in our submissions so please do not hesitate in sending in your work.

And finally, what are your hopes for JustOut going forward? Are there any other projects in the pipeline we should look out for?

Once live theatre is back with us, we are hoping to build to a place where we can put on full-length productions. All new writing, of course! We have built a strong relationship with many wonderful writers so hope that this will result in some very exciting projects for the future…

So there you have it! You can keep up with JustOut Theatre and their JustOut Stays In series via their website and Twitter page.

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