Nemo Martin | On Theatre and Identity

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I was asked a question a couple of weeks ago that I get asked quite a lot.

I was on a panel with a group of amazing ladies, part of the opening of the Omnibus’ 96 Festival, and we were talking about the future of the LGBTQIA+ community in theatre. I was talking a lot about how my work featured a fair amount of ‘intersectionality’, characters who are multiply-marginalised: not just gay, but a person of colour, femme, trans, disabled, working class, an immigrant, etc.

‘LGBT’ plays are dominated by cisgender, (predominantly male) white gays and this upsets me. There are so many interesting stories to tell, and the most legitimate way to tell them is to tell them together: LGBTQ+ people of colour are rarely seen alone. We find one-another out, and we stick together. That’s why my first play, Pitch & Cologne, features a transmasculine (someone assigned female at birth, but who might be a transgender male or non-binary and prefers to present more masculine than feminine) British East Asian, his gay brother and his Black boyfriend, his lesbian sister, their bisexual British Indian friend and a cisgender white boy called Philip.

Philip was initially tacked on at the end of the first draft because I thought I should ‘diversify’ my play. To give the white audience some kind of representation. I felt bitter about the ‘friend of colour’ trope, usually a minor speaking role to make sure everyone feels better about the whole ‘race issue’, and the proto-Philip was my answer. Show the white audience what it feels like to be 1/6 of a cast (which, to be fair, is actually a pretty good ratio on the London stage.) Load him with obnoxious, trope-y lines that mark him out as White. Make him suffer under stereotypes and kill him off with an emotional goodbye at the end that furthers the characters of colours’ arcs.

But slowly, Philip became a focus for me because suddenly, he was the audience. No matter how much the Arts Council wants me to convince them that featuring BAME artists will bring in ‘diverse’ audiences, the audiences that ‘matter’ in London 2018 are the white, middle-aged middle class, because that is who is running the theatres, and that is who are the critics. Philip had to be perfect because while the 1/6 people of colour in the audience might go home and simmer about obvious actual racism in a play (and maybe start a slam campaign), the 5/6 parts of the audience will a) not commission the play, b) not review the play well c) not come to see the play at all.

My new play, Hold Me in Thine Eyes has a similarly ‘diverse’ cast and storyline.

So, the question I was asked by a white (presumably gay) lady was: ‘can someone like me come to see your play?’

It infuriated me because it assumes that people of colour, especially queer and disabled people of colour, don’t have to think about their intended audience at every stage of writing. Because I would have loved to write Pitch & Cologne, my well-researched, nineteenth-century set period drama with an all-BAME, all-queer cast, whose intended audience was 16-25, transmasculine and East Asian, but I didn’t. Once again, I prioritised the same audience that gets every play written for them, because I still want them to understand me, and people like me. I want them to watch my stories, and to see that we exist, and always have existed. I want to show them that our voices are worth watching, and

that the characters need not be white and cisgender to be relatable. I do not write ‘diverse’ characters because I want to oust the white middle-class from theatre, but because I think we have stories just as good as theirs.

To ask me whether I’d thought about you is wilful ignorance as to the current state of theatre. Your existence matters so much more than mine that you can ask the question. Because if I had gone to a panel about a white woman’s play and asked whether she wanted me, in all my complex identities watching her play, she would have been allowed a ‘it’s a play for everyone’. Hers is relatable for everyone, mine is not.

How did I answer ‘can someone like me come to see your play?’

“Of course! I mean, I wrote it with my cis white straight grandmother in mind!”

Petty, for bringing up her age, but still with a dashing smile and cordial tone. I have to be nice to bigots who are not nice to me, because otherwise I’m fighting fire with fire. That’s my reality. That’s what ‘identity and theatre’ means to me. That’s why I write.

Nemo Martin will be appearing at Omnibus Theatre in Working Title on May 22 – grab your tickets for just £6 HERE

Katy Schutte | Celebrating Today’s New Moon

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Witch myths and questions answered by a girl who was in a coven.

