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After a five star, Offie nominated, sold out production of Berkoff's EAST, Atticist is announced as the new Associate Company at King’s Head Theatre. We find out about this relatively new company from Its Artistic Director Jessica Lazar.
Q. It’s a meteoric rise for your company, Atticist. Was it all meticulously planned out?
Jessica Lazar: I really like the idea of an Atticist situation room somewhere under Holloway, covered in strategy maps and countdown clocks. Sadly not.
We’ve been very fortunate with the reception of our first two shows. Life According to Saki won the Carol Tambor Award at Edinburgh Fringe in 2016, which was an amazing break for us as it translated into a month Off Broadway run in 2017. If we could have planned that we would have… From there, we put the wheels in motion for our next show and gradually the elements fell into place. It was hugely gratifying that East met with such positivity. You see many brilliant projects that simply don’t get lucky, even if it’s deserved.
What’s at the heart of the company?
Collaboration. Company spirit. Which takes you to some weird and wonderful places. We were particularly proud of Best Ensemble nomination in the Off West End Theatre Awards because that sort of epitomises what we want Atticist to stand for. In the rehearsal room and in the development process, no one is more important than anyone else; everyone works together to create a unified piece. Our ethos is that theatre should be fun - even if the thing you’re making is very serious. Especially then.
There is very much the sense that the company has high production values. Is it easy to achieve these?
Yes and no. It’s one of the reasons we’ve only done two shows since Atticist was formed. We’re committed to paying everyone as well as we can within a realistic budget and to meeting the standards we’ve set for ourselves and the production values we share, so a prolific output would have been impossible. Everyone who works with Atticist also works elsewhere - freelancing and/or employed by other companies and venues - which gives us a level of freedom but also means we can’t just pull a rabbit out of a hat.
"It comes down to making sure you’re working alongside collaborators who are all dedicated to the same goal, to the same standards. So it’s easy to achieve with careful collaboration, but it takes perseverance, imagination, and flexibility."
It’s interesting that you won’t perform in spaces that don’t have wheelchair access, which could be tricky in some theatres limited by space (and funds). Why make it difficult for yourselves?
It may make it difficult occasionally and it may mean we turn down some opportunities. But we want audiences to be able to trust that if they come to see something we’re doing, access will never be a problem.
Also, the restriction could encourage us to interrogate situtions we might otherwise dismiss as impossible. For example, if a venue with accessibility problems wanted to work with us, what about a site-specific piece hosted by that theatre elsewhere? There are some wonderful fringe venues that really can’t improve their access where this could be an option. There are others where, with a bit of effort, huge advances could be made. It’s not about pointing fingers or wanting to be difficult. It’s more about a general attitude: we need to consciously recondition ourselves to see inaccessibility as something that must be phased out, whether by major work or creative thinking. We need to reflect higher-level initiatives in our everyday attitudes rather than waiting for legislation to push us there. We really admired Somewhere A Gunner Fires at the King’s Head for their work with Stagetext to caption a performance, for example.
What did you learn not to do from your run of Berkoff’s EAST at King’s Head Theatre?
Rehearsing over Christmas and New Year wasn’t ideal. It meant we had two long breaks in the second half of the rehearsal period immediately before getting into the theatre…that said, the cast were so incredibly focused and diligent that the time off had some unexpected benefits too. But it could have gone rather differently.
What are you going to wow us with as Associate Company to King’s Head Theatre?
We’ll keep trying to make work that is bold, hopeful, inventive, and a bit weird. We’ll keep experimenting with both revivals and new writing, and the support of the King’s Head is an amazing opportunity to do that. We want to develop material that speaks for itself, and then make it speak even louder…
How are you reaching out to us, your audiences and other theatre professionals?
Even though they were such different shows on the surface, between Saki and East, we hope audiences are starting to get an idea of the sort of thing they might see in at Atticist production: a focus on storytelling with a strong design, rooted in text but also highly physical. As such, people who have connected with what we’re trying to do have got in touch directly, which is a really rewarding way to meet other theatre professionals. We keep a lot of people’s details on file at their request to consider for our next production, and we try to see the shows to which we’re invited. We’re always looking to meet potential collaborators, or theatre makers whose work we might enjoy or learn from. We’re also looking to offer advice and support ourselves if we can; there are a couple of ways we’re hoping to do this in partnership with the King’s Head over the next year (of which more soon).
Finally, and most exciting of all, what’s up your sleeve for your next production at King’s Head Theatre?
Hang on, I just have to nip back to the situation room to check the wall charts.
To be revealed. However, we can tell you that it will develop some of the things we discovered in East, even if (as a show) it might seem radically different …
You can keep in touch with Atticist on social media, @theatticist,
and via their website, www.atticist.co.uk