An interview with Rachel Boulton, writer and Director of Exodus.

The Director of Get the Chance, Guy O’Donnell recently met with Rachel Boulton, Artistic Director of Motherlode, they discussed her background, thoughts on the arts in Wales and Motherlodes new production ‘Exodus’ which premiers at the Coliseum Theatre,  Aberdare on the 5th of October before touring.

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

Hello! I’m Rachael, I’m from Cwmbran and spent most of my time growing up in Newport, going to places like TJ’s and OTT’s when they were still about, not to mention Zanzibar’s! I was really lucky to get full funding when I was seventeen to attend Joan Littlewood’s E15 Acting School, where I spent four years training as an actor and theatre maker. It was great because the ethos of the school supported people like me from working class backgrounds, unlike some drama schools at that time. The training was rooted in European theatre styles, which taught me the importance of ensemble. It’s been ten years since I left, and I’m still using the tools they gave me. I had a lot of other dodgy jobs in between mind! Worst was being Jordan’s personal waitress at an ultimate fighting championship event, and I didn’t even get a tip!

You have written and are currently directing Motherolodes latest production ‘Exodus’ which is “Set in South Wales on the eve that the last factory in the town closes, four neighbours hatch a plan that is literally pie in the sky.” The issues faced by local towns in South Wales face are of real relevance to Welsh communities. How have Motherlode approached this important topic?

I first talked to RCT Theatres about Exodus in 2015. They felt it was relevant to their audiences, and generously supported me, alongside Creu Cymru, to develop the play. Exodus is a comedy in which the plot follows a young woman called Mary. Mary is our main character who works for a modern high street chain. She’s a challenging character, and hard to identify at first, as you can’t really pin her down. She’s an every day woman, not on the left, not on the right, and working a good job to maybe have a holiday and be able to afford nice things. She can’t be polarised (despite our best efforts) and is confused about the world. Over the last few years during our residency at RCT, I talked to people from an older generation, including a truly amazing woman who used to work at the old Burberry factory in Treorchy before it closed. This was used as inspiration for a background setting, to help tell a younger narrative – Mary’s story. Our R&D’s took place at RCT Theatres, and after taking on feedback from numerous sharings and open rehearsals, the rest of the writing was done mainly in Cwmbran, where my family live.

Arts Council of Wales has recently launched its new Corporate Plan “For the benefit of all… ” In it, the body’s mission for 2018-23 was unveiled – “Making the arts central to the life and wellbeing of the nation” One of the two priorities it has committed itself two are, “Promoting Equalities as the foundation of a clear commitment to reach more widely and deeply into all communities across Wales. “

Motherlode describe themselves as a company who “Work in communities and locations across Wales and the South West, to create entertaining, relevant new theatre that is inspired by real life stories.” It would appear then that you are already as a company fulfilling this ACW priority? Would you like to see more investment into this method of creating new art forms?

Well, we’re still very much in our infancy as a company, being only four years old, but we’re trying to grow in the right direction. In four years we’ve developed four shows in partnership with RCT Theatres, including bringing local young people together to create new work, staged both locally and nationally. We also produced our first international tour in partnership with RCT Theatres. It would be a great thing if venues across Wales like RCT Theatres were given more money and resources to find, support, and develop local artists. At the moment, many venues can barely keep the doors open and the lights on. As a company, we’d like to have the infrastructure to develop a regular program of work and activity that has a genuine lasting impact. At the moment, like many other small companies, it can be hard to do this justice with project only funding. However, I think we’re off to a good start, and we’re very lucky to be supported by venues and organisations who like working with us, including RCT Theatres, Blackwood Miners Institute, Night Out Wales, Creu Cymru, Chapter, Wales Millennium Centre and Bristol Old Vic.

Exodus rehearsals credit Tom Flannery 

Get the Chance works to support a diverse range of members of the public to access cultural provision. In your personal experience, are you aware of any barriers to cultural provision?