Are you a white witch?
Witches don’t identify as ‘white’ or ‘black’ in the magickal sense. The world would have us call witches good or bad, but we’re all morally grey, like most humans. The next time someone tells you that they are a Christian; try asking them if they are good or evil.


I think you misspelled magic…
Magick is sometimes spelled with a ‘k’. It differentiates stage magic from universal magick, which is using the natural forces around us to bring about change.


But you’re evil, right?
It’s not generally accepted to ‘bend another’s will’ so nope, no evil stuff going on. Witches often use the phrase ‘an it harm none’ at the end of their spellworking.


Does the bad stuff you do come back three times worse?
The rule of three is a karmic idea, so rather than stopping people from being bad, it mostly encourages us to do good.


You worship Satan!
Witches aren’t Christians and they don’t believe in God, so they don’t believe in Satan either. Duh. Mostly, they worship a bunch of different gods and goddesses and some (like me) just see those as a Jungian extension of our own minds.


Do you run around naked?
Yes, we do run around naked, that one is true. But not all the time, not necessarily everyone and it would depend on your coven and the people in it. It could be for every meeting, or just for special occasions. So, the same rules as a group holiday with your friends, probably.


You’re all goths.
Not all witches are goths. I mean, a lot of them are, but not all of them. That tasteful lady in her mid-50s at your office job; she dances around skyclad in the moonlight with her friends sometimes. For some people witch is how they’d like other people to see them, for others, witch is how they secretly are, just for themselves.


Do you ride around on broomsticks?
I don’t, but I have taken some recreational drugs in my life. Withes didn’t need broomsticks to fly, they got high. Broom handles served as a good applicator for hallucinogenic balms way back when. They’d avoid the nausea and other side-effects by other means of ingesting hemlock, nightshade, henbane and mandrake…


Women are witches and men are wizards or warlocks, right?
Nope. Men can be witches too and when they are witches they are also called witches.

Katy will be appearing at Omnibus Theatre in Engine Room on June 27. Grab your tickets HERE

Omnibus Lists | Gabrielle Ducomble’s Top 5 Pieces of Jazz

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Gabrielle Ducomble is a charismatic and sophisticated French jazz singer. She’ll be bringing a little bit of Paris to Omnibus Theatre on April 22, performing iconic songs by the likes of Edith Piaf, Michel Legrand, Jacques Brel and Astor Piazzolla, plus her own original numbers.

For now though, enjoy Gabrielle’s Top 5 jazz pieces, perhaps whilst buying a ticket to the show?

1.”Windmills of Your Mind”- Dianne Reeves version

2. “Fuga Y Misterio” – (Astor Piazzolla) Gary Burton version

3. “Bebe” – (Hermetto Pascoal) Richard Galliano version

4. “Mare Nostrum” – Jan Lundgren

5. “Smile” – Charlie Chaplin

And hey, why not have a little listen to Gabrielle herself while you’re at it?

Catch Gabrielle Ducomble at Omnibus Theatre on April 15 – grab your tickets HERE

TOP PICKS | 9 Jazz Artists To Check Out Immediately According To Joy Ellis

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Joy Ellis is a fantastic London-based pianist, singer and composer. On April 15 she’ll be at Omnibus Theatre performing original material from her 2017 album ‘Life on Land’. We caught her ahead of the show and demanded she tell us her favourite jazz artists right now. She kindly complied.

1. Brad Mahldau

2. Esperanza Spalding

3. Roy Hargrove

4. Gretchan Parlato

5. Red Garland

6. Bobby Timmons

7. Ahmad Jamal

8. Maria Schneider

9. Johannes Berauer

And hey, why not have a little listen to Joy herself while you’re at it?

Catch Joy Ellis at Omnibus Theatre on April 15 – grab your tickets HERE

ARUNIMA KUMAR | On Choreographing Gauhar Jaan: The Datia Incident

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Arunima Kumar is an award-winning dancer and choreographer. She has performed in over 700 festivals and venues across 35 countries. Trained in the Kuchipudi and Indian classical dance style of South East Asia, here she talks about her work for Gauhar Jaan: The Datia Incident, a play set in 1902 fusing music and dance, inspired by India’s first recording artist Gauhar Jaan.

