An interview with Catherine Paskell, Artistic Director, Dirty Protest.

Hi pleased to meet you. Can you please give our readers some background information on yourself and your role in the arts in Wales?
I’m Catherine and I’m the Artistic Director of new writing company Dirty Protest. I’m directing SUGAR BABY by Alan Harris, which Dirty Protest is taking to Paines Plough’s ROUNDABOUT @ Summerhall venue with Wales in Edinburgh this summer. I was a founding creative associate of National Theatre Wales – it was this opportunity that brought me back to Wales. I love what I do and connecting to people with theatre making in Wales.
Can you tell us about the work your company is taking to this Edinburgh Festival Fringe?
SUGAR BABY is a new one-man comedy drama, about a young lad from Fairwater, in Cardiff, called Marc. Marc is trying to borrow £6,000 from a local loan shark, help out his old man, save a girl and survive the day. It’s very funny. Alan’s got an exceptional voice for these Welsh characters, the stories and details pull you in, and you are rooting for Marc the whole way. The cast is one man: Alex Griffin-Griffiths, he’s a graduate of RWCMD and he’s brilliant. It’s a lot of fun to work on together and we are previewing the play in Chapter at the end of July. Chapter are fantastic supporters, their help means that anyone who can’t make it to see the show in Edinburgh can come and see the previews in Cardiff, and help us to develop the play before we head up.
How is work selected to go to the festival?
We want to showcase the best of Welsh new writing, from a writer living in Wales. Alan’s writing is exceptional, and we wanted a play that was uniquely Welsh but that wasn’t stereotypical in its exploration of a lived Welsh life. We chose Sugar Baby because it’s authentic, and an antidote to all the poverty porn plays and TV programmes that we have seen lately. Sugar Baby is a Welsh play at an international-looking Fringe Festival, and will stand alongside some of the best theatre in the world.
Wales Arts International who have funded some of the companies this year state,
The idea is to help the selected Welsh companies to present their work at the Fringe in the best possible way – with the best conditions – and, importantly, to connect with international promoters and programmers participating in the British Council Edinburgh Showcase.”
 Why is their support important along with Arts Council Wales and British Council Wales?
We couldn’t go to Edinburgh without this support. It’s vital for our company growth and to get the best new writing out of Wales. We took Dirty Protest’s production of LAST CHRISTMAS by Matthew Bulgo to Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2014, supported with Wales in Edinburgh funding. That whole experience was very successful for Dirty Protest. Producers, theatre programmers and promoters from across the world came to see our play and booked it for their venues. We produced LAST CHRISTMAS in the Soho Theatre in London and the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh. We also had many more conversations about other projects, that are now starting to come to fruition. This happened with the support of Wales in Edinburgh. Dirty Protest is a project-funded company, and usually the grants we receive only allow a maximum 15% of a project to happen outside Wales. For us to build our company, we have to stand on a more prominent stage. It’s difficult to get reviewers and promoters outside Wales to see our work when we perform at home. Going to such a high-profile festival as Edinburgh Fringe has benefits for us, for the artists making work here and for the promotion of Wales’ arts.

The festival features a huge range of productions and there is great deal of competition for audiences, why should audiences come and see your companies work?
It’s a proper laugh – you’ll leave and have had a really good time for less than an hour, so you’ll have loads of time to walk to your next show without having to rush! SUGAR BABY is part of an incredible programme in an amazing venue. There’s something really exciting about being in that environment, watching an excellent actor as you are pulled along this funny and edgy Cardiff story. All that matters is the writing, acting and the relationship between performer and audience. It’s the ultimate live event!
Welsh artists/Companies will be showcasing a range of art forms including theatre, new writing, site-specific work and contemporary dance. In your opinion is there anything that is distinctly Welsh which links them?
What links the artists and companies is a distinct camaraderie. We are a collective who are representing Wales and are proud of presenting our world-class work together. We are all there to help each other out, to bring each other up, and that is something special about the Welsh arts scene. The diversity of art form in the WIE showcase shows that this community belongs to everyone, whether they are into well-made new plays, live art, contemporary dance, reimagined classics – and this needs to be reflected not just in Edinburgh, but in Wales throughout the rest of the year.
What would you recommend seeing from the other Welsh/Wales based companies going to this year’s festival or perhaps the festival as a whole?
I loved F.E.A.R., the one-man show created by Mr and Mrs Clark and performed by Gareth Clark when I saw it earlier this year. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who’s going to see it, but there are so many joyful and beautiful and thought provoking moments in the performance. I’ve heard a lot about Revlon Girl, the cast are awesome and I have a huge love for Pontardawe Arts Centre, so I’ll be seeing that. I thought A Regular Little Houdini was great at the Fringe, so I want to see Flying Bridge and Daniel Llewellyn-Willians’ next show, Not About Heroes. I can’t wait to see Seagulls, especially because Volcano who are making it have a whole venue in Leith we can hang out in! I haven’t yet seen all the shows this year, so I’m looking forward to seeing all the productions in the WIE showcase. For the festival as a whole, I’m mainly looking for new, young companies, actors, playwrights and comedy writers. Every year at the Fringe, I discover artists who I know I’ll be looking out for in the years to come. This year, I’ll be checking out FRED AND ROSE in Venue 13. The show is by a group of USW Atrium drama graduates, who are going to Edinburgh for the first time and it looks great contemporary theatre piece. I’ll be watching a lot of comedy too. I’m excited by Tom Neenan’s ATTENBOROUGH, Tom’s a great character comic. His show last year was a about a haunted old vaudeville theatre and it was great comedy storytelling. And who doesn’t love David Attenborough?! Also, the brilliant Jordan Brookes’ newest comedy show on the Free Fringe is him talking about his nan; last year, I saw him re-enact his own birth. This guy is surreal and excellent. And if you missed it last year, my favourite show of the Fringe in 2016 was the Free Fringe comedy, Richard Gadd’s Monkey See Monkey Do. It was exceptionally funny but also hugely brave and just incredible. The show won the Edinburgh Comedy Award last year and is back, this time at Summerhall, just for a limited run.

What do the artists and companies do when they aren’t performing?
We watch other artists’ shows, we see people we haven’t seen since last year, we support each other and meet promoters and venue programmers to get the show on again after the Fringe. Edinburgh is a bit of a bubble, so you try and maintain some perspective and remember there is a world outside the city. I always go to the art galleries and museums in Edinburgh because they are chilled spaces with wonderful exhibitions during August. They open my mind and give me space away from the buzz of the festival. Last year, I went to the Harry Benson photography exhibition in the Scottish Parliament and was in there for 4 hours.
 What’s the best Fringe show you’ve ever seen?
I’ve visited the Fringe, as an artist and a punter every year except one for the past 17 years. The Fringe show that sticks with me through that whole time is VICTORY AT THE DIRT PALACE by Adriano Shaplin and the American theatre company, the Riot Group. I saw it in 2002. It was an intense, satirical play, in a tiny performance space that wasn’t one of the big commercial venues. It was about the post-September ’11 American mindset. 9/11 had only happened less than a year ago; the writing was sharp, funny and urgent. The details acutely observed. The ensemble of four were witty and clear. As an emerging artist, about to leave the UK for training in America, I knew that was theatre I aspired to make.

Thanks for your time Catherine.

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