I found working in theatre impossible to navigate until I turned 30. Despite being given the support to train in my twenties, and work with companies like the RSC and Royal Opera House, I still felt out of place in rehearsal rooms and audiences. I couldn’t articulate myself in the way that I wanted to. It felt like the culture of theatre was set in a very particular way, a culture I wasn’t a part of, from the play text down to the ticket sales. An employer once said to me in an interview for a assistant director job, “ I can’t believe you’re applying for this job when you’ve not seen any of my work!” I replied, “that’s because most people can’t afford your bloody tickets” Moving home five years ago to work as an emerging director for NTW was a turning point. I was encouraged to develop my own work in my own voice and out of that Motherlode was born. Getting Motherlode off the ground in the last few years has taken pretty much all of my focus, and so far we’ve been really lucky to be supported by ACW across various projects. This hasn’t left much time for other work, but, some includes; working with NTW as assistant director on their shows ‘Tonypandemonium’ and ‘Crouch, Touch Pause, Engage’ and as community director after ‘Mother Courage and Her Children.’ I’ve also worked as an associate director at Out Of Joint, created, produced and directed Motherlode’s first off broadway run, directed ‘Blackout’ by Davey Anderson with a young company for National Theatre’s Dorfman Stage, and will be collaborating with Theatr Clwyd after generous support from Creu Cymru. I’m also looking forward to taking Exodus to the Finborough Theatre in November, and giving Motherlode a platform in London for the first time.

Exodus rehearsals credit Tom Flannery

Congratulations on recently becoming a parent. Creatives such as   Tamara Harvey,  Artistic Director of Theatr Clwyd have increased awareness of the challenges parents can face working in the theatre, with her #workingmum tweets. As a new parent are there ways that we approach creative practices that might offer more opportunities for working parents to juggle the demands of work and home life?

While pregnant, I spent a few days at Theatr Clwyd. Tamara was pregnant at the same time, and already a mother. She took time to tell me that it is absolutely possible to work in theatre and be a mother, which I really appreciated. Writer Bethan Marlow was there too, and she said the same. Clwyd’s Gwennan Mair has also been incredible, moving an R&D around to support me through my pregnancy.

It’s been three months since I had my baby, and I’ve just come back to work. Being freelance without the support of an employer or large organisation behind me is a challenge, but, I feel incredibly lucky to be doing a job that I love with great people, particularly Angela Gould at RCT Theatres, Nia Skyrme and Emma Vickery…The whole team’s a treat. I was asked to tweet about being a working mum in theatre, but, for me, there’s so little that’s sacred these days, I wanted to keep my personal life personal, and in short, I’m simply crap on twitter! But, I’m open to talk about it, if asked…

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

That’s a good question. I would invest in forming young companies in underrepresented areas and make it affordable, if not free. I think everyone, regardless of background should have access to the arts,especially now they’re heavily cut through education. For me, its not necessarily just about nurturing young talent, but creating a safe space for people to express themselves.

What excites you about the arts?

It’s capacity to create change through story. Collective experience.

What was the last really great thing that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers?

Apart from childbirth? The last thing I experienced before having my baby was a remount of Belonging by Re-Live/Karin Diamond at Chapter. I couldn’t take my eyes off the audience throughout the play who were deeply moved, laughing, sobbing, chatting for ages afterwards. The team tapped into a struggle with a lot of dignity in that piece.

Many thanks for your time Rachel

Tickets are on sale for Exodus now for performances at The Coliseum Theatre Aberdare (5 & 6 October), Theatr Clwyd (9 & 10 October), Llandinam Village Hall (11 October), Redhouse Cymru Merthyr Tydfil (12 October),  Chapter Cardiff (17 – 20 October), Riverfront Newport (23 October), Gwynfe Village Hall (24 October), Torch Theatre Milford Haven (25 October), Blackwood Miners’ Institute (26 October), Theatr Brycheiniog Brecon (27 October), Cwmavon Village Hall (30 October) and Finborough Theatre London (5-20 November).


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