Mathilde with the Of Mice and Men Company. Photographic credit Studio Cano.
The Director of Get the Chance, Guy O’Donnell recently got the chance to chat to with Mathilde Lopéz, Artistic Director, August 012. We discussed her career to date, her new production Of Mice and Men at Chapter Arts Centre this October and her thoughts on theatre in Wales today.
Hi Mathilde great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?
Hi, I am a theatre director and the artistic director of August 012. I was a founding member of National Theatre Wales, used to be Literary manager at Theatre Royal Stratford East and before directing, I worked as a scenographer. I trained at Central St Martins and Birkbeck College. I am French, I am of Spanish origin and grew up in Morrocco and the West Indies.
So what got you interested in theatre and the arts?
Drawing, painting and sculpting were first, then theatre happened. I don’t remember a particular moment so I either forgot or it was always there.
August 012 Yuri, Credit Studio Cano.
Your company August 012 describes itself as “developed, shaped and questioned by the way we live here and now, and therefore profoundly and structurally relevant to the nation today.” Is it possible to explain how you approach this methodology when creating work for the stage?
I am interested in how we live today and where we make the work. Everything I do is profoundly anchored in our times, our current technical equipment, our politics and the space and people we make it with. I often work with new participants along with trained actors and set tangible challenges- either through space or casting- in the rehearsal room so that we all wrestle not only with the ideas of the play today, but its embodiment.
August 012 Caligula, Credit Studio Cano
In October, August 012 is performing Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck at Chapter Arts Centre. I wonder if you can discuss why you choose to direct this play?
I love Steinbeck. Particularly Tortilla Flat and Cannery Row. I read them in a loop for a couple of years when I was a teenager. In French and in Casablanca and it felt very close, I sometimes think that the combination of poverty with the sea and the sun-like Steinbeck Californian characters- must have had something to do with it. I also read Of Mice and Men which felt then and still feels now, like the essence of the United States of America in all its grandeur and catastrophe. Ultimately, I always wanted to do Steinbeck, and I might carry on, his novels are so generous and compassionate that they do help to breath.
Wil Young who will play the role of Lennie
The role of Lennie will be performed by Wil Young. Wil is a company member from Hijinx North Academy, one of 5 Academies in Wales that trains learning disabled and/or autistic adults to become professional actors. Hijinx have pioneered supporting the work of disabled and/or autistic actors on our stages, how did this new collaboration develop?
I’ve reread the novel trying to establish a contemporary view on Lennie’s character with Cardiff School of Psychology researchers. We concluded that Lennie would potentially be on the autism spectrum and it felt right to work with an actor who would understand and confront himself with these difficulties on a daily basis. We contacted Hijinx for advice and they quickly became collaborators. They were thrilled by the idea of casting one of their actor in a main role and were very helpful and supportive.
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/creatives?
I am aware that you only realise that there are barriers when you are different yourself or know and share time with people who are. August 012 tries to minimise barriers in the way we make and produce theatre like many companies do –I see more and more theatre companies that invest in making work accessible-but I am sure we could all do more and are largely unaware. What has become apparent and is now crucial is that we keep organising regular opportunities for consultation with people with different disabilities, from varied age groups and from different social backgrounds. This is the only way to get things right.
Mathilde with the Of Mice and Men company, credit Studio Cano.
There are a range of organisation supporting Welsh and Wales based theatre companies, I wonder if you feel the current support network and career opportunities feel ‘healthy’ to you?
There are not enough opportunities in theatre in Wales but I think it is steadily growing.
I wish more was done towards creating bridges with international festivals and networks in the European Union and elsewhere, most of the efforts in Wales are UK centric (or London and Edinburgh centric) and I believe artists and cultural organisations ought to reach out particularly in the current political climate.
If you were able to fund an area of the arts in Wales what would this be and why?
Fine Arts and Music. Because I think they inspire all the rest. Fine Arts definitely inspires me to create theatre. Always. I am not sure about the contrary.
Bedwyr Williams, Artes Mundi 2017
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?
Some companies and artists in Wales embrace their cultural difference and celebrate their particularity which goes well beyond language and I like that freedom. There’s a lot of freedom in theatre making here and cross arts form widely happened in Wales before it was even a term! So I enjoy the work that manages to connect this specific originality with the world, like Bedwyr Williams piece for Artes Mundi 2017 or in a different vein, the choir in WNO’s Khovanshchina.
Many thanks for your time Mathilde.