An Interview with Director Julia Thomas

Hi Julia great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?

I’m from Llanelli and have been working as a director for a few years now. I trained as an actor originally at Drama Centre London and this gave me a solid foundation in understanding how to work with actors and writers. My curiosity for directing was ignited when I went on a course with Living Pictures lead by Elen Bowman. As the week went on I found myself gravitating to the director’s side of the room and shuffled away from acting. I’m currently based at Leicester Curve and have been developing some new initiatives to build relationships with the local community and look after new writing and Writerslab. I’m about to direct a promenade production of A Clockwork Orange at Curve. Before arriving in Leicester, I was Resident director at the National Theatre Studio which was an incredible opportunity to be immersed in an environment dedicated to enabling the spark of an idea to be made into a theatrical form. I’ve been able to continue my relationship with the NT through being the Leicester gatherer on My Country, a Work in Progress and I am also a Director for NT Connections and will be co-ordinating the Festival in Aberystwyth next month.

So what got you interested in the arts ?

When I was younger I spent a lot of time with my Grandmother who was always telling me stories and teaching me songs. We spent hours watching MGM musicals on the television and I loved imagining that I was Doris Day or Judy Garland. Coupled with the fact that my box of Lego was also at my Grandmother’s house, I had the ability to make anything with bricks that my imagination would allow and as I was very shy it was a real story telling haven. When I was ten I went to see my sister perform as King Herod in a brilliant show called ‘Follow the Star’ with Llanelli Youth Theatre. I was so bowled over that this was actually my older sister, she was hilarious and unrecognisable. I joined LYT for their next production which was Gypsy. I found lifelong friends and a love of theatre that brought me out of my shy shell and all of that story telling that had become a part of me finally had a place to be nurtured fully.

http://www.llanelliyouththeatre.co.uk

You are a theatre director can you explain how this role operates within the creative team on a production ?

My role as director is to bind every person and every element of the production together. Quite often you will hear the phrase ‘the director’s vision’ to describe the idea that the director thinks about what it should be and gets everyone on board to realise that. I think that it is more than vision, the director’s role is to think about the audience’s experience which must encapsulate all of the senses to be truly engaging. This can only be achieved through creative collaboration with the performers, composers, designers, producers, technicians and magicians (well in this instance!)  My aim is to tell the story in the most exciting and dynamic way possible and to make the best use of the wonderful skills and talents of everyone around me.

You are currently directing a brand new version of the classic legend Jason and the Argonauts. This sounds exciting! Can you please tell us more about your role on this production?

I started working on this brilliant play in January. I have wanted to work with Mark Williams (the writer) for some time as he has an amazing ability to write for families and takes epic stories and makes them feel current and fresh. Mark and I had two weeks in the Park and Dare Treorchy with actors, our designer Charlotte Neville, Composer Dan Lawrence, Illusionist Neil Henry and Fight Choreographer Sam Davies. At this stage my role was to try to solve some of the challenges of the play such as ships crashing, Skeletons coming to life and various articles exploding. The ideas generated in that time had me in fits of hysterical laughter and it was a really joyous and playful process. It culminated in a ‘toga ban’ which helped set the tone of the production. Everyone has been working away to prepare their element of the production and when we get back to rehearsals we will fuse all of these elements together.

Jason and the Argonauts sounds perfect for families who might enjoy films like Star Wars or Lord of the Rings. Do you think live theatre can compete when it comes to offering cultural experiences for audiences?

Absolutely. Because of our obsession with screens we are becoming more isolated. Theatre lets us share an experience as a community where we hear the laughter or gasps of amazement of others and feel that we belong. Jason is made for all of the family to enjoy, it isn’t a show for children that adults are made to suffer. There is genuinely something for everyone and to be able to share that across the generations will be thrilling. It’s good to get out too isn’t it?

How are the classical stories of Jason and the Argonauts relevant to todays audiences?

Jason has to do the right thing in order to become the hero that he longs to be. He fails in his first attempt to get the fleece but gets a second chance and learns that power isn’t the most important driving force. I think that in the current climate of uncertainty globally, we need to be reassured that human beings can do good. We can be selfless and fight on behalf of those who are vulnerable and exploited. We look for unlikely heroes and long for adventure. Classical stories give us that in abundance. This version will be advocating the toga ban and so the characters will feel more contemporary.

Get the Chance works to support a diverse range of members of the public to access cultural provision Are you aware of any barriers to equality and diversity for either Welsh or Wales based artists?

I think that we are a country that should acknowledge the class barriers that have fuelled prejudice and disadvantage for centuries. We like to pretend that class doesn’t exist or that it has something to do with poverty. But just doing the odd project here and there isn’t going to stop this injustice. Self belief is the key to enabling people to achieve what they want to achieve and to live happy and fulfilling lives regardless of this no entry barrier. It is about a change of attitude and quashing of assumptions from those ‘in charge’ that will bring about social equality.

If you were able to fund an area of the arts in Wales what would this be and why?

I would fund Youth Theatres across the country so that within a 30 mile radius of every part of Wales a young person could participate for free in a company. Joining Llanelli Youth Theatre was a pivotal factor in the building of my self belief and I learnt so much about working with others, speaking up and having an opinion as well as working on productions (On and off stage). It was a training ground for life. It baffles me that funding for Youth Theatre isn’t a priority. Only those who can afford to pay for Stage Schools are getting this opportunity and that saddens and worries me.

What excites you about the arts in Wales? What was the last really great thing that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers?

I think what excites me the most is that National Theatre Wales established a Community of theatre makers and that not a week goes by when I don’t hear about this writer working with that film maker or that director working with a choreographer. The mix up of how people work together is exciting and unique to Wales. When I arrived in Leicester, I was like ‘where is everyone then?’ Being so used the tight knit arts community it became my mission to bring everyone together to forge collaborations.

Images for The Nether, Killology and How my Light is Spent.

Now that I’m back in Wales for a little while, Productions that I’m looking forward to are The Nether at Chapter (I saw the original production in London and  I am keen to see how this can be done without the heavy use of digital technology). I’m also looking forward to How my Light is Spent and Killology at the Sherman. What a treat to have two new plays by Wales finest writers on in the next couple of months.

http://www.chapter.org/nether

http://www.shermantheatre.co.uk/performance/theatre/killology/

http://www.shermantheatre.co.uk/performance/theatre/how-my-light-is-spent/

Many thanks for your time Julia

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