TBB Speaks to JMK Award Winning Theatre Director Roy Alexander Weise

Roy Alexander Weise

Roy Alexander Weise

Roy Alexander Weise is a former trainee director of the Royal Court who worked on productions X (2016) and Hangmen (2016), and is now back to direct two new projects with Primetime and On Fleek.

Roy also recently won the 2016 JMK Award Young Directors award for his production of The Mountaintop’ by Katori Hall, which examines the night before Martin Luther King’s assassination and will show at the Young Vic later this year…

We caught up with this up and coming creative to talk all things theatre directing… 

 

So Roy, we’ve bumped into each other at numerous plays and events associated with theatre, and I’ve never truly understood what you did until you emerged as the winner of the 2016 James Menzies-Kitchen award for young directors.… So break it down for me and our audience what do you do?

I’m currently a freelance theatre director. This means I’m self-employed and I’m contracted by different companies (or indeed by myself) to lead a team of people – who are usually more talented than myself – to realising a theatre production. It’s predominantly new plays that I work on, but I dabble in the odd modern classic and have recently done a bit of devising. I am also an acting tutor for a company called Young & Talented, Associate Director for Harts Theatre Company and occasionally – when theatre isn’t paying enough – casual event staff in hotels and restaurants.

How did you make the decision to become a director within theatre? How did you distinguish that it was plays you wanted to direct and not film, TV, music videos etc? (Or do you still have plans to venture into other genres?)

My love for stories has always been there but my passion for theatre came from working as a young actor in the Oval House Youth Theatre. I think I discovered around the age of 16 – whilst performing in a play called Chatroom – that when I spoke on stage, the audience responded. We were actually having a conversation, albeit the audience often non-verbally. There was a dialogue happening and that excited me. There was debate and that excited me. It’s immediate, not just because it can be put on much quicker than films or TV but the response and the conversation with the audience is live and this shared experience allows us to see that we don’t live alone in our thoughts and feelings and that our narratives are all intertwined.

But I’ve also always dreamt of making music videos. I used to be a musician and music is something that I have a massive passion for. I’d also love to do a bit of a Sam Mendes and be able to direct West End hits and James Bond movies at the same time.

You’ve trained with the Royal Court, and have experience assisting in various other theatres… It appears that to become a successful director the training is quite formal in contrast to maybe an aspiring film director who could shoot a film with just a video phone to show potential? How else can aspiring theatre directors hone their craft? 

(l-r) Primetime cast  Kayla Meikle, David Ajao  Photo Credit - ®HelenMurray

(l-r) Primetime cast
Kayla Meikle, David Ajao
Photo Credit – ®HelenMurray

I don’t think the path is as formal and as clear as we think. It’s a choice that some directors make to assist. It’s safer because you make a lot of contacts and hopefully along the way are able to make people invest in your talent and your ideas and eventually get some of your own work on. But there are also a lot of directors who just make theatre, on the periphery, and eventually people think “what’s that happening over there?”

I also went to drama school which was really the most formal director’s training that you can get. It was fantastic for me to be incubated for 3 years and just focussed on practice. But there is so much in terms of working within the industry that you can never really practice for and will always just be stuff that you learn to deal with by doing it – directing professionally – for real.

Your latest projects see you return to Royal Court, with Primetime and On Fleek… tell us about Primetime and what it’s like working with children? How and why did you get involved in this project?

Primetime is an amazing project that was conceived by an amazing woman called Lynne Gagliano. Plays written by 8-11 year olds, performed by professional actors, with a professional production team and a generous budget in a touring theatre production. Children from around London have playwriting workshops with professional playwrights and are taught the basics of story and character and conflict and what a script should look like and then they submit the most imaginative, uncensored stories to the Royal Court. 8 of the best plays are produced in Primetime and this production is toured to another large number of young people around London who receive a writing workshop and then discover that the plays were written by people the same age as them. They light up and think “I can do that!” And the cycle continues.

This year’s Primetime is particularly special for me because we decided to make the project more holistic in its production. So we now show the young audiences exactly how we put everything together and expose the mechanics of theatre. This is so important because there is a massive void appearing in education where the ignition of imagination and ideas and creativity and expression once was. It’s hilarious and moving and tells us so much about what our young people think of the world that we all live in. Some of it is accurate, some of it is fantastical. But nevertheless it’s economic and entertaining and a great time at the theatre.

Tell us about On Fleek… 
 
On Fleek was a devised project which was part of the Royal Court’s Beyond The Court programme in Tottenham. Hamish Pirie and Chris Sonnex (the producers of the Tottenham Summer Festival) teamed up with myself to create a piece of pop-up theatre which explored the world of barbershops, nail bars and hair salons which make up the vibrancy of Tottenham and pretty much anywhere where there is a large Black population. Along with two actors, a local Tottenham artist and two of the Royal Court apprentices we interviewed the locals and created an immersive experience of hair salons and barbers where the audience had their hair curled and combed, and listened to the trivial, the personal and the political conversations that happen in these places. It was also exploring the idea that barbershops are a sanctuary for Black people living in London, finding ways to keep a hold of themselves and their culture. All of that whilst opening up discussions about the history and politics of Black hair. All in two and a half days.

You’re also going to be directing your award winning play The Mountaintop at the Young Vic later this year… tell us about this project – why it was important to you, and how you’re going to pull it off!!! 

The Mountaintop is the first play that I read in about 12 months that hit me in the core and made me laugh and bawl. It’s a fictional account of the eve of the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King Jr where he meets a sassy, beautiful maid who forces him to confront his life, his flaws and his fears. It’s a play that reminds us that he was “…just a man…” and like him we can have an impact on the world that we live in. It’s a two hander and all set in a motel room.

How I am going to pull it off is by surrounding myself with people who are way smarter than me and by riffing off their brilliance. I mean I have also had some brilliant ideas (which I hope is how I’ve won the award) and I will be the person who is responsible for making sure that everything and everyone works together to make this wonderful play come to life. I also read the play a lot so that I really understand each beat of it (or at least have one possible understanding) and research as much as I can to understand the world at the time that the play is set in. I’m excited. But I’m also tired, so I’m hoping to get some good rest and time away from theatre to cleanse my palette, ready to get stuck in again.

Have you found / defined your voice yet? Do you want to?
 
No. I never want to be defined or find my voice. Making theatre helps me to understand who I am at the different stages of my life. I’m complex, like everyone else in the world. I hate the idea of being pigeon-holed like a parcel. Nobody should be. But the nature of our field sometimes means that people are incredibly unimaginative and feel like they have to know exactly who you are and what you do and I feel like that then has an effect on who you are and the work you make. Also, by the time I “find my voice” it will probably be on the way to changing again.

How can we keep up to date on you and your projects?

@RAWeiseArtist 

‘On Fleek’ has ended its run but ‘Primetime’ which stars David Ajao, Mitchell Baggott, Rachel Handshaw, Kayla Meikle, Rohan Nedd and Amalia Vitale debuts this evening Friday 22nd July with a final showing tomorrow Saturday 23rd July. Find out more about Royal Court’s Primetime productions: http://www.royalcourttheatre.com/whats-on/primetime-2016