Guest Blog: RSC star Alex Waldmann on why he set up a production company
Actor and producer Alex Waldmann, whose company SEArED Productions is about to stage a revival of David Storey's Home at the Arcola Theatre, talks about moving into producing, and the challenges he currently faces
I set up SEArED Productions in 2010 - a name, a website and business bank account. I'd finally accepted as an actor that I couldn't control the universe, and wasting time pestering my agent wouldn't increase my chances of getting the job. I thought I should channel my creative energy and my constant need to be busy into something more rewarding.
Many actors write in their down time; I can't. Some direct; my mrs Amelia Sears is the director in our house so that wasn't an option. I've always been fascinated by the production/logistical side of performance - making something happen from nothing. I enjoy the stress, the deadlines, the collaborative element of bringing people together to put on a show.
In this industry, one's career is usually at the mercy of the decisions of others - I wanted to try to reclaim a little bit of that control back. We decide the kind of work we want to put on. We only have ourselves to blame if the quality of work isn't worth the ticket price. But even as a producer you are still ultimately at the mercy of others – securing rights, casting, fundraising, ticket sales and transfers are all areas I wish had more direct control over.
We wanted to do right by those that kindly give up their time to work with us by paying everyone fairly and strive to be honest and straight-forward in the way we deal with people. Our company wage this year is above Equity minimum and comparable to the most renowned off-West End theatres. Commercially speaking it is a nightmare – even a sell-out run this time will only minimise our losses.
Our first ventures were new writing projects at the Edinburgh Fringe, and last year we revived our first neglected classic, Dennis Potter's Brimstone and Treacle at the Arcola Theatre. This year's project is a revival of David Storey's quiet 1970 masterpiece Home. Many actors recall watching Gielgud and Richardson in the original 1970 Royal Court production; a dumbfounded silence as the lights went down, eventually erupting into rapturous applause. We think it's an extraordinary and important play, crying out for a revival and are fascinated to see how a new audience, perhaps unfamiliar with Storey's work, responds.
Last year, we were interested to learn if the rape of a disabled girl on stage was still shocking to a modern audience in our visual, desensitized age. But we were more interested in the idea that the xenophobia and insular fear of the other, the attitudes within the play, hadn't actually changed that much in 35 years – to us that was the real shock factor.
We hope that our production of Home will also provoke debate. Has our attitude to and understanding of mental health problems really enlightened over the past 40 years, or is it equally taboo and we just have more fancy terms to diagnose the conditions? When people are living so much longer today than when the play was written, do we really have a sustainable solution for dealing with an ageing population, or will we still try to sweep under the carpet and forget those marginalised and at the fringes of society without any real sense of dignity and compassion?
Both Brimstone and Home explore my ongoing fascination with notions of ‘Englishness' and national identity. By trying to capture the periods they were written as authentically as possible, we hopefully can open up the questions of just how much has really changed over the past 40 years as ‘this little island' comes to terms with its new place in the world - what does it actually mean in 2013 to be English?
Despite the apparent economic upturn, this is still a troubled time for theatre-makers. Reduced public subsidy is here to stay. Likewise, as economic confidence slowly returns amongst the richer benefactors to whom everyone in the industry is increasingly dependent, it will be harder than ever for fledgling companies such as ourselves to compete with the big theatres that can woo their much-needed support that much more persuasively. I also sense a slight fatigue with the Kickstarter/Wefund microfunding solutions as we all have been inundated with requests over the past couple of years.
We are a young company, trying to put on important, politically conscious but above all entertaining work that can reach out to a new audience. We hope to establish ourselves as a company known for quality, with a reputation for treating the artists working with us in a fair way. Ultimately, Amelia and I would love to run a building together somewhere. In the meantime, we hope those people that know and love the play, and those that will be seeing it for the first time, can come and have a great night out at the theatre.
Home runs at the Arcola Theatre from 23 October to November 23