phone mail2 facebook twitter play whatsapp
TRSE - An Interview with Artistic Director Kerry Michael
Image Credit: Jamie Lumley

TRSE - An Interview with Artistic Director Kerry Michael

27 November 2016 Belphoebe New

At the heart of the London Borough of Newham is Theatre Royal Stratford East, not just a theatre but a cultural hub for the local community. It’s a busy time for the TRSE, they have just announced a new season full of provocative and diverse theatre and their annual pantomime Sinbad The Sailor opens next Monday. We caught up with Artistic Director Kerry Michael to talk about the pantomime and the theatre’s dedication to encouraging diversity and community engagement within the arts.

London Calling: You’ve directed a few pantomimes at the TRSE now. How has it been this time around?  
 
Kerry Michael: Well we spent the whole year developing the show because we take the process so seriously. By January and February we were talking about the story for Sinbad, designing the staging between February and April and composing the music. We’ve spent the whole year planning it because we love it so much!
 
LC: Are they fun to do?
 
KM: Yeah, it’s all about casting a wonderful bunch of actors and singers who are also very funny. We really had to stop ourselves from laughing too much in rehearsals. We get them to sing their wonderful songs, and they all have great voices. It’s an original story with original music and has the central element of a young person growing up in the story and navigating the good and bad elements of life. It was really important that Sinbad has some real drama and challenges within the story so that they (the audience) can learn. I think we underestimate how sophisticated young audiences are, they understand high drama and danger. It’s so important that we included that within the show.
 
LC: What is a typical day like for you as an Artistic Director?
 
KM: I think the most typical thing about my day is that you never do the same day twice. What’s really exciting is you go from the very detailed thing to the big epic thing, like spending one moment looking at script work or marketing then the next in a meeting about the next 5-10 year strategy. What’s so exciting is that you have a building full of talented people with very different disciplines. The best composers, engineers, finance people, they are all experts in their own right. We use these different skills to come together to make the theatre work. It’s the best job in the world, we start at 9 in the morning and we’re sometimes here till 11 at night for the performance, but it doesn’t feel like work because everyone is here, working hard and having lots of fun.
 
LC: How do you encourage people in the local community to get involved with the arts?
 
KM: I think we have a civic responsibility to be a beacon within East London, a place where different kinds of people can come. You can sit by a stranger and have a great time, and I think we need that more and more now in a very changing world. To find excuses to gather and have lots of things happening within one space and enjoy art. It puts a mirror up to the world and explores possibilities, opinions and differences within a safe place. We’ve just announced a season that is very vibrant and diverse, there’s some great fun shows coming along. We try and make the experience as welcoming as possible. 
 
LC: You’ve been an advocate for diversity and more roles for BAME in the arts. What do you think needs to be done to foster more diversity within the arts?
 
KM: I think the biggest challenge is the fact that there are fewer opportunities for young children. It’s those early experiences where they go ‘oh wow I never knew this existed, this is what I want to be’ that are important and we need to make sure that schools and colleges get young people into theatres as much as possible, to show them that the world of arts and culture exists. We also need to be really honest about how expensive the theatre is, unless you have a lot of money you don’t want to take the risk.
 
The biggest challenge is around cultural diversity and the lack of representation on our stages, and it’s a class thing too. Working class people are finding it harder and harder to fund themselves when entering the theatre, and we need to work to stop those barriers appearing. We in the arts have to be really honest with ourselves and make sure we’re not just working in a bubble. We need to engage with people who previously didn’t want to take the risk of engaging with the arts. There are a lot of people out there who we’ve ignored, and we need to step out of our comfort zones to engage with them on their terms.
 
LC: How have you been trying to encourage more diversity at Stratford East?
 
KM: Fundamentally it’s about the stories we put on stage. With the season we’ve just announced, there are stories on stage about celebrating difference. For instance we have Bubbly Black Girl, which will be an Off-Broadway musical about difference and how that difference isn’t scary but actually quite exciting. We also have a transgender company called Summer in London performing. Everything in the season looks at something you might not have seen before.
 
LC: Currently we live in very uncertain and divisive political times. Do you think this will be reflected in art, particularly theatre, over the next few years?
 
KM: Change can be a really good excuse to bring people together, and art can be at the heart of change. We can play a really important part in helping to understand our neighbour. I’m full of hope because what we do in the arts can make a difference. It’s a strong mechanism and weapon to bring people together, but we have to work even harder to pump the world full of possibility. I have to keep positive otherwise I would just end up giving up completely!
 
