An Interview with Gemma Woffinden
Next month sees Rebecca Manley’s Zoetrope hit the West Yorkshire Playhouse. The Mumble managed catch a few words with the director…
When did you first find yourself getting into the dramatic arts?
I loved theatre from a young age, seeing shows with my Dad, making shows with my sister and performing in school plays. I loved telling stories, playing different characters and being part of a creative process with school friends.
These days you are the director of West Yorkshire Playhouse’s Youth Theatre. What is the talent like in Leeds & what outlets do you provide for them?
The Youth Theatre works with young people aged 5-19. All the young people attending weekly sessions have a passion for theatre and we create opportunities to engage them with the shows made in the theatre on stage and behind the scenes. I am constantly inspired by young people’s energy, their ideas and it’s exciting to see the world from their perspective. We have a range of different performance opportunities as well as young people being cast in professional show, for example Romeo and Juliet directed by Amy Leach.
What for you makes a good piece of theatre?
Well, I love a good story. I like to see plays that make me think, plays that I can relate to the subject matter of, and also plays that invite me to sees someone’s experiences from a new perspective. I like being challenged by stories that can be uncomfortable to consider and will provoke a good debate for the journey home from the theatre.
What does Gemma Woffinden like to do when she’s not being theatrical?
I actually love going to see as many plays as possible. Across the country there is so much to see. I also enjoy going out for dinner with friend and seeing live music.
You will be bringing Zoetrope to the West Yorkshire Playhouse in early November, can you tell us about the play?
It’s a brilliant new play written by Rebecca Manley and it’s been so exciting to direct. It tells the story of 7 very different young people attending a counselling group. It’s about mental health, relationships and the process people have to go through to get the help they need. It’s very funny and very sad.
To help inform the script and the young people acting in the show you worked with Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services on the project. How did you find the experience?
It has helped meeting a range of mental health professionals and young services users. We have shared scenes from the play and been able to talk to people first-hand about real life experiences and they have helped us to shape the characters stories in the play. It’s just been great for the young people to meet each other and learn about life from a different perspective.
How are you finding working with Rebecca Manley?
Rebecca has lots of experience working with people from a range of backgrounds and her playwriting brings those peoples stories to life. She is committed to creating characters that reflect the experiences of real people. Rebecca and I have spent lots of time talking about the things we are passionate about and I believe she is a playwright who genuinely cares about people and their struggles. She is a very funny lady and it’s a pleasure to work with her on Zoetrope. As a director I feel I can talk opening to her about the creative process of bring a new play to the stage.
What would you say to encourage people to buy a ticket?
Come and see the show! I promise it will entertain you and make you think. The characters are brilliant, the story is gripping and most of all the actors are very talented.
What do you hope the audience will take away from the production?
I hope audiences will feel they have seen a high quality piece of theatre that made them think. I hope audiences will come away considering the challenges the character faced and relate them to their own lives whether a direct connection or having an understanding of how to support a friend. Society is starting to talk more about mental wellbeing, and this play will open up the discussion even more. We have a few schools booked in to see the show. I really hope the play can also be explored in schools, it’s a great resource for many reasons. During rehearsals I have run a few workshops and I’m ready to do more! Let’s get talking and remember its ok to not be ok!
What does the rest of 2017 hold in store for Gemma Woffinden?
Well, lots more exciting projects with young people. We are already working on a play called BLANK by Alice Birch which is part of the National Theatre Connections Festival 2018. This play looks at the lives of young people who parents are in prison and I am keen to link up with local charities to see how we might work together during rehearsals. The Youth Theatre works with young people aged 5-19s and we have nearly 200 young people attending sessions each week at The Playhouse , I have a production idea up my sleeve that could invite all our young people for a show on the Quarry stage. Watch this space!