Ahead of opening the debut show of my brand new theatre company Pique Niche Productions tomorrow, I caught up with Nathan Benjamin, one of our cast members and marketing guru through the entire process.
This leaves me in the rather unique position of guesting on my own blog, but I hope you find the change of pace an interesting one!
Why did you create Pique Niche Productions?
I’ve been involved in theatre one way or another for a long time, initially as a make-up artist and actor. Turning 30 meant I learned the harsh lesson that a lot of female actors learn, and that is that the majority of stage roles are written for younger and older women and from thirty to forty acting roles are harder to come by. This led to me developing an interest in direction and after assisting on a number of shows my directorial debut, A Doll’s House for Liverpool Network Theatre Group, was performed in January this year. As a writer I wanted to find a way I was able to produce my own work while retaining full creative control over it. My partner (Danny John Wright) had also written a screenplay which he wanted me to adapt for stage. It was this which led to the formation of Pique Niche. Danny’s play, The Stranger, will be our second show and we will be performing this Spring/Summer 2020.
What sets Pique Niche apart from other theatre companies?
One of the core aims of Pique Niche is to produce new writing from northern writers. It’s important to me to give writers in the North a chance to see their work performed to a high standard. I work as an editor and I’m able to work with writers to polish their script to the highest standard before rehearsals begin. I have a good network of strong and talented actors, so I can get the best out of scripts I am sent. What makes us different is that I am fully involved in our productions, from editing/polishing/adapting the script to the direction. I work in a very organic way, allowing actors to develop their own characterisation with gentle guidance rather than being very prescriptive.
What have you learned since setting up Pique Niche?
There are not enough hours in a day! Setting up a theatre company is one of the hardest things I have ever done. There was always a chance it was going to fall flat, but I have been absolutely overwhelmed by the amount of support we have received. The sheer number of people who auditioned for Picture This was unbelievable and I am so happy that so many people have put their faith in me; from the writer Alex May allowing me to direct his scripts to the actors who are rehearsing for us. So I guess my biggest lesson is that I have some wonderful people in my life who have provided some fantastic support, without which I don’t know where I would be.
What made you decide to do Picture This as your first production?
Alex was looking for someone to direct his play Art for Our Sake. I read the script and fell in love with the story and the characters in it. I was very lucky that Alex allowed me to take on the direction. As it is a relatively short play we decided to add another two plays to the evening to produce something of more length. Alex put forward his Ferry Tales which again is a lovely piece, and I adapted a previously written short story into Almost Always, which I felt fit the theme due to its connection with pictures and artwork.
On the surface, the 3 plays that make up Picture This are quite different. What similarities would you draw between them?
The 3 plays are all about how people look at life and the people around them. Ferry Tales shows two conversations on the iconic Mersey Ferry where people’s views, for example on politics and gender roles, and how they express them can create a situation which has a huge effect on the person they are talking to. Almost Always, through photographs and artwork, explores how people view success and health in an ever-changing and, somewhat unstable, world. Art for Our Sake explores people’s views of art – modern and otherwise – and people’s views of left-wing and right-wing politics and class. The roles of class and gender are explored in all 3 plays and the link to the literal view, from the Liverpool Waterfront to a painting of a lady with an iguana necklace, all allude to the fact that what you see isn’t what everyone else sees.
We live in a world where people spend more time looking at a screen than what is going on around them and this culture is creating a sense of anonymity which leads to more and more vitriol being expressed on social media. The key message in Picture This is that we can all learn something by looking at the world through someone else’s eyes and sometimes we should maybe take five minutes to look around us before arguing with the people around us, both in real life and on a screen. There’s a big colourful world out there. Enjoy the view.
What are your plans for after Picture This?
During the rehearsal process, Almost Always has grown legs and is currently being developed as a full-length play which I am aiming to produce late 2020/early 2021. Our second play The Stranger is very different to Picture This; much darker, with hints of the supernatural. Pique Niche hopefully has a long and interesting future ahead. I’m really hoping lots of people join us for our debut show and begin the journey with us.
You can buy tickets for Picture This here.
Please let me know if you see the show and what you think of it.
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