Intermission Interviews | Christopher Elmer-Gorry

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This week, we’re talking to Christopher Elmer-gorry, artistic director and ceo of warts and all theatre

Tell us a bit about what you do in theatre

I’m the Artistic Director and CEO of Warts and All Theatre. We are a not for profit organisation who deliver activity across the Midlands, we are currently working in Northampton, Wellingborough and Coventry. We believe that everyone can be an artist and our work celebrates that. We create professional quality shows, projects and events that embed children, young people and the community as part of the creation process. We’re all about co-creation and collaboration, to make sure that the work is driven by the audience it is intending to serve.

What does your job entail, and what’s your favourite part?

My job is to lead the organisation both artistically and financially. I work closely with Esther our Business Manager in terms of our financial planning and fundraising and then closely with Kitty our Associate Director to explore and develop the artistic output of the organisation. Joe our Creative Producer leads on the project management elements of our work and delivers our marketing activity. Our newest member of the team is Meryl, and Meryl is our Community Coordinator, which means part of her job is to coordinate our administration and planning, so that it all comes together. We are now a team of 5 core staff and around 10 freelancers who work with us regularly. The best part of my job is collaborating with everyone, to achieve our mission and aims of engaging our local community in arts and culture. It’s really important in the current climate that we are driven by these. So I’m enjoying us working collaboratively and developing our working practices, ready for when lockdown start to be relaxed, and we can continue delivering work with/by/for the community.  

Hansel and Gretel Photo credit: Graeme Braidwood

Which productions have you most enjoyed being part of?

There are so many! It’s between two for me. Sweeney Todd at the Royal & Derngate, when I was Youth Theatre Director there was an absolute treat. The music is brilliant, and its so rich in terms of character and scale, so that was a really enjoyable project. Secondly my production of From The Ground Up, which was co-created with Young People and Joeri Smet from Ontroerend Goed. It was produced by Almeida Theatre and performed at Shoreditch Town Hall, and then transferred to the Edingburgh Festival the following year. From the Ground Up was a great project, because it was an immersive interactive play which provoked its audience to respond to a series of binary choice questions. Formally it was a new way of working for me, so I enjoyed the learning experience and how it developed my craft as an artist.

Sweeney Todd Photo Credit: Graeme Braidwood

Do you a memorable story about theatre you can share with us?

I remember when I created Oh No! Not Snow! for Royal & Derngate -It was the under 5’s Christmas show a few years back in the Underground studio. The show was an immersive interactive adventure inside a snow globe (Obviously!). The day before opening we did a test run with an audience from a local nursery, to see if it was going to work, it’s a really exciting moment, because suddenly you have a really honest audience of under 5’s, and as the director you end up watching them more than the actors, because you are trying to gauge how the audience is responding to it. It was promenade, and the audience moves with the action. Literally in this show, if they wanted to, they would quite happily get up, go for a walk or start screaming and shouting.

Oh No! Not Snow!
Photo credit: Graeme Braidwood

But the one moment I will never forget is when a tree starts to talk, (bare with me) so this tree (called Jerry) starts to talk and a puppet manipulated by an actor.The tree is talking to another character on the stage. The set is covered in fake snow. and I’ll remember it as clear as anything. During this relatively poignant moment of quiet and stillness, this 3 year old gets up from their bean bag grabs a handful of fake snow and starts cramming it in the trees mouth, so the actor has to improvise, trying to do the script and coughing and spluttering acknowledging what the audience member is doing, playing along. In the end, pretty much the rest the under 5’s think “what a great game”. 30 seconds later about 9 other children are all force-feeding a tree puppet fake snow. Very quickly we adapted the scene for the next day. It was not engaging enough for the audience, so we made some drastic cuts which still drove the action of the moment, and it didn’t happen again. But it was funny. It was a natural response, and a moment of pure joy! It was fascinating to see the curiosity of a 3 year old and their response to a seemingly real world.

What’s the best thing you’ve seen on stage?

Again, another hard question. I think my top 3 in no particular order and for very different reasons are, Fight Night by Ontroerend Goed, which explores democracy and decision making. The Red Shoes by Kneehigh when I was 16, a key moment in my life where I remember thinking, I want to do that for a job. and Orphans by Dennis Kelly which I saw at Birmingham Rep when I worked there, it was electric edge of your seat stuff, its an expertly crafted play.

What do you love about your local theatre community?

The variety of what’s happening in pockets all over the town. There is a real investment of creativity in Northampton, and there are lots of people trying to develop their practice and craft. That’s what I love most, the commitment to keep developing and getting better.

What have you been doing theatrically during lockdown?

I’ve tried to distance myself a bit actually because the day job (working in theatre) has been so demanding. We’ve literally be remodelling our finances based on the ever changing landscape and we’ve created a digital platform called LINK, which enables us to continue delivering our work digitally. So I’ve found myself seeking out other types of art and culture more than theatre. There is something about streamed theatre that just doesn’t do it for me. It doesn’t evoke the same feeling in my heart, so I’ve not watched much of it. I’ve found myself reading more, and doing a virtual tour of an art gallery, trying to feed my artistic side in other ways seems important at the moment.

In these dark times for theatre, who would you like to encourage people to support with a donation if they’re able?

We are expecting there to be an increased demand for our bursaries when we can finally continue delivering our sessions face to face, so we are currently raising funds through our LINK:UP Q&A Sessions. We’ve had online Q&A’s with Benjamin Zephaniah, Rob Brydon and Alex Lawther and Gemma Barden the stars from Netflix’s End of the F***ing World. There are more to come, with writer Laura Wade joining us on 16 July. All the tickets are pay what you can and the funds raised go into our bursary pot for young people to engage in our work for free.  All the information on these events can be found here

You can also choose to support Warts and All via their website here

Intermission Interviews are the work of Becki Cockcroft and Matthew Neuenhaus. Becki is Marketing & Press Assistant at Northampton’s Royal & Derngate theatres, and a freelance marketeer, designer and photographer, and Matt is Marketing Officer for Birmingham Hippodrome.