Tanushka Marah, director of Windmill Young Actors, winners of the Outstanding Award for Theatre at Brighton Fringe 2017, talks to us about her upcoming production of Romeo and Juliet – with a twist!
Hi Tanushka, your new production of Romeo and Juliet starts this weekend. Can you tell me how many kids are involved, and what age range?
We have over 60 young people aged 13- 16 however a few younger skaters have joined the team too!
And what makes this production of the classic story different?
This is a student led creation, though directed by myself, so their interpretation will always bring something unique. In this production there are no adults, or young people playing adults, for example Lord Montague and Lord Capulet are simply the heads of the Montague Gang or the Capulet Gang. The Nurse is a group of girlfriends. We also have Marshall Mandiangu as the musical narrator who has written the entire story through rap songs which he performs live, needless to say it is set today, amongst teenagers, in a Skatepark!
That sounds really groundbreaking, and exciting! And a challenge to produce? What have been the biggest challenges?
A huge challenge!!! Working the space is its own challenge, finding skaters to be involved wasn’t easy and we are still looking! Also the Shakespeare takes time for young actors to feel confident with, as well as performing spoken word poetry about knife crime. Good challenges have been the verbatim work where young people interviewed each other on their feelings about sex, love and for some young people how it felt being trans. It’s also challenging for young actors to act being lovers! So there has been a lot of ‘opening up’ involved – this has been the fun challenge. The administration of such a huge project has been less fun!
And you have tons of experience. Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you came be running Windmill, one of the most successful young people’s theatre groups in Brighton and Hove?
I’m currently working for the Royal Shakespeare Company as a Movement Director. I’ve worked for 20 years as a director, I ran my own touring theatre company (Company:Collisions) for 10 years, this toured nationally and internationally, doing mainly physical, street theatre and political theatre. I also worked freelance and worked for various companies all over UK. Then I had children! Life on the road had to stop, as did the pressure of waiting for funding and booking tours in a very uncertain climate. Only 4 months into motherhood I took a Saturday job at Blatchington Mill School for their drama club, 2 hours on Saturday Mornings as a gentle way of keeping my hand in. The Club grew and became 3 clubs but then Blatchington Mill lost their funding for these projects. We took the club over with the support of Blatchington Mill and then it grew to many different areas of Brighton and Hove with many different age groups. I guess I didn’t want to stop directing so I just continued with younger actors and frankly it’s a lot more fun and inspiring!
That’s is indeed inspiring. It probably goes some way to explaining the success of previous Windmill productions, including winning the award at Brighton Fringe, and gaining Arts Council Funding for this production. What has that funding allowed you to do this time?
We’ve really spent the money on time and people, as well as a big PA system for the show! It means we’ve had longer rehearsal times, more directors, we’ve also employed some young adults like Zoe Alexander our assistant director./ writer and script editor. We’ve been able to pay people who’ve previously volunteered like our composer David Goodman and we have a full production team who are a mixture of professionals and young emerging artists, for example our costume designer is 16 year old Miranda Mufema who also plays Juliet. It’s also great to put on a show which doesn’t drain the company of its funds which the Fringe Festival tends to do! Most importantly the funding has allowed us to reach new groups of young people. We set up a free club in Hollingdean and we are about to launch a new free club in Brighton Youth Centre, our partners on this piece in September.
That’s great. What would you say to parents who don’t think of their kids as natural performers/’stage stars’ – or, alternatively, would love to access extracurricular drama but worry about the cost?
Regarding cost, we turn no one away and we have the new clubs in Hollingdean and BYC (Edward St) too. We certainly don’t encourage stardom, it’s all about the ensemble supporting each other, that’s not to say that individuals aren’t always pushed to be braver and more skilled in their craft. Also for people who aren’t necessarily performers there is so much to be gained personally in terms of making friendships, understanding team work, taking on responsibilities. We have some young people who only want to write, direct, or stage manage.
Fantastic. Where can people find more info about the show or about joining Windmill?
Just go to our website www.windmillyoungactors.com for tickets and more info on the company.
Finally, do you have a favourite moment in the show, that people should look out for?
I’m a sucker for romance so I love the scene when Romeo and Juliet meet at the party; and the fight scenes are thrilling, and beautifully choreographed by out fight director Graham Shackell.
Romeo and Juliet is at Hollingdean Skate park, Saturday 20th July, 4pm and 7pm
Tickets are at https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/windmillyoungactors
There are also some FREE tickets for Hollingdean residents (limited) – contact through the website www.windmillyoungactors.com