I’m extremely excited to have been asked to choreograph these dance pieces for the production. A lot of research has gone into the dances, which played an important part in that era, especially in the royal courts and the role of courtesans in depicting this beautiful art form, which was very specific to that particular period in time.

“I’ve translated the glamour and opulence of the palace using flamboyant, majestic and elegant dance movements.”

For one of the main dance scenes in this play, set in the royal court, I’ve translated the glamour and opulence of the palace by using very flamboyant, majestic and elegant dance movements, they’re complex and emotive, using both movement and hand gestures, as opposed to being fast and linear. When choreographing this scene, I imagined the beauty and glamour of the royal courts and the gracefulness of the courtesans entering the palace, but also on a deeper level there’s a complex contradiction going on because, for the courtesans, this was not only a deeply embedded art form and means of communication, but it was also their livelihood, they needed to be alluring and to be able to show their artistry in all its glory. So, there are many elements playing in my mind when I am directing the movements.

I’ve also weaved in Kathak influences (a genre of Indian classical dance which communicates stories through rhythmic foot movements, as well as the use of facial expressions and eye work) in the dances. Even the body speaks and interprets the narrative, so it’s a really beautiful, very deep piece that I’m trying to build together in order to transport the audience to that era, to that moment, and to see and feel what the maharaja would have experienced. The music that writer Tarun Jasani and director Mukul Ahmed picked is quite an enthralling piece to work with.

“The song and the piece of music is so beautiful that I felt I had to do it justice and tell the story in an authentic way.”

The second dance piece, in one of the later acts, depicts Gauhar Jaan in a darker mood, when she is reminiscing about her mother, and feeling pain which has converted into anger, after undergoing some level of deception. So, when I read the script and heard the brief, there was a lot going on, it’s not just a very simple dance piece. I wanted to show the different dimensions and the ‘raag’ (a term used in classical Indian music for a melodic composition) is a stunning ‘sunset raag’, much of the story revolves around this particular ‘raag’. It’s a piece of music which also takes the maharaja back to an uncomfortable memory, so we tried to show all of that through dance. The song and the piece of music is so beautiful that I felt I had to do it justice and tell the story in an authentic way.

The costumes for both pieces are very specific to the era and the styles would have been similar to those worn by courtesans. Sophie Jump, the set and costume designer, provided the references, illustrations and photographs, and the dancers will be dressed as ornately as possible. It seems that Gauhar Jaan never wore the same piece of jewellery twice, so we will need to truly depict that level of opulence and to also understand her as a person. I have integrated bells and anklets in some of the dance pieces to show different emotions, not just to a set rhythm, but to show what that rhythm is really depicting. Dance is such an integral part of this production. The dancers will look fabulous, the brief has been really detailed and together with the wonderful pieces of music, the fusion of both, I hope, will do full justice to the production.

Catch Gauhar Jaan: The Datia Incident at Omnibus Theatre from 10 – 29 April – grab your tickets HERE

5 MINUTES WITH | Shadwell Opera

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Shadwell Opera is a bit of a family affair. Brothers Jack Furness (Artistic Director) and Sam Furness (Tenor Soloist) are key players in the award-winning, critically acclaimed company. We sat down with the two of them to ask our most burning questions ahead of their two-night run, Shadwell Opera Double Bill, at Omnibus next month.

OMNIBUS THEATRE: Where did Shadwell Opera start and what was your overall aim with this style of opera?

JACK FURNESS: Shadwell Opera started when I was a student at Cambridge in 2009. We were part of a big wave of smaller companies rethinking how opera could be done, particularly in terms of scale, context, and price. Our theory was, if you bring operas into interesting venues, sing them in English and put the audience right up close to the action, you have an offer that will attract younger and more diverse audiences. A lot of these insights have now been taken on board by the bigger companies, so the mission of the company has developed as the industry has changed. Now we focus on performing stuff written within the last one hundred years and often the last fifty. Our approach has become rougher, more daring, I think. But at the heart of what we do is still a complete commitment to the intensity of live operatic performance, experienced overwhelmingly, for a ticket price that won’t break the bank.

