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24 September 2014

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August 2003
The Cultural Supermarket
Dawinder Bansal, a website user from Birmingham who has a passion for the arts, interviewed Jonathan Church, The REP’s Artistic Director.
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"I’m a great believer that learning and discovery can come through practical art forms, we are an arts provider with a social remit."

Since Jonathan’s arrival in 2001, radical changes have thrown The REP back into the limelight. He talks about his artistic vision, why theatre is relevant and the important role it plays in society today.

Jonathan Church

Jonathan is undoubtedly genuine about his passion for performing arts, and the enjoyment he gets from being artistic director shines through.

Jonathan Church
Jonathan Church
He adores being in a rehearsal room and directing plays, but is equally aware of his wider responsibilities with regards to providing work for the community.

He always knew he wanted to work in the arts, because his parents were both involved in theatre: "My dad was a lighting and sound engineer who then went into local radio as a producer and presenter. My mother was an actress, who then left the theatre and became a teacher."

The Changes at The REP

"I’ve made two big policy decisions, one is that the repertoire needs to be more contemporary, so we’re looking at a lot of writers who have been writing in the last 20 years. I think this ties in with the new work we do in The Door and makes the whole theatre more relevant.

"The number of productions has doubled to 20-24 titles a year, so the range has clearly stimulated audiences to attend more than once, and has also reached more diverse communities."

The Play – What makes a good production?

"Plays need to be interesting and entertaining but it also helps if they have something rather unique to say. It doesn’t have to be huge, just a different way of looking at something or showing something.

Wallop Mrs Cox
Wallop Mrs Cox
"The dialogue has to be believable and naturalistic, along with the characters. The audience has to identify with them and want to listen to them.

"The heart of a good production has to be an extraordinary script, and particularly in our big space, it’s about big and bold ideas. It’s about the combination of a bold idea performed in a way you can’t possibly see on television."

Programming – How do you do it?

"Within a season I want there to be something that will make people laugh and cry.

"The time of year also affects the programming schedule. In the summer I tend to programme, lighter more amusing work than in the winter.

"The aim is to programme a wide variety of titles, that relate to the curriculum, ethnic communities and family audiences.

"We actively look to develop work that will appeal to those audiences, because they’re developing audiences."

Proudest moment at The REP

Jonathan is very proud of The David Hare Trilogy because he felt that it allowed The REP to deliver: "contemporary work of classical proportions in its subject matter. It was an event which had one company working on three schedules. It was challenging for the actors and technicians stamina - it’s the equivalent of a marathon and they all rose to that challenge."

Your dreams for The REP

Jonathan Church
Jonathan Church
"My absolute dream was to do The David Hare Trilogy. When I had my interview here, I said this is the sort of thing I would like to do - so now I’ve got to find out what my next dream is!"

His other dream is to find a new play that’s as extraordinary as A View From The Bridge, that can go into the repertoire for the future not just at this theatre but nationally and internationally.

Diversity in the Artistic Direction

"We try and incorporate diversity into the choice of work we do, the range of plays and the artists we work with. The way to reach any community is to have an artist that is relevant to them in some way, that’s not always necessarily culturally specific. The other thing we do is within the casting process. We aim to have a multicultural cast presenting to a multicultural audience."

The Challenges

"The challenge is to maintain the phenomenal success we’ve had at the box office, while continuing to develop the work that we do and to reach broader audiences."

Why theatre is important

"I do believe that theatre can change people’s lives, through seeing something rather extraordinary on stage that makes you think differently about the world you are in, or by participating in it.

"This is why the education work is so important, it’s about finding out about how you think, what you think in a non-academic way.

"The vision for me is to be connecting with the broadest range of the community in any way possible.

"We are an institution that is funded to provide for this region and through the Main House, The Door and though our education work we should be continuing to provide for a massive range of people.

"Theatre is a live art form that about communication and is about a group of people sharing an experience, both the people on stage and in the audience, and I think that live art has a real role in society over the next century."

The future – What’s ahead

"We’re looking at how we build on the success of some of the things that we’ve done well. We’ve toured 'Of Mice And Men' and we’re planning to do two or three other tours of work like that.

"We’re also trying to build on relationships with artists within this community. The creators of 'Wallop Mrs Cox' are working on another show for us, and also Don Kinch, who provided a play called 'Just A Name' in The Door. We’re also working in collaboration with a company in South Africa which we hope to bring to Birmingham in the near future."

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