Following two sold out performances at the Hen and Chickens last October, Streetlights, People! Productions are transferring their production of Adam Gwon’s award-winning musical Ordinary Days to London Theatre Workshop for a limited run (29th May to 17th June, 2017). Tickets are available here.
I’ve been chatting to Nora Perone (Company Co-founder/Producer/Deb), Neil Cameron (Producer/Warren) and Jen Coles (Co-founder/Director), about their show, self-producing, musical theatre making life better and their favourite things…
How did your company “Streetlights, People! Productions” start? What made you decide to set up your own company?
Jen: Nora and I were at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama together, and we had a unit in our course where we had to produce work in a non-traditional context. We decided to do a vlog musical (“The Fitness Problem”) about how unfit we were, which went really well and got a really good reception from viewers. From that, we discovered how well we worked as a pair and decided to keep going with the partnership, which today is Streetlights!
Nora: It was originally just going to be a YouTube comedy thing, but in the last year the company’s gone a completely different direction! We just wanted to be able to create our own opportunities, instead of constantly being at the mercy of casting directors and agents.
What advice would you give to performers thinking of producing their own work?
Neil: As a performer you are your own brand and have to constantly be proactive. We all have that creative buzz within us and, in order to market yourself, producing your own work is a great stepping stone to networking and making those connections.
Nora: Just dive right in and learn as you go! You will make mistakes, and that is okay. Read and absorb as much as you can, ask for help and advice when you need it, but remember that nobody owes you anything and in the end it all comes down to you. Which is simultaneously the most exciting and the most terrifying thing in the world!
Jen: Strength in numbers. The more people you have involved the easier life is. If you have a specific role or job and so do your friends, you can balance the workload easier. Also, be prepared to invest in your work. I tend to pick a project and “save up” for it.
Neil and Nora…How do you manage to do the jobs of producer and performer at the same time?!
Neil: You understand that you have been given an opportunity and that people are responding to the work you are producing. To me personally, the excitement of making connections proves that your work is heading in the direction you want it to. Producer/ performer is a great position to be in as you get to experience the entire process as you are fully involved with every part of making the work.
Nora: I’m not going to lie– it’s really difficult. When I’m in rehearsal, I have to focus on being in “actor mode.” Otherwise, the brain space I need for blocking and
lyrics and emotional preparation will be busy composing emails and writing budgets and wondering if I bought the right paint for the set designer. That being said, I’ve had to go full “producer mode” while sending press invites, because the idea of reading reviews makes Actor Nora vaguely queasy.
What made you choose “Ordinary Days” as your first full scale production?
Neil: Truth be told, the decision for Ordinary Days began when Nora and myself were having a cup of tea one day. When we studied together at Central, we both knew that we wanted to work together in the future and after Nora set up Streetlights, People! Productions with Jen, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to produce something together.
Nora: I discovered Ordinary Days while I was doing rep research in drama school, and it just spoke to me on so many levels. While we were at Central, Neil and I joked that the show needed to be revived so we could play Deb and Warren– It wasn’t until a year after we left that we realized we could do it ourselves. At that point, we were both feeling very stagnant as performers and were just desperate to work on something we would really enjoy!
How did the transfer to London Theatre Workshop come about?
Nora: It was a huge stroke of luck on our part. Ray Rackham, the Artistic Director of London Theatre Workshop, came to see the show last October when it was at the Hen and Chickens. Ray’s musical, Judy!, was transferring to the West End, so the theatre was going to be empty, and he offered us the space! Ray and the whole LTW team have been so incredibly generous– we would never have been in a position to produce a run of this scale without his support and belief in us.
What can audience members expect from the show?
Jen: A very funny and heartfelt show, with great characters and relatable moments. It has a huge amount of heart. It deals with life in the city really well, and how difficult it can be.
Nora: We’ve been telling people to expect a LOT of laughs, and a few tears too. The writing is so witty, and then it just turns and breaks your heart. The best thing about this show, though, is that it is so relatable. Anyone who has ever felt alone in a crowd, or felt overwhelmed by the future–which, let’s face it, is all of us– will see themselves in these characters.
Do you have a favourite song/moment in the show?
Neil: There is a particular moment where all four cast members are on stage and come together to create an exciting harmony in a poignant part of the show (I shall give nothing away). However, the moments shared between Warren and Deb– Nora and myself– are also a significant part of why I enjoy the role within this show.
Jen: Oo, tricky! I have loads actually, all for different reasons. Couldn’t pick! One moment that never fails to make me laugh is the Gallery K bit of “Saturday at the Met.” And for pure and raw emotion can’t go past “I’ll Be Here.”