“At the heart of what we do is a complete commitment to the intensity of live operatic performance…for a ticket price that won’t break the bank.”

OT: What was one of your first operas you both collaborated on? Since starting the opera in 2014, how much has changed in terms of your directing and collaborating?

JF: The first opera Sam and I collaborated on was The Magic Flute, which we took to Rosslyn Chapel south of Edinburgh as part of the Edinburgh Fringe. The show was a huge success and won us a Herald Angel Award. I think it was the moment when a lot of us thought “Oh! Maybe I can do this for real!” It’s an interesting question how things have changed working together because that first time, both of us were still finding our way in terms of what we were meant to be doing to some extent. Now obviously we’re a lot more professionalised in terms of our approach. We know more tricks of the trade! But getting back into this, my overwhelming feeling was how familiar it all was. At the end of the day, we’re brothers and that’s the dominant mode of our relationship. We could be working on almost anything together and I think we’d still relate in the same way.

OT: Jack, can you describe your creative process? You have regularly worked with more traditional operas including; Don Giovani, Madam Butterfly. How much does this process differ to a more contemporary genre of opera?

JF: This is possibly the hardest thing to talk about! Ultimately it’s always a case of obsessively listening to the music until every single tiny bit of it is firmly lodged in my head. I have to know all of it, inside out. Often I find clues to things in the tiniest details in the musical score. Then a whole lot of reading. This can be about the opera itself but often it’s about reading down a particular track or line of enquiry, and this can take me into completely different worlds from where I started. Then, generally, I sleep! Often I’ll wake up at 3am and the work has been done; I know what’s important.

“The space is not only macabre and strange – it’s also beautiful.”

Alongside this I’ll often be working with a designer to work out how to realise the ideas on the stage.  I don’t think there’s a fundamental difference between staging something like Don Giovanni or something more contemporary, at least in terms of the techniques you use, or the way you get to your answers. The differences are really to do with expectation. With a well-known piece, the audience have certain expectations, and a good production should engage with those expectations whilst telling the story. With newer pieces most people are coming in cold, so you have to create expectations within the structure of the performance itself. It’s a subtle difference but has wide ranging implications. Even when I work on an old piece though, I try to imagine I’m the first person to direct it, and that the audience don’t know it. Or I imagine that at the same time as knowing what I know – which is that many of them do know it, and others have directed it. But trying to keep a fresh view of it is crucial. Many of these older pieces have a whole tradition of performance built up around them. Sometimes that’s a good thing but often it actually inhibits performers or audiences engaging with the piece itself. Lots of people think they know what happens in the Mozart operas, for example, and who the characters are, but really what they know is the traditions that have grown up around it. I think my job is to strip away some of that and get back to the piece itself.

“At the end of the day, we’re brothers.”

OT: Sam, you have taken on such a wide range of roles during your career. Which ones have you enjoyed doing the most/which have been the most challenging?

SAM FURNESS: I recently made my role debut as don José in Carmen which I would say was both the most challenging and most rewarding role I have done to this point. It is always enjoyable as an actor to have a real journey to make through a piece and the more your character and his situation changes through a story, the more enjoyable it is to play. Of course the music one has to sing is just as crucial as the character and for me, as for many singers, romantic operas tend to give the best opportunities to show the full pallet of vocal colours available to me.

OT: On your website you describe working in ‘venues expected and unexpected’ which is the most unexpected venue you have performed in?

JF: That has to be St Bart’s Pathology Museum! It’s this extraordinary space in East London, filled with different body specimens in glass jars all up the walls. We did Peter Maxwell Davies’ 8 songs for a mad king there, and also had a themed life drawing session. It was a really extraordinary event and captured a lot of people’s imaginations. The space is not only macabre and strange – it’s also beautiful.

