Once upon not quite 2 years ago, Drou Constantinou had broken her ankle and her friend and fellow RCSSD grad, Abby Restall, was looking after her. In the all too familiar post Drama school funk they thought “We could do something creative… we should do a show”. A few years earlier, when Abby was studying at UCLan, she had taken a masterclass with contemporary American Musical Theatre writing duo, Carner and Gregor, and had loved the songs she had discovered. When Abby played Drou the songs from Carner & Gregor’s musical Island Song; they both agreed “We have to do this”.
Fast forward 18 months or so, and the Hidden Theatre Company’s production of Island Song previewed at the Actor’s Centre as part of the John Thaw Initiative last week. The show opens for a short run the Nursery Theatre on 12th April 2018. Last week, I caught up with Abby and Drou over a delightful afternoon tea (Julie would be proud) and learnt about how they have made the Hidden Theatre Company bloom and grow. Here are their top tips:
Just do it
The spark of creation for the Hidden Theatre Company came from the desire to produce Carner & Gregor’s Island Song. Before they even had a company name or any track record Abby dug out Sam Carner’s email address from her little black book of industry contacts and sent him and email asking if he and Derek Gregor would be willing to grant them the rights to do the first full professional production of the show in London. She thought, “He’s never going to reply” but he did and said they would be love the show to be produced in London. So Drou and Abby got their thinking caps on, got to work and the Hidden Theatre Company was born.
Decide what your company stands for
“Deciding on a name for the company was probably the thing that we took longest over”, laughs Drou. However, both women have established a very clear ethos for the company and everything they do is aligned with that. Their work showcases hidden talent; using actors at the beginning of their careers or who are undiscovered, providing a platform for new writing and producing work in unknown spaces. Their production of Island Song at the Nursery Theatre fulfils all three of these aims.
Never work with your friends?
Drou and Abby are great friends and great business partners. Discovering their ability to work well together and support one another through busy times has meant their company has gone from strength to strength.
“When you are deciding who to start a company with; you need to remember it is a business, choose someone who matches your work ethic and attention to detail” says Drou.
“One of the best decisions I’ve ever made was to set up this company and I’ve had the best time but there have also been incredibly stressful moments” says Abby.
Both of them agree that the fact they can be completely honest with one another and take criticism and be willing to endure ‘the rants’ during the stressful times is essential. When one of them is feeling low, the other is there to say “We can do this”.
“It’s also really important to differentiate between when is meeting time and when is social time – Abby is good at that” adds Drou.
After the initial surprise of Carner & Gregor giving them the go-ahead to produce Island Song, Abby and Drou decided that it would be sensible to do some smaller scale projects before staging a full musical. This gave them the opportunity to hone their producing skills and start to build a following for the company. They began by producing their scratch nights “Scratched”, which they still run every few months (along with their new “Scratched Comedy Nights”), providing a platform for new writing, fledgling actors and directors. Carner & Gregor actually approached Abby and Drou about hosting a masterclass when the writing team were visiting the U.K. and they, of course, were happy to oblige. I attended this class and instantly hit it off with Abby and Drou, and have been following their work since. The Hidden Theatre company’s first full musical production was Making Waves at Camden Fringe Festival last year (see interview). Abby and Drou said the initial plan had been to stage Island Song last year but they wanted to do something of a similar scale to learn from, before producing the show that had made them want to start a company in the first place.
Make the work you want to make
Talking to Abby and Drou, it is so clear that they are completely passionate and excited about the work they are producing and performing. Island Song had grabbed them from the word go and, although it is set in New York, they feel it is very easy to relate to as young Londoners. Having seen the first preview last week, I agree and think it is an ideal showcase piece for them as performers.
Use Social Media to your advantage
Both Drou and Abby think that social media is an excellent, free tool for building a theatre company’s following and connecting with potential collaborators. All of the calls for writing submissions and casting notices were posted on social media and meant that the company started to become known in the theatre community online. They did also post the casting breakdown for Island Song on Mandy and Backstage, but said that, funnily enough, all of the actors they cast had applied after seeing the breakdown on Twitter or Facebook. When putting together the creative team for Island Song they shared a “Call out” for directors and musical directors online and met with a range people before choosing Christian Bullen and Ben Papworth.
Remember: “If you don’t ask you don’t get”
“So many people stop themselves from taking action and worry ‘what if they think my idea is rubbish?’” says Abby. All of the positive things that have happened for the Hidden Theatre Company have been born out of ‘taking a leap of faith’ and having a go rather than worrying about negative outcomes. They were recipients of the Equity Young Members bursary in 2016, which gave them £500 to set up the company and pay for the venue/performance rights for their first production, Making Waves. The Actor’s Centre accepted their proposal to preview Island Song as part of the John Thaw Initiative. They have done promotional gigs for their shows at the Theatre Café and the Theatre Deli, got press and industry contacts to come and see their shows and they have built happy, collaborative companies for each of their projects. Some of the plays that started out at their Scratch nights are now in rehearsal for full productions and Drou says she feels proud that they have helped “spread hidden gems across London”. None of these things would have happened if they had sat around worrying about failure or level of success.
Remember why you started
As we were sipping the last of our tea, all three of us agreed that making your own work gives you a huge sense of respect and awareness of what goes into putting on a show. Sometimes the producing aspect of creating your own work takes over. It certainly takes up a lot of time and energy and if you don’t enjoy that aspect of the work then making theatre might not be for you. However, Abby points out, “In an industry when you are never in control, it is good to take control”. Abby and Drou have said that in the rehearsal process of Island Song they have, as much as possible, left their ‘producer hats’ at the rehearsal room door and remembered to “just be actors”. Finding a creative team with a vision for the show that aligned with the company’s ethos was key to enabling them to let go of the reigns. It is clear that they are loving the work they are doing. Both women talk with such warmth and enthusiasm about their fellow cast members and the creative team and the collaborative nature of the project.
“How would you like the Hidden Theatre company to grow?” I ask.
“We’ve been asked about taking on bigger projects, but we’re not sure yet” says Drou.
“I’m an actor”, says Abby. “We set up the company to create opportunities for acting and I’d love the company to grow and develop but I love what it is at the moment. I love that people feel collaborative and there is such a team vibe and I really like that”
The Hidden Theatre Company’s production of Island Song runs at the Nursery Theatre from 12th-16th April 2018. Book your tickets here: https://www.thehiddentheatrecompany.com/islandsong
Follow the Hidden Theatre Company/Island Song London:
Twitter: @HiddenTheatreCo @IslandSongLDN