Home Interviews INTERVIEW WITH NEIL FOSTER Birmingham Stage Company manager/actor by DIANE PARKES

INTERVIEW WITH NEIL FOSTER Birmingham Stage Company manager/actor by DIANE PARKES

Q: Why and how did you form Birmingham Stage Company?

A: I initially intended to go to Warwick University but left after seven weeks to set up my own theatre company, before training at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. When I graduated, I looked all over the country for a theatre in which to house my fledgling company and by chance I found The Old Rep Theatre in Birmingham, my hometown. Our first Christmas show was Fantastic Mr Fox by Roald Dahl and that was what started our long association with the great writer. Fantastic Mr Fox was the first professional Christmas show at the Old Rep for twenty years and yet 17,500 people came to see it, which proved that there was a big demand for high quality children’s theatre. Fulfilling the demand for excellent children’s shows is what still drives us, twenty-nine years later.

Q: Why do you enjoy producing children’s theatre?

A: I love children and I love children’s writing. A lot of children’s writing has really interesting, imaginative characters. The writing and the characters are very challenging and so too are the audiences. Whereas adults go to sleep if they are bored, children quickly let you know if they lose interest. Keeping that interest and keeping them engaged is difficult but very rewarding because they are so very giving as an audience. They often respond in a way that you don’t anticipate and you never cease to underestimate their sophistication and what they will find interesting. You can never guess what direction they will want to go in when you tell the story. That is why children’s theatre is so exciting.

Q: How did your theatre company cope during lockdown?

A: We made the decision to keep going! So we started doing shows in car parks around the country with Coalition Agency and they turned out to be hugely successful. As soon as plays could be performed outdoors, we were staging them in gardens, fields, castles, piers and finally back in theatres. In fact, we were the first theatre company to perform in 2020 and the only company still performing on New Year’s Eve. We managed to stage five productions this summer and all of them went amazingly well. We were also helped enormously by the Government’s Culture Recovery Fund.

Q: As BSC head towards their 30-year milestone, where would you like the company to go in the future?

A: I’d like the next decade to continue to give me the same opportunities to work with great writing and great people in really good theatres with fantastic actors. It is less about getting bigger and more about making sure you are still excited about what you are doing. We often find ourselves producing five different shows at the same time and that is as much as I’d ever want to do at one time. I don’t want to end up running a bigger operation because then I would end up being a manager and supervising a lot of people and getting them to do creative things whereas I like to be at the heart of the creative process. There are only four of us in the office and I want to keep it that way.

Q: Over the last 29 years are there are any shows which really stand out for you?

A: We have been extremely lucky because I’d say we’ve been involved with something amazing every year since we started. So if I named highlights there would probably be twenty-nine shows! But our productions of David Almond’s Skellig going to New York and our adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book have been very important for us. It has been a huge thrill to work with David Walliams staging his books Gangsta Granny, Awful Auntie and Billionaire Boy. Horrible Histories has given us the longest running children’s show in West End history with Barmy Britain and a couple of years ago we performed it at The Sydney Opera House.

Q: You are increasingly taking BSC shows abroad – is that an area you would like to see develop?

A: Our international work is growing because we are being invited to travel to different countries across the world. More and more people are contacting us and asking for our shows. The list so far includes New York, India. Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Syria, Malta, Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand and Australia. Hopefully more to come!

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