An Interview with Joseph Wallace, Director of The Life After

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With a company of over a hundred performers made up of Bristol Old Vic’s Young and Adult Companies, The Life After is full of big ideas and ambition. We spoke to director Joseph Wallace about the production which opens in February half term.

Tell me about The Life After?
The Life After
is a grand story both fantastical and familiar. At its heart, it’s about a boy who doesn’t want to lose his mother. The show deals with themes of loss, change, family, growing up, life and death. The show’s co-director Miranda Cromwell and I begun the process with the question “Where do we go when we die?” and the piece has developed from that initial stimulus into a show that’s both moving and joyful at the same time.

During the development process we looked a wide variety of research from haikus to folk tales, paintings to pieces of music. Members from across the company brought in and shared their research and this input of original ideas from the young people is one of the things that makes the show so special.

It sounds (thematically and literally) big
It doesn’t get much bigger than life and death and it’s a challenging subject matter with which to engage young people. It’s been a huge journey getting this show made; we actually began research and development on the show back in February 2012 so by the time the show goes up we will have been working on the show intermittently for about a year. The Life After is one of the biggest Young Company shows to date; there are over 100 performers in the piece supported by a large professional creative team. Working with the Young Company is amazing, they are a phenomenal bunch and it’s really their ideas and experiences that have formed the show.

It’s not the first time The Life After has appeared at Bristol Old Vic is it?We “scratched” The Life After in the Bristol Old Vic Studio in August to full houses with a series of prelude performances. This was the first incarnation of the show and featured a cast of around fifty performers and was essentially a first draft. We took one month off in the summer before rehearsals continued with almost triple the number of performers. With the addition of a small group of adult performers we now have a huge range of ages from eleven to seventy-year-olds. It’s an incredible mix of people and constantly surprising

What style of theatre do you like to make, generally?
The Young Company prides itself on an inclusive ensemble approach and this collaborative ethos is at the heart of everything we make. The work is often devised, enabling the young people to really invest in the show and put themselves into it. My real love is telling stories and for The Life After I simply wanted to spin a good yarn. Miranda and I called in Bristol Old Vic Associate Writer Adam Peck to work with us as Dramaturg and pen the script for the show. My roots are in art and design and I often work with puppets so I wanted to bring those elements of my work into The Life After. The show has a really strong visual language and designer Liesel Corp has created some amazing sets, puppets and props which inhabit the world. The show also has vibrant live music performed by the ensemble which they’ve created with Musical Director Elizabeth Westcott.

Tell me about the Bristol Old Vic Young Company and its place in the theatre. You and Miranda both have a background in the company don’t you?
The Young Company works with over 400 young people from around Bristol through weekly sessions, workshops and making shows. Young blood is at the heart of Bristol Old Vic and the Young Company and Outreach department are essential to the health of the organisation. We are training and collaborating with the artists of tomorrow and there is a wealth of talent within the company. It’s about nurturing the creativity of young people and letting them express themselves in a way they’re perhaps not able to in school or elsewhere. The Young Company is made up of people from all over the city and there is no audition process, it’s a very open environment for the youth of the city to tap into their theatrical creativity.

The BOVYC has had quite a few successes of late hasn’t it?
Bristol Old Vic Young Company is one of the most renowned youth theatre organisations in the country. The work made here is of an incredibly high standard and the young people really are theatre makers in their own right. In the past year the Young Company has performed outdoors for Bristol Harbour Festival, won three awards at the National Student Drama Festival, performed for the opening of M-Shed, performed shows in the studio as well as taken shows to Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the National Theatre.

The Life After runs from 14-16 Feb as part of SPRING festival at Bristol Old Vic.

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