Kate Wasserberg: 'Wales has the best actors in the world'

The co-founder of Cardiff’s The Other Room on her love for Theatr Clwyd and the burgeoning Welsh theatre scene

Kate Wasserberg
Kate Wasserberg
© Catherine Ashmore

Before I came to Theatr Clwyd I was having a bit of a tough time as a young director in London. I had done a few things on the fringe that I was really proud of and had a couple of assistant jobs, but I felt like I wasn’t really making ground. I wanted to be somewhere I could make more work so I wrote to a load of regional theatres and Terry Hands – the then artistic director of Clwyd – got back to me. He said come and meet me and I did, and we ended up talking for three hours.

I shared a lot of values with Terry in terms of writers, quality of work and story and after he saw the James Graham play I had directed at the Finborough, he made me director of new writing and within 18 months he’d asked me to be associate. I was the associate director for Clwyd for five years and it was an amazing time in my life.

Clwyd's relationship with its audience has more in common with your local football team

Wales has the best actors in the world. Clwyd has a kind of ensemble ethos and while I was there I learnt about repertory. The venue's isolation is part of its strength in a way because when you’re there, it’s like theatre camp. No one is sloping off to have a cocktail or meet their agent for dinner. There’s this rhythm to it, it’s a way of working that has a magic to it.

Clwyd is really unusual because of where it is. It’s this grand old theatre on top of a hill in the middle of the countryside, so, as an audience member, it’s not somewhere you just pop into. The relationship with the audience has more in common with your local football team. It’s not a show-by-show relationship – you go because it’s Theatre Clwyd and you know that it’s going to be good. Terry would always say: quality, quality, quality and I think that’s absolutely continued under the new artistic director Tamara Harvey. It's the idea that the work has to be as good as anything, anywhere. You could pick a show up and whack it down in the West End or in New York and it would hold its own.

There’s a real momentum on the Welsh theatre scene at the moment

Sometimes it felt like we were making work in the dark. Our audience knew and loved us and they would come, but getting anyone from the theatre community to come was a loosing battle. Tamara has done amazing work to bring Clwyd to the attention of the rest of the theatre community and potentially a broader audience. There’s a real momentum being built on the theatre scene in Wales at the moment. Tamara taking on Clwyd felt like a final bit of a jigsaw puzzle. And Rachel O’Riordan getting to Sherman felt hugely significant. She rocked up and, much like Terry had all those years ago, went: 'only the best please'.

There’s a generation of theatre makers in Wales now who want to stay in Wales. They don’t feel like they need to run away to London. They want and expect their country to be a world leader in theatre. That feels like a new thing. That generation are bilingual and their theatrical vocabulary is enormous. It was largely started by people like Dirty Protest who began that grass roots ideal of Welsh new writing.

I had to explain to Arts Council Wales what a pub theatre was

Setting up The Other Room in Cardiff was incredibly hard, but incredibly inspiring. I remember having to write a dossier to Arts Council Wales explaining what a pub theatre was, because the city didn’t have one. We applied for money in our first year – and even what we asked for wasn’t enough – but they gave us half and it was really hard. We made the first show from stuff from my house and a piece of lino my mum bought.

I've started at Out of Joint now and it has been really exciting. We’re beginning a new funding cycle and have begun talking about what the company is going into the future. What I’m going to miss most about Wales is the people. I text the people at The Other Room all the time and I’m bringing The Rise and Fall of Little Voice to Theatre Clwyd soon. Whenever I head back there it always feels like going home.

The Rise and Fall of Little Voice runs at Theatr Clwyd from 5 to 28 October.

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