This is part of an ongoing series of regional Shakespeare coverage. This is Hannah Brewer here this week with the latest in Shakespeare news from the Isle Of Wight.
As the Isle of Wight Shakespeare company awaits its one year anniversary, I caught up Artistic Director Josh Pointing to see what it takes to set up a niche theatre company in the current climate. Josh himself is a seasoned actor with an impressive resume to boast.
Here’s what I found out:
He’s got the best plays, simple as that. Well, there’s perhaps a bit more to it than that, but it’s not a bad place to start a company.
Does the Isle of Wight have a particular market for Shakespeare?
Wherever theatre exists, there’s an audience for Shakespeare. Outside musicals and Panto, he’s the biggest box-office draw out there – and that’s a big change from the way things were even ten years ago. These days you’ve got stars like Benedict Cumberbatch, David Tennant and Tom Hiddleston drawing mainstream crowds to classical work, and that renewed interest spills over into regional theatre too. Shakespeare does things on an epic scale that you don’t see much of elsewhere on the modern stage, and he genuinely writes for everyone, never for a niche audience, which is why his appeal has never been limited to any particular time or place.
As Artistic Director, what do you hope the company will achieve?
We wanted to start a company that could help push local theatre closer to the heart of the Isle of Wight’s mainstream cultural life, which is a big part of why we chose Shakespeare as our house playwright. He gives us a model of art that can be shamelessly populist, moving, beautiful and rigorously intelligent all at the same time, making him the only playwright, living or dead, who really can be all things to all people.
In devising our vision statement, I thought pretty hard about what it means to create ‘popular’ theatre in the true sense of the word, because I never wanted to make the kind of Shakespearean theatre that presents itself as weighty and important, or somehow ‘good for you’. That’s a million miles away from the plays he actually wrote and the way his actors performed them – these were the blockbuster movies of their day, and we want you to see them because they’re exhilarating, hilarious, scary, moving and fun, not because of their alleged cultural superiority. That attitude informs our entire approach.
In our promotional campaigns, for example, we actually look to movies rather than theatre as our primary inspiration in getting the word out there. Movie posters have a fantastic way of distilling a narrative into its simplest, most vivid expression, and that can be a really helpful way of thinking about introducing the public to some of the trickier works – what’s the movie-poster version of this story?
What does it take to make a new company successful in the current financial climate?
The IWSC is an attempt to answer that question. The climate is constantly changing – not only do we all have less disposable income now, but government arts funding is getting scarcer all the time. Obviously we should all fight for the continuation of large-scale government investment in the arts, not least because it’s been so incredibly successful in this country, but equally we all have to start preparing for a time when theatre companies – big and small – won’t be able to rely on grants to get by.
In our case, that makes us work harder to be as innovative and accessible as we possibly can – our company’s builtaround a multi-platform approach incorporating festivals, events and educational workshops as well as theatrical productions, which projects our influence into a wide range of areas, as well as making our business model pretty durable in hard times.
What’s next for the IWSC?
Our new production of Henry IV, which I’ve co-directed with the marvelously talented Hannah Brewer, kicks off very soon, condensing the two parts into one brisk evening of riotous comedy, wrenching family drama and some seriously spectacular battle scenes. We’re all hugely proud of it, not least of our stupendously talented cast – there are things in this production I’ve never seen before on the Island stage, and we can’t wait to show it off it May.
The Isle of Wight Shakespeare Company’s production of Henry IV will play in May 2015, on the 2nd (Shorwell Parish Hall), 9th (Aspire Church, Ryde), 16th (Landguard Manor, Shanklin) and 30th (Trinity Theatre, Cowes). Tickets £8. Box Office and performance times at www.iwshakespeare.com or call 01983 242650.