This is the third in our series of interviews with visiting artists who are at the Brewhouse as part of the Distillery Takeover week between Mon 20 – Sat 25 September. They are receiving seed funding and organisational support to help develop their ideas, which will be presented as a ‘scratch’ performance to a live audience at the end of the week.
This is an incredibly exciting initiative to encourage and support artists and companies, made possible by funding from the Weston Culture Fund, specifically for a programme of activity to develop and support regional artists under Taunton Brewhouse’s Distillery strand.
We thought it would be great to get to know the artists a bit better, so we have asked them some questions – some serious – some less so.
Next up is Jen Fletcher and Harry Blake. Jennifer is originally from a movement background and has spent the last twelve years working in different capacities as a creative. Her focus has primarily been theatre, but also continues to work in opera, film and performance art. Jennifer is based in Penzance. Harry Blake is a composer based in Salisbury. They have both spent the past year developing their work MERMAIDS, a warm-hearted comedy about a drama group in a remote Cornish Fishing Village which has a feel-good element and is about teenage obsession, local politics, and our need for glitter in a world full of grey. They recently presented it for the first time through a residency commission at the North Wall Arts Centre.
So Jen and Harry:
- How are you feeling about putting on a performance in five days?
Jen here! Harry is tucked away writing music ready for Friday, so I’ll answer for the two of us. A mixture of things; excited, nervous, both ready and not ready. It’s a challenge and we like a challenge, so mainly we are just looking forward to sharing something and seeing how it sits in front of an audience.
- What are the challenges?
Musicals are time consuming to make because they require so many different skills. Sometimes this early on in the process there are so many ideas floating around it can be hard to make decisions about which ones are worth spending time on, so the challenge is to keep checking in with what you really want to express and trust what brought you to the idea.
- What do you hope to get out of the experience?
We really wanted to use this time to focus in on our protagonist and her arc through the story. The last time we were together (July) we had a large cast and used that time to try out some big numbers with a full ensemble, so this is an opportunity to do the opposite and interrogate the journey of our main character and how the songs can serve that journey.
- What was your inspiration for the piece?
Harry and I both grew up in the South West and attended youth theatre/dance/music groups that provided vital outlets for creativity that allowed us to make careers in the arts. More and more these facilities and opportunities seem less accessible in rural communities, this coupled with the small town tourism politics a lot of holiday destinations face, inspired us to write Mermaids. We wanted to do something that celebrates these places and the value of community and the arts place in that.
- What’s the best part for you about working in the theatre?
Working with stories allows you to see the world from so many different points of view. It’s also just very inspiring to see talented people do brilliant things, working in theatre allows you to surround yourself with people who not only inspire you but challenge you in the right ways.
- Artists often have other jobs on the side or to keep them going between work. What sorts of things have you done? Highlights? Worse jobs?
I have been everything; a fittings model for Dorothy Perkins (not as glamorous as it sounds – I often had to strap on a pregnancy belly to try on maternity clothes or wear bikinis in winter), a golf caddy, a project manager, worked in nightclubs, bars and restaurants, taught hen parties dance routines, taught couples their wedding dances, handed out leaflets and many many more. When I wanted to go to dance school, I worked a double shift at a restaurant followed by a nightclub bar shift until 4am which was definitely the most gruelling.
- And a last one because I’m nosey and love to know what people like– what’s the last book you read or film you watched?
The last book I read was Women & Power by Mary Beard, which was super interesting. But I don’t read much, I always fall asleep to quickly! The last film I watched was the new Cruella film, loved it. The costume design/imagery was particularly amazing.