Catch Shadwell Opera Double Bill at Omnibus Theatre from 26 – 27 April – grab your tickets HERE

5 MINUTES WITH | Theatre Designer Sophie Jump

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What goes on behind the scenes to put on a play?

One of the key members of the production team is the set and costume designer. Sophie Jump (winner of the overall Gold Medal at World Stage Design 2013) is a theatre designer and Associate Director of the internationally renowned Seven Sisters Group. She has designed for productions including Uncle Vanya At the Arcola Theatre, Led Easy for Cardboard Citizens and The Tempest for Shared Experience.

We sat down with her to talk about her latest project, Gauhar Jaan: The Datia Incident, coming to Omnibus 10-29 April.

OMNIBUS THEATRE: What drew you to this particular project?

SOPHIE JUMP: I’ve worked with Mukul before and I thought that the character of Gauhar Jaan, someone far-sighted enough to embrace new technologies, resonates with the fast-changing period we are in now.

OT: What influences did you draw on for the design of this set?

SJ: I researched images of Gauhar Jaan and Maharajas as well as Fred Gaisberg and early gramophone recording sessions to try to get a sense of the worlds these people had inhabited. I also looked at Kalighat paintings and Indian miniature portraits and paintings of court life. I was very taken by the great simplicity and glowing colours of some of these artworks.

“I was very taken by the great simplicity and glowing colours of some of these artworks.”

OT: Describe the key elements of the design and what factors did you have to take into account?

SJ: I knew that we would be projecting some film, and that we needed to be able to move swiftly between locations. I’ve tried to create a space that suggests the locations with elements of set and props, but is flexible enough to be used for all the scenes. So, for example, there are certain features, such as an archway or a chandelier, that give a sense of opulence for the Maharaja’s Palace.

OT: What were the key challenges with this project?

SJ: There are quite a few scene changes and not a very big space to work in. We decided to stage the play in traverse with the audience on two sides of the set, which has it’s own challenges in terms of staging and lighting, but which brings the audience closer to the action, and keeps a sense of dynamism. Perhaps because I often work in site-specific locations I enjoy creating spaces where the audience are close up to the performers.

“I tend to like the kind of theatre that lets the audience engage their imaginations.”

OT: Do you have a design style and how has this influenced this set?

SJ: Each production calls for a different approach but I tend to like the kind of theatre that lets the audience engage their imaginations, and I think that when that happens the audience invests in what they are watching in a way that they don’t when watching a film, for example. Perhaps you could say that my design style reflects this idea. For this piece I’ve tried to find create a space with objects, costumes and colours that suggest the period and places it is taking place.

OT: What was the favourite part of designing this set?

SJ: I enjoyed storyboarding – thinking about and drawing how the characters will move about on the stage I have created.

Catch Gauhar Jaan: The Datia Incident at Omnibus Theatre from 10 – 29 April – grab your tickets HERE

SPOTLIGHT | Zeraffa Giraffa Wins an Offie!

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We are ecstatic to have won an Off West End Theatre Award for Zeraffa Giraffa,  our beautiful co-production with Little Angel Theatre. Adapted from the book by Dianne Hofmeyr with illustrations by Jane Ray, Zeraffa Giraffa delighted our audiences last autumn. It’s been wonderful to win the Production for Young People under 7 category.

Zeraffa Giraffa was created and produced by our very own Felicity Paterson, Senior Producer, and Marie McCarthy, Artistic Director. Felicity says: “for an organization that is only four years old, having Omnibus Theatre’s name read out as a winner is extremely important in terms of industry recognition and making sure that more people hear about us. It also shows that Omnibus Theatre is producing quality work. In addition to this, since Zeraffa Giraffa was designed to be a touring show, the Offie win will help secure the future life of the show as the goal to launch the tour in 2020 is now visible on the horizon.”

Inspired by the astonishing true tale of a real giraffe, the stage version of Zeraffa Giraffa was written by Sabrina Mahfouz and directed by Elgiva Field. Beautiful, hand-made puppets and an original musical score helped to transport our audiences from Egypt to Paris. 


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