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Q&A with RJ Lloyd – Co-Director at The Coach House Theatre

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We caught up with RJ Lloyd the Co-Director at The Coach House Theatre; a site-sympathetic theatre company that uses music methods to cultivate and curate new works of theatre and performance. RJ is also a freelance producer, director, writer and actor, whose work spans over 10 years and consists of, one-person shows, radio, storytelling, dance, and physical theatre. RJ is also currently undertaking a masters degree at Liverpool Hope University.

1. What were you doing when the announcements were made for the theatres to close?

We knew it was heading that way and we were already cancelling and postponing events. But on the actual day I was also in the middle of a production and we were rehearsing. Just before the announcement of full lock down, we decided to film what we had with minimal tech and tried to get something from the project.

2. How did you and your theatre company process that together?

For us it’s about taking time to adapt and transform with the world. It’s a good time for experimenting with online, audio and visual mediums, but also taking some time to reflect. More importantly it’s a time for helping practically with the local community and looking after one another. The world is on fire right now; theatre would only spread the damage. Theatre, in many ways, has always been poor and under the threat of closure, and yet it survives every time. The Bristol Old Vic, which was one of the first ever theatre’s to open illegally in 1765, is a strong example. Even when it was made an official theatre with Royal status, that building has been threatened by closure from day one. If it wasn’t hiding from authorities, it was struggling with the funding cuts. It’s now over 200 years old and still going strong. Theatre is simply not relevant right now, but it will be again. And when we do open our doors again, we will celebrate in the ancient technology of gathering in spaces and sharing stories and thought. In the meantime, it’s about trying to entertain and create platforms for performance in an isolated world, and if not that, then help a neighbour.

3. What’s the next steps for your theatre company, what have you been up to since then?

Currently we are developing and re-writing Leg Bags, which is in an audio play that was released last year. It is part of a series of other audio plays, which is planning to be released early next year. We are also in the early stage of a new play involving music, that is in collaboration with Liverpool’s BlackFest. And finally, I am currently focusing on my Masters research and taking advantage of the time in isolation to write.

4. Have you been taking part in anything that’s been happening online? Do you plan on being part of or creating any online content whilst the theatres are closed?

Yes, we have Shamanic Karaoke! The first one was last week and it is an entertaining and cheerful performance that guides on a journey of popular music, and designed for you to have fun and release all your stresses and anxieties. That’s mostly done over a live feed via Facebook, but we’re planning on uploading some to YouTube soon as well.

5. What do you think about the theatre industry putting out live streams and pre-recordings of shows?

I am in two minds over the overwhelming live streaming that is occurring. On the one hand, it’s accessible and people are able to see work that is often over priced. Live streaming was beginning to become a trend anyway. I think it’s a great way of connecting and gaining new audiences, and it’s free. I have been saying for years that the theatre is frankly too pricey! I personally don’t get to go and see all the work in London often because it’s simply too expensive. In fact, I don’t get to see much theatre in my local area either because again, it is too expensive. Sometimes you get the odd deal, or ticket for a fiver. The Unity Theatre’s creative pass (in Liverpool) is a wonderful scheme for that reason and allows people more chance of seeing great shows for the price of a pint. Also the New Works Team at the Liverpool Everyman are creating great, affordable platforms, for local artists and audiences. It’s also why my theatre company never go above £6 per ticket — and even that is a rarity. With live streaming though, all types of theatre is exposed: rich or poor, grand or fringe, and you don’t have to pay for the train either. Don’t get me wrong, theatre’s need to make money. But with the average prices of £12-£50—I’ve seen them go to £200 sometimes—theatre becomes a luxury, when it should be a right. Having said that, I am also a little fed up with people calling live streams theatre. I really question whether it is or not. I think the one fundamental function of the theatre’s technology in regard to its art form, is the idea of people being live in a room together. That is what makes theatre what it is. I think Live streaming is great for marketing, for keeping people entertained whilst in isolation, and it helps in creating accessible options for people who may not be able to get to the theatre; or can’t afford the ticket. I for one embrace the chance to see productions that I couldn’t normally afford, but there is something lacking. Theatre is not made for visual mediums, it’s created to be shared live. I also think it could become an excuse for theatre’s to keep ticket prices high, making it a privilege to be live in the room. We need to be careful how we make decisions in this historic time. This is an excellent chance to transform the faults of the theatre industry, not make it worse and more elitist. I hope my pessimism doesn’t come to fruition and we find a more open and affordable theatre that cater’s to everyone, not just people who can afford to be there. Aside from that, in this time of isolation, I think live streaming is the cheapest and most accessible way for theatre’s to keep their voice heard, and for artists to keep experimenting.

6. If you’ve seen theatre shows streamed online recently, or are planning on watching one, would you recommend one to our readers?

‘Jane Eyre’ at The National was a wonderful production. The music and Sally Cookson’s adaptation of Bronte’s classic is a spectacle. I think the way it’s filmed was really well done too. I thoroughly recommend it. I also managed to capture ‘Institute’ by Geko — which is still online — and it’s a very entertaining and thought provoking piece.

7. What advice would you give to recent graduates, and those just starting out in the industry?

Make Make Make. Get researching, experiment and practice. Learn new monologues, practice for auditions; if you’re into film, this is a great opportunity to practice with the camera. Do online workshops, try your hand at writing. Start writing letters to agents and producers. I think the trick to getting work and starting out is simple, get seen! And yes, recruitment is lacking at the moment, but there’s nothing stopping you from approaching casting agents, producers and others. There will come a time when the world will start to repair and the industry will need fresh new talent. Take control of your ambitions and get thinking of how you can yield the opportunities that will return.

8. What’s your best advice for other theatre companies about staying positive during this time?

I think it’s going to be a real uphill struggle for all of us. I believe our problems are extended in terms of the changes that have already started because of Brexit. The virus is something that will leave, Brexit is remaining and we are going to have to work with it. Funding is going to get even worse, we are going to have to rebuild the trust with our audiences, and in terms of start-ups and fringe companies, I think our work is cut out. But I also think this is a great time for smaller theatre companies—like ourselves—to gain control and start focusing on our communities. It will be less about building an international profile and career, and more about making work that centres around our local areas. I also think the smaller companies and venues will be open before the larger ones because we have smaller capacities; there’s less risk in that sense. I truly believe there’s a lot of hope for theatre companies and venues. I’ve always believed that theatre and art should be at the centre of it’s community: a place to gather, think and debate; a place to entertain and bond our society. Part of me thinks that the Fringe and site-theatre companies are able to do this better than some of the larger, more established theatres. Fringe and site is affordable, easily adaptable and easier to pack in a van. Having said that, I hope we all start to work together more. Large or small, it’s definitely a time for support and solidarity.

9. Anything else that you would like to say or add?

Just stay safe, wash your hands, don’t lose sight of your ambitions, and thank you for indulging me.