Everyone Theatre is a series of interviews with leading theatre practitioners in London. It’s their chance to make the case for getting into theatre, on either side of the curtain.
This podcast series aims to look for ways to involve more and more people in theatre, either as audiences or practitioners. This week, we were able to speak to Daniel Goldman, founder of Tangram Theatre company and organiser of the CASA Latin American Theatre festival, which takes place in London and hosts leading companies from South and Central America in their native language.
Listen to the podcast using the player below, subscripe to the series on iTunes, or read through the transcript below. Please feel free to leave comments at the bottom of the page!
Everything Theatre: Hello and welcome to the seventh episode of Everyone Theatre. I’m delighted to be talking to Daniel Goldman, who is the founder of Tangram Theatre Company and who runs the CASA Latin American Theatre Festival. Thanks so much for speaking to us today! This series of interviews focuses on engagement within theatre: how to get more people involved on either side of the curtain. So we’ll be asking you a few questions on that topic. The first questions, however, is about you: What’s your background and how did you come to work in theatre?
Daniel Goldman: I stumbled into theatre quite late, really. It all started with a show I did at school: they did a play in French, and since my mother is French, I spoke the language. I was probably the worst actor, but at least I spoke French! I thought it was fun, but I went to University thinking I would become an investment banker. I went to Cambridge, originally planning to do Japanese… My plan was to enter the Japanese market, and five years after University, do an MBA… There was this whole life plan mapped out for me. I auditioned for a few shows and again, I am rubbish, and I got no parts at all. And then, another French Show came around, which I took part it. It does seem like speaking French was a big part of this – the same company I had done the French show at Cambridge with wanted to do Molière’s Le Malade Imaginaire (The Hypochondriac), but this time they were looking for a director. I agreed to “have a go”, as I clearly wasn’t any good at acting. And I had a ball. Suddenly it was incredibly easy to fashion work, to find the gags. Everything clicked into place. And that was basically the beginning of the end of my career as an investment banker!
ET: We like to ask our interviewees what their most memorable moment in theatre is. You’ve had a fairly unusual and interesting career as a director – so you must have seen some fairly amazing things along the way, either as a practitioner or as an audience member. Is there any particular anecdote which comes to mind?
DG: This is an easy one. Last year, I ended up directing the Merry Wives of Windsor in Swahili at the Globe, as part of the Globe to Globe. That in itself was an amazing theatre experience: I saw 26 of the 38 shows and met a huge number of amazing artists… It was a job I wasn’t originally meant to be doing – long story short, the director in Kenya had to pull out and asked me if I’d do it. So I arrived in Kenya not speaking a word of Swahili. There were a lot of funny moments, like when I arrived in front of the cast and they mistook me for the director’s assistant. They were expecting a serious-looking 50 year old bloke with glasses. The whole thing was a fast process: we did it in 4 weeks, rehearsing 5 hours a day. So we brought it to London, and the memorable experience was watching them do that first show. They came onto the stage at the Globe worried, because they had just seen a fantastic Maori production of Troilus and Cressida the night before. Their first show was a matinee performance, with about 500 people in the theatre, mostly standing, and it absolutely pouring with rain – cold and miserable. The actors came out and rocked it, gave a great show and had a great time. When they came off, they all collapsed crying. I asked them what the matter was. They were crying with the emotion, the fact that and audience was standing for 2h15m in the rain to watch their show was incomprehensible to them, and they were incredibly touched by that.
ET: That’s very moving! Now, at this stage in the interview we get our guests to give their pitch for theatre. If you were to meet someone in a lift and had the time between to the first floor and the second floor to convince them to go to their local theatre or join their local Drama Soc, what would you say?
DG: Well, what I would want to convey to them is that we are fundamentally social beings. I might not use those words exactly, but the point is that we are social creatures, and we live in a world which is getting less and less social. For all the Facebooks and Twitters, we seem to be becoming more and more distant. And yet we have a human need to tell and be told stories. Anyone who gets their parents or grand-parents to tell them a story, anyone who goes to the pub to chat with their mates is engaging in that need for stories. What theatre does is tell the great stories. It is basically that human need to communicate, and through that, to search for a third thing, which is, I suppose, Truth. Theatre is basically Socratic: it is two groups of people (the audience on one side and the performers on the other) in dialogue, searching for something better, searching to create a better a better world. That’s what I believe in any case! If I am making a show, and you are watching it, somewhere in between, hopefully, something meaningful is being created.
ET: I think that is a very beautiful way of thinking of it! Now, we took some time last year in November speaking to individuals in the street, gauging their theatre habits and identifying the key stumbling blocks for theatre involvement. Three obstacles routinely came up: Firstly, the conception that theatre is an expensive hobby. Second, the fact that there is such a wide variety of things to see that people don’t know where to start. Finally, there is this group of people who may have had a bad experience, and now don’t want to give it another shot… what would you say to counter those points?
DG: Let’s start with the third one. Bad theatre… there is pretty much nothing worse than sitting through a bad show. There is much to commend in most shows, but sometimes you just see a really terrible one. It is one of the problems that theatre has… All I can say is, if you’ve been put off, please give it another go! There are some amazing shows, lots of good shows, some mediocre shows and then there are some bad shows…. try and go to see a good show! But that links into the question of “How do you choose a show?”. If you don’t know what to see, choose at least something that interests you. Find a theme, a story, an element of a show which you can connect with. The money one is a tough problem. I am in a huge battle against ticket prices: people have a perception that tickets can be expensive, because they can be expensive. Personally, I am fighting tooth and nail not to set ticket prices above ten pounds. It’s difficult, because it makes it very challenging to then make the pieces of theatre. There are always going to be free shows…for example you could see a show at The Scoop on the Southbank. Alternatively, you could join Audience Club. This is a website where you can sign up to see shows for free. These tend to be shows which aren’t selling well, but that doesn’t mean they are not good shows. So that’s a good place to start!
ET: And what would you say to young theatre-making groups or individuals, who are trying to make it in the industry? What is your advice to them?
DG: My advice is going back the idea of dialogue: What dialogue are you having with the audience? With the space? And with the play? You need to work out the best space for your show. You either pick a space and figure out what show and audience would fit best into that space, or you pick a play an decide which space and audience would be best for it, or you pick an audience and decide which play to stage and where. Aside from that, possibly the most important thing, when you are starting out is to do something which you care about. The story you tell has to be about something that matters to you. As you work more and more, you aesthetics will change, your form will change, the things you want to say will change, but what matters to you will not. So you really need to care about what you put on. Actually, I think that ultimately, that’s the only thing that matters.
ET: We’re nearing the end of the interview now, but we do have time to ask you what your next projects are!
DG: I am reviving a production from a few years ago of a play called Fuente Ovejuna. This is a classic Spanish Golden Age play by Lope de Vega, which we have completely re-imagined. It is very interactive, but not “scary interactive”: people can get involved if they want to, and generally they do, because it is fun. That’s on in the BusseyBuilding (aka the CLA Art Café) every Sunday from June the 16th to September the 8th (Except 20th July and 25thAugust). Then there is something completely different which I am working on, called Albert Einstein: Relativetively Speaking. That is touring Cheltenham, Eastbourne and Diss before heading up to the Edinburgh Festival at the Pleasance Courtyard. And then the other thing is the CASA Latin AmericanTheatre Festival, where we bring five incredibly companies from Bolivia, Ecuador, Uruguay, Chile and Brazil to London. That’s the 27th of September to the 6th of October at Rich Mix at the Barbican. All the shows are in Spanish and Portuguese with English surtitles.
ET: Well that’s all hugely exciting! Thanks very much for speaking to us!