Dan Phillips is a director, and his most recent venture has been to curate a number of projects at South Hill Park Arts Centre in Bracknell to mark the 10 year anniversary of Civil Partnerships, there are some great events running from the 12th March to early May, including the musical Richard the First. Here he talks a little about his work, the challenges he’s faced on this project and the importance of LGBT Theatre reaching beyond the M25.
Hi Dan, thanks for speaking to us today. You’ve been in charge of the Homo-theatricality season at South Hill Park Arts Centre. How did you get this position?
I directed a new play about 7 gay friends at Edinburgh Fringe festival last year which did really well and after a show I was approached by the CEO of the South Hill park to contribute to a new season he was putting together to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of civil partnerships in the UK. As I had a passion about LGBT theatre and a masters degree which focussed on it I was asked to curate a small season of new work which looked at the subject. The season was to include a reading of a new play commissioned by the theatre, a new musical that I had been attached to for some time and a talk from myself about gay roles in contemporary British theatre.
What have been the challenges so far throughout the project?
The biggest struggle was to find the right collaborators to work with. Having worked with both Simon and John on the musical I approached them knowing that one was married and one was not.* In such a short time we had to come up with a story and get the script to a performable state. Time was tight but we are all really happy with the script we have.
*One of them decided to get married and one decided it wasn’t for them so it was interesting as they would offer both sides of the marriage/civil partnership debate.
What have you most enjoyed?
I have enjoyed getting two very different projects on their feet and pulling together a great cast and creative team. Working in a new venue is always exciting and taking LGBT out of London is very important in the continuing visibility of the LGBT community.
Who is your target audience? Are you marketing to audiences identifying as Non-LGBT? Do you feel that we limit audiences when advertising work as LGBT work?
Bracknell doesn’t have the most active LGBT community and so it is key that this work is not just targeted at the gay community. There are a lot of companies who create work for the community but I think there is a responsibility to show that the two are not separate. issues such as love and loss affect us all and it is important that there is more theatre that isn’t about being gay but just happens to have gay characters. That said there will always be and should always be theatre FOR the community as there are issues that affect gay people that don’t affect mainstream society and it is important that these stories are shared.
What are you trying to communicate to audiences through the season?
Gay, straight or however you label yourself, there are issues that affect us all and theatre can be relatable and funny without focussing heavily on the sexuality of the characters.
Tell us a little bit about your personal journey as a director and your key interests…
I have been directing since I was 19, but I started my own company in 2005 during my undergrad degree in order to produce musicals, which are my real passion. The big turn happened when I hit 24, whilst directing Hedwig and the Angry inch, I discovered/acknowledged that I was gay and during that production came out to everyone in my immediate circle. Everyone was very supportive and that production played a big part in that transition. As a show which is about discovering who you are and exploring gender and sexuality it really hit home how important theatre is as a tool to speak to people and help them through what could otherwise be lonely, tough, confusing times. I then went off to do a masters degree, specialising in theatre about gay characters and this has continued to be a passion of mine. I was lucky, but a lot of people don’t have the support network or the stories to relate to and I really do believe that theatre has that gift to give.
Finally, if you could direct any show, no restraints, what would it be, where would you do it and why?
I have a desperate want to direct Tony Kushner’s Angels in America as I believe that it is still one of the seminal pieces of LGBT theatre which managed to target a much wider audience. It concentrated on illness and loss and how we deal with death as a subject, whether young, old, gay or straight. It also offers huge challenges for a director and designer which it’s giant set pieces and very abstract concepts. I also like taking things out of the tradition theatre set up and would love to have this piece out into interesting sites around the country. Gay theatre HAS to be seen outside of London, the LGBT community doesn’t stop at the M25.
You can find more details of Homo-Theatricality (Needle work, Richard the First and a talk by Dan) here: http://www.southhillpark.org.uk/whats-on/shows-events/
Dan Phillips: Dan graduated from Dartington College of Arts in Theatre and Arts Management before starting his own company, directing productions including the welsh premieres John Cameron Mitchell’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch and The Last Five Years by Jason Robert Brown. Since then he has completed an MA in theatre directing at Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts in London and directed an eclectic mix of theatre including the UK premieres of Harvey Fierstein’s Safe Sex and Andrew Lippa’s The Addams Family. Dan has also written a number of short plays and educational films about theatre as well as a book “My Desperate Cling to Youth” which was published in 2010.