For the first instalment in our new “5 Questions” series, we sat down with #Dr@cula Director Robert Shaw Cameron to discuss Central’s forthcoming production, which has been adapted from Bram Stoker’s original text by Tony nominated playwright Bryony Lavery.
Actor and Director Robert Shaw Cameron is the former Associate Director of the Birmingham Repertory Theatre. He has previously directed several productions at Central, including City of Angels, Cabaret, Grease, and The Crucible.
Performed by BA (Hons) Acting Musical Theatre students working alongside students from the BA (Hons) Theatre Practice course, #Dr@cula will play in Central’s Webber Douglas Studio from 15 – 18 November. Following this, it will transfer to the Curve Theatre in Leicester for a schools tour to form part of Central’s Outreach and Widening Participation work – as well as a special public performance on 23 November.
1. How did you get involved in the production of #Dr@cula?
I’ve worked on the Musical Theatre course with Wendy Gadian for a number of years now, and I’ve come to understand the opportunities that exist and how unique this course is in having a specialism in musical theatre alongside a real focus on acting. I know that Wendy is always very keen to find productions that will provide both the right opportunities but also the right challenges to each year group. In conversations with Wendy about the personalities of this particular cohort, we thought it would be good to look at something quite contemporary, something a little bit more urban and raw. Having worked with Bryony a few times in a director/writer relationship, and knowing both this play and her version of it quite well, I thought it could be a really interesting match. I took it to Wendy and she thought it was exciting, so we went ahead with it.
2. What is your previous experience with Central?
Wendy saw my work years ago when I was the Associate Director of Birmingham Rep and she invited me to come and have a chat about possibly working with the students. I’ve since done various projects such as the text projects, the Americans work and the restoration project. I’ve also directed a number of final year musicals, including City of Angels, Cabaret and Grease. I took some time out and then came back again last year to direct The Crucible in this same slot – which also went to Leicester. And now I’m back again for #Dr@cula.
3. What is it like working on a public production at Central?
It’s really enjoyable. It’s fantastic to be a part of what, for the students both on the acting the technical courses, is a really significant moment. They are getting their first opportunity to really present their work for public audiences and are learning to work in a concentrated and focused way as they take a production from conception right through to performance. So it’s really thrilling to support them in what is a key part of their journey. My role is to come in and drive the exact same expectations that they would find in a professional production, and then to make the compromises, developments and changes that are necessary according to where each individual is at in their particular process. But I try to always help drive the expectations and processes that they will be hoping to explore when they step out to do this next year as professionals.
4. Are there any challenges to making contemporary, relevant productions for drama schools?
I think it’s hard for a number of reasons. One obvious reason is that cast sizes in contemporary dramas are often not appropriate for the year group sizes that drama schools invariably have. Also, there are often issues with acquiring the rights to plays that are contemporary, and as such I think it’s sometimes easier to just go back to classical work that already exists in the cannon or to try and find interesting challenges to address within more historical work. So I thought it was really brave and brilliant of Wendy to take a leap of faith in doing not only a contemporary piece of work but, actually, in doing a contemporary new piece of work with the writer in the room. It really is a piece that is living, breathing and evolving in the rehearsal room, and this provides a great opportunity for both the acting and the technical companies. If they can be great practitioners with experience of working on contemporary new work, it will open up even more opportunities for them when they step out into the professional world.
5. Is there anything about this production that stands out for you as being especially unique?
In my experience, it’s totally unique in terms of what drama schools can or usually do. First, it’s a brand new adaptation. Having a Tony nominated writer present in the room is also very unique for people at this stage of their professional development. And to then be able to see their work, both in the workshop phase and in the rehearsals, be put into the text and to watch as their contributions during the development process are reflected in the work itself is fantastically unique. For both the acting company and the technical company, having the dexterity and the flexibility to be able to respond to something that’s evolving is a really invaluable, brilliant skill. It’s very different to when we did The Crucible, which was an exploration of putting on our own, new version of an already tried and tested masterpiece. With this production, we’re shaping, adapting, testing and refining it. They are all brilliant skills and it’s very unique for drama students to have these opportunities.
Be sure to join us for our next instalment of 5 Questions, when we’ll be sitting down with BA (Hons) Acting Musical Theatre student Elliott Wooster!