Curtain Call: Starting a Theatre Company

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Lion’s Journal had the pleasure of interviewing both Tara Brodin, a ZIS drama teacher and her colleague Joanne Willmott, who have recently joined forces to start their own theatre company called Close Encounters Theatre. Read on to find out about their process of starting their very own company, how they met and all about how they discovered their passions, which lead them to establish Close Encounters Theatre. Stay tuned for their first performance of their production of Violent Delights, a “daring post- apocalyptic re-imaging of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet”, which is coming to Dynamo Theatre on December 2nd and 3rd. Don’t miss it!

Lions’ Journal: Where did you meet and how?

Tara Brodin: We had a workshop together and instantly connected. We had similar tastes in physical theatre, bounced off similar shows we love and wanted to work together instantly!

LJ: How did you decide you wanted to start a company together?

TB: I approached Jo with my dream and Jo didn’t hesitate to build the mission. A website was built in a matter of weeks and we had a venue and a show that we wanted to develop just months later!

LJ: What inspired you to start your own company?

TB: We recognize that there is a huge talent in Zurich and young people deserve more access to creating, performing and watching theatre. We were inspired by the young people we work with, we listened to their voices and wanted to provide a platform for devising and performing theatre. We offer our students the unique opportunity to collaborate with top professionals from lighting and set designers to composers and improvisation artists, etc. We hope to continue building not only our youth theatre, but also creating professional theatre in Zurich and beyond.

LJ: Why the name “Close Encounters Theatre”?

Joanne Willmott: We believe theatre is all about an intimate connection between the actor and the audience. Theatre is also about the connection and moments shared between the artists creating the work.

LJ: What is the aim of your company?

TB: The aim of the company is to develop fearless physical theatre productions for young people and professionals that will tour internationally.

LJ: What obstacles, if any, have you faced trying to start your own company or are still facing?

JW: Funding is the big issue.  We’re looking at ways to generate an income to fund and develop our productions. The other obstacle is finding rehearsal space. This year, we have been lucky and were invited to be Production in Residence for our show Violent Delights at Dynamo.

LJ: Do you have any long-term goals for your company that you are wishing to fulfill within the next few years?

TB: We would like to create a huge immersive piece. We would like to tour a show internationally. The biggest dream would be able to find funding to have our own theatre space.

LJ: Do you hope for your company to become global?

JW: We already feel global with a mix of Swiss and international teens. But it would be good to build our global profile through touring.  

LJ: What was your inspiration behind doing this specific play: Violent Delights? Why did you decide to go for a post-apocalyptic Romeo and Juliet setting/version?

TB: We wanted to use a script that spoke to the young people we were working with and Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is perfectly suited for our cast. We wanted to set the work in a future world, a world where young people are the only ones left in existence. We thought it would be beautiful to have the creation of Romeo and Juliet’s love prevailing in a world with so much destruction.

LJ: .Do you think starting a company in English will open up opportunities for people living in Switzerland who only speak English?

TB: We work in English but we generate a mix of young people both Swiss and international students interested in theatre. Our hope is to be able to work in both English and German eventually.

LJ: Why were the cutoff ages 21 and 13?

JW: Ages depend on the project, really. Our workshops can go younger than 13. Our next project is Spring Awakening the musical – we will go older than 21.

LJ: Is there any specific reason why you focus on Youth programs?

TB: Both of us are teachers and artists and we know the talents of young people and wanted to offer a professional training programme outside of a school environment.

LJ: Do you know what play you will do next?

JW: A devised piece of physical theatre and Spring Awakening the musical.

LJ: Is there anything new you have learnt having the experience of running a company? What would your advice be to anyone who is interested in starting their own company?

TB: Be passionate and have tenacity. Find the support of your community. Find your flock. The people that think like you, have similar ideas about creating new works of theatre, that are driven to succeed, etc. Finding the right business partner is key!

LJ: What do your rehearsals entail?

JW: Currently, for Violent Delights our rehearsals entail – learning choreography, working with speaking and understanding the text, singing, being playful, character development and ensemble building techniques.

LJ: Is there anything you would like to say to people thinking of joining your theater production/ rehearsals?

TB: Just do it! Whether you’re training as an actor in the future or not, being involved in a theatre production makes one curious, empathic and able to communicate creatively in any collaborative process. We both remember how influential these opportunities were when we were younger and how they continue to inspire us today.

LJ: How do you think your prior teaching and theater/ choreography/ directing experiences have helped you start this company?

TB: Our prior experience working as professional theatre artists has been paramount in our ability to lead our students and productions. Both Joanne and I have had theatre companies in Canada and the UK. Our productions have won awards and have received prestigious grants. We have toured internationally, and have taught workshops all over the world. We look forward to building and enriching the arts scene here with our combined experiences.

LJ: Is it difficult balancing both being a teacher and leading your company?

TB: It is challenging, yes. BUT… passion is key. We have always known that theatre is what we are meant to be doing. Passion can trump challenges. Being teachers gives us an edge and insight into what young people need to develop their artistry.

LJ: When and how did you realize you wanted to teach in the first place?  

TB: I didn’t always know. But my dad wanted me to have a fall back career – teaching. The first time I taught was in my practicum. I instantly loved it and have worked non-stop as either a theatre artist or teacher or both at the same time for my entire career.

JW: I set up a youth dance company immediately after graduating and loved the passion young people bring to the arts and their sheer creativity. I went on to train as a teacher whilst having a professional dance company in the UK.

LJ: How did you personally decide to focus on theater/ choreography/  directing/ specialization in movement/ improvisation when you were in university or later on in life?

TB: I was always a band and choir student in high school. In my senior year of high school, the choir joined forces with the drama class to produce CABARET the musical. I got the lead role. It was terrifying as I had never acted before. It was also entirely inspirational and addictive. I knew at 18 that I wanted to pursue a career in the arts. I have received three degrees in theatre specializing in acting, musical theatre, directing and comedy.

JW: I  had a wonderful choreographer mentor at university who had danced with Martha Graham.  He said to me – “you are an artist – you have to make and build!” After university (Laban Centre London), I formed INFLUX Dance Company.  INFLUX were awarded funding and toured internationally with productions.

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If you would like to get involved in Close Encounters Theatre take a look at their upcoming courses in January through May in contemporary dance, devising new theatrical works, and comedy – improvisation and physical comedy by clicking on this link or take a look at their summer program.

Click this link to see a trailer for the performance and this link to buy your tickets for Violent Delights  available now.

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