LC: Can you tell us a theatre production that you think everyone should see?  
 
KM: Wow, good question! I think everyone should come and see a good pantomime at Theatre Royal. The thing about our pantomimes is that we stage shows which are full of adults, because it’s such a good few hours of entertainment. So yeah, everyone should do that.

Sinbad The Sailor runs from 28 November – 21 January 2017. Tickets range from £15 to £25.50, for more information visit the website.
 

Tell us what you think

You may also like

Her Life Is a Cabaret - Margo: Half Woman, Half Beast at JW3

Her Life Is a Cabaret - Margo: Half Woman, Half Beast at JW3

Was there ever a more glamorous period in history than 1920s Berlin? A world full of subversive art, culture and of course, cabaret, Weimar Germany…

Spotlight on: Gay’s the Word

Spotlight on: Gay’s the Word

Take a walk down the quirky and unassuming Marchmont Street, away from the pandemonium of Euston Road, and nestled in amongst the independent cafés and restaurants…

The Best Family Entertainment in July

The Best Family Entertainment in July

July gets off to a healthy start with Regent’s Street’s annual Summer Streets, that sees the road go traffic-free between Oxford and Piccadilly Circus. Taking place on…

“As you can imagine, 80% of the press were not very keen to talk to us… “

“As you can imagine, 80% of the press were not very keen to talk to us… “

Byline is a platform for independent journalism created to promote better media, truth, facts, investigation, accountability, representation, to get young people involved in journalism and…

I’m an intersectional feminist unicorn!

I’m an intersectional feminist unicorn!

When a dramaturg from the other side of the world urges you to go see a show by a fellow Kiwi who is “at the forefront…

Win a £100 Gift Voucher for the National Theatre!

National Theatre - Win a £100 Gift Voucher for the National Theatre!

We're offering one lucky London Calling reader the chance to win a £100 Gift Voucher for the National Theatre!

Magically speaking…

Magically speaking…

Inspired by the classic 1940 Disney masterpiece, the Vaults, London’s home for immersive theatre and alternative arts, is creating a unique multi-sensory experience to celebrate an…

An interview with circus visionary Yaron Lifschitz

An interview with circus visionary Yaron Lifschitz

Since 2004, Circa has been at the frontier of new and progressive circus, creating powerful works of art that challenge, thrill and delight. Known as…

Wind in the Willows in London parks this summer

Wind in the Willows in London parks this summer

Sixteenfeet Productions will bring its unique brand of open air promenade theatre to some of London’s loveliest outdoor spaces this summer.

Most popular

Win 2 Tickets to an Immersive Disney Fantasia Experience!

The Vaults - Win 2 Tickets to an Immersive Disney Fantasia Experience!

This summer, the exciting underground world of The Vaults presents Sounds and Sorcery celebrating Disney Fantasia.
Win a £100 Gift Voucher for the National Theatre!

National Theatre - Win a £100 Gift Voucher for the National Theatre!

Be in with a chance of winning our exclusive National Theatre voucher, which you can exchange for tickets or theatre tours!
Win a Joan Crawford themed evening with cocktails, manicures & millinery!

BFI - Win a Joan Crawford themed evening with cocktails, manicures & millinery!

"I never go outside unless I look like Joan Crawford the movie star. If you want the girl next door, go next door"
Exclusive discount on Titanic The Musical and Evita tickets

Churchill Theatre - Exclusive discount on Titanic The Musical and Evita tickets

Make the most of the Summer with these two unmissable London musicals! With exclusive London dates for both productions
10% off entry to London’s first ever immersive Wild West cocktail bar!

Moonshine Saloon - 10% off entry to London’s first ever immersive Wild West cocktail bar!

Saddle on over to the Wild West of London on the promise of making a fortune in the seedy and illicit world of moonshining. 
Magically speaking…

Magically speaking…

We talked to designer Kitty Callister ahead of the Vaults exciting new immersive “Disney Fantasia” experience.
The Best of Food in July

The Best of Food in July

Where will we be eating this month?
Win a DVD copy!

A Wrinkle in Time - Win a DVD copy!

Dive into Ava DuVernay's magical world of time and space travel...
Spotlight on: Gay’s the Word

Spotlight on: Gay’s the Word

In honour of Pride today we are giving center stage to the UK's only remaining LGBTQ+ bookshop.
Top 5 World Cup Screenings in London

Top 5 World Cup Screenings in London

Football fever is catching on…

Your inbox deserves a little culture!!