Nora: I get a little choked up every time we sing “Beautiful.”
Who is your favourite character?
Jen: Again, that’s hard because each character has such a different journey and personality!
Neil: I do have to say the role I’m playing. Warren is just so wonderfully quirky and it’s a joy to lead audiences through his journey.
Nora: I love Warren. He has such a fantastic mindset, and he’s not afraid to open up and put himself out there. We could all stand to be a bit more like Warren.
You are taking the show to Edinburgh after the London run? How are preparations going? Do you think the Edinburgh audiences will be significantly different?
Nora: Yes, we are taking the show to Edinburgh! We’re doing a full festival run, which is a massive undertaking. There is just a ridiculous amount of admin involved. It’s all a bit overwhelming, if I’m honest. But none of us are ready to say goodbye to Ordinary Days just yet!
Neil: Each audience will certainly be different I’m sure. With Edinburgh, it is a great opportunity for the show as well as the company to truly make a name for itself.
Jen: I guess the biggest difference is London is closer to what New York (where the show is set) is like as opposed to Edinburgh, so it would be slightly more relatable. But ultimately, the material stands on its own no matter where it’s performed. That’s the beauty of it.
s you know, I credit Julie Andrews as my hypothetical guru of musical theatre perfection… If you had to pick a guru or gurus from the world of theatre (real people or characters), who would you choose and why?
Nora: Lin-Manuel Miranda. Talk about making your own opportunities!
Neil: Robert Lindsay for me is one of those actors who seems to have experienced many fields within the industry. I have no doubt he would be a fountain of knowledge in answering any queries I would have. I am a great admirer of his from the fields of TV and theatre. He has a wonderful charm and charisma that makes him so engaging to watch.
Jen: Susan Stroman or John Tiffany. Both brilliant creatives, would love to get an insight into how they go about creating work.
What life lessons have musicals taught you?
Neil: Ultimately to never give up. I love a show with good punch and when the underdog can overcome something that is holding them back from succeeding.
Jen: Talk about your problems, don’t repress them. Otherwise, you make them worse. And, life is a song. Sing it.
Nora: Musicals aren’t written about people who never took a risk.
Do you have any show tune lyrics that you live by?
Nora: “Many a New Day” from Oklahoma! This industry is full of disappointments and missed opportunities, so it’s important to remind yourself that life goes on!
Neil: “Seize the Day” from Newsies, definitely.
Jen: “If happy little blue birds fly, beyond the rainbow, why oh why can’t I?” Or if all else fails: “I swear I’d get married in Ireland, in a wedding like Lord of the Rings.”
If Julie Andrews was your agony aunt, what would you ask her?
Jen: Dear Julie Andrews. You always seem to have such grace and poise in every situation ; any words of advice for an awkward introvert like me?
Neil: I’d love to ask for her rum punch recipe.
What are a few of your favourite things?
Nora: Dogs, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and Kraft macaroni and cheese.
Neil: Peanut butter, nostalgic kids tv shows (Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, Thundercats, X-Men) and a good bourbon.
Jen: (sing it…)Netflix and chocolate and cuddles and tea, Drawing and writing and a funny movie, Video games, food, and lots of singing, These are a few of my favourite things! (R: Jen wins bonus Julie points for this!! huzzah!)
If Mary Poppins measured you with her special tape measure, what would it say?!
Neil: Scottish cheeky chap with Superhero aspirations (still have hopes of being accepted into the justice league…)
Jen: Too many puns.
Nora: Laughs too much at her own jokes. (R: I do that too!!!)
How do you solve a problem (like Maria, or otherwise)?
Neil: I simply remember my favourite things and then I don’t feel so bad.
Jen: Process, rationalise, discuss, form solution. See also: avoid and make a blanket fort.
Nora: Sit Maria down and tell her to get her shit together.
Ok… get ready…QUICK FIRE ROUND – WOULD YOU RATHER… ?
…fly a kite or climb a mountain?
All: Climb a mountain.
…be thoroughly modern or practically perfect?
Nora and Neil: Thoroughly modern.
Jen: Practically perfect! I’ll put it on my CV under “special skills.”
…dance all night or sit absobloominglutely still?
All: Dance all night!
…sew or run?
Jen: Run. Can’t sew to save my life. Can’t run to save my life either, come to think of it.
Nora: Neither. I’m terrible at both.
…jam and bread or lots of chocolate?
Jen: Lots of chocolate? What? Where?!
Neil: Jam and bread.
…talk of dreams or show me now?
All: Show me now!