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Theatre Collective Spotlight: Marieke Audsley

Empower Her* Voice Theatre Collective introduces… ‘Spotlight: Female-Identifying and Non-Binary Voices in Theatre.’ This is a new series of interviews, released monthly, to broadcast the emerging and established voices of female-identifying and non-binary creatives within theatre.

Introducing Marieke Audsley

Marieke trained at Birkbeck on the Theatre Directing MFA after reading English at the University of Cambridge. Marieke’s directing credits include a touring production of JULIUS CAESAR for the Royal Shakespeare Company and SLEIGHT & HAND by Chris Bush, which was performed at Summerhall in Edinburgh and broadcast to 30 Odeon cinemas nationwide, as well as on BBC’s iPlayer.​ Her latest production was BERYL by Maxine Peake at the East Riding Theatre, transferred to the Arcola in London Winter 2020.

What was your first experience watching theatre?

The first production I recall seeing as a kid was Arabian Nights at the Young Vic. I remember being enthralled by the stories and the theatricality of the storytelling – moments like the passing of time being represented by a large candle being swapped for an almost burnt out one. Those simple, clever tricks that I still love over twenty years later!

What was the first play to make you want to work in theatre?

I always loved acting and being involved in school plays and youth theatre productions, but it was when I was at university that I first started directing. At the end of my second year I directed a touring production of Henry V and I found it so rewarding and so much fun that

I decided to pursue directing after I graduated. I thought that it was worth trying out whether I could turn my passion into my profession before settling for something else, otherwise I might have been plagued by ‘what ifs…?’

Why theatre for you? Why is it the right form for you?

It has to be the ‘live-ness’ and the ‘alive-ness’ of theatre. For me, it is the most exciting way to explore what it is to be a human being in this world; to discover stories with people who are performing in the same physical space as a collective audience and to have a shared, ephemeral experience together.

What influences what plays you choose to direct (inside and outside of theatre)?

For me there has to be a great story at the heart of the play. I like plays with a juicy plot and that have something to say about what it means to be a human being, but that also offer an audience a great night out. I’m obsessed with language and comedy, so plays that are playful with their use of words and that have potential for humour also always appeal to me.

Which directors and playwrights have influenced you the most?

It’s a bit of a cliché, but my number one writer is Shakespeare. I’ve directed more of his plays than anyone else’s and I find working on Shakespeare’s plays immensely rewarding. His text is so rich that it demands a great deal from you as a director and so the process is

always really satisfying. His plays tick so many boxes (great stories, incredible text, the exploration of human nature…) and always surprise you when you look at them anew.

I’ve been influenced by so many directors, but predominantly by those I have been fortunate enough to work for as an Assistant Director, such as Sean Foley, Daniel Evans and Lyndsey Turner. Being able to witness their processes first hand meant that I learnt a vast amount from each of them.

Favourite theatre to watch the work of emerging playwrights?

It’s tricky to pinpoint just one theatre, as we’re so lucky in London to have a number of theatres that are dedicated to new work, and you never know where or when you are going to see the next brilliant new play, but to name one… I’ve seen some real gems upstairs at the Soho Theatre over the past few years.

How do you spend the opening night? Do you read critics?

Usually I’m rather anxious, hoping that the audience will enjoy our beloved production that we’ve been working so hard on for the previous few weeks! Yes, I do read reviews. I try not to, but curiosity always gets the better of me!

What’s the hardest play you’ve ever directed and why?

I have honestly loved every show I have worked on, but I directed a show in a pub theatre in 2012 that was difficult because we had zero budget and no stage management, producer or designer so I was trying to do too many jobs myself and get everything together on an absolute shoestring. We didn’t have a proper rehearsal room, so we were making do with various (free) kitchens and living rooms and constantly had to move about and rehearse at very irregular hours. The play and the cast were wonderful but the logistics of getting the show up and running was a bit of an uphill struggle!

What advice would you give to women wanting to work in theatre, but without obvious access streams?

Seek out any opportunity you can to get involved, at whatever level that might be and try to hunt down opportunities that might be in the less obvious places. Getting your foot in the door at a major venue is tricky, but look for community and education projects that may want assistance for example. You just need to start making contacts and being involved in making work. Also don’t be afraid to ask people for advice or if they know anyone who could do with an extra pair of hands on their show. Someone once said to me ‘it’s not who you know, but who knows you’, which I think is very true. If you can start working on any kind of theatre project and prove to be both really amenable and hard working someone will notice and can help you to find other opportunities.

If you could go back to the beginning of your career, what would you tell yourself?

It’s a marathon and not a race! When I finished my training I was desperate to start working immediately, but had no idea how to get my first job and everything seemed quite overwhelming and intimidating. Although it takes time, if you keep plugging away at it and you can find a way of surviving financially with non theatre work in between creative projects, then trust that things will begin to happen.

Sorry I had to ask- what are your thoughts on Shakespeare’s representation of women? (this is a really general question, but I just wanted to ask you on a personal level- I am just very torn!)

This is a great question and one that we could discuss for hours. In brief… I’d have to say there aren’t enough women in the plays, but of course that’s probably a result of the fact that women weren’t allowed to perform in plays when Shakespeare was writing them. Even so, I think there’s an enormous range of women, who although they sadly don’t often have as much stage time as the male leads, are brilliantly complex, commanding characters. I also think we’re going through an exciting time where we are seeing roles traditionally played by men, now being played by women. It’s fantastic that these casting decisions are changing the ways that we respond to the plays.

What are you working on next?

It depends quite a lot on when the theatres can reopen safely. I had a couple of projects that I was meant to direct this year, including an amazing adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles which I really hope will take place in 2021.

Photo credit: Alex Brenner

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