KATHERINE MCDERMOTT Q&A: DEVELOPING THEATRE PROJECTS DURING A PANDEMIC
We spoke to actress, writer & theatre maker, Katherine McDermott who recently spent some time at The Old Courts conducting research and development on a new piece of theatre, supported by Arts Council England. We discovered how she had to adapt her work due to the Covid-19 pandemic and what she has planned next. Hello Katherine! Why don’t we start by you introducing yourself?
Hello, I'm Katherine.
What do you do? I am an actress, writer and theatre maker based in Greater Manchester and I've recently finished my research and development on a new piece of theatre which was supported by the great people of Arts Council England. Here's to public funding! It's a bit weird but combines circus, slapstick and it revolves around a fictitious town called Twyllingdale and the two main antagonists are both women on the run. It's all a bit gory and hopefully funny but strange too.
The first of your audio plays has just been released this week – can you tell us a bit about it?
It's called The Story Of The Undiscovered Suitcase and it's set during WW2 on Christmas Eve in Twyllingdale. Imogen is an auxiliary nurse meant to be caring for injured soldiers and civilians but all's not quite what it seems. This was the original title of my R&D. This episode leads into what will be the theatre play - Imogen manages to escape at the end of the audio, but where does she go? This will be the opening of the theatre play. This audio drama has been produced by Bamalam Productions who produced your COVID podcast during lockdown and are based in Wigan. What drew you to produce these stories in particular? I have a macabre sense of humour and see the funny in the dark and the dark in the funny. I've trawled through crime and punishment records in Britain, serial killers you know, just some light hearted reading to get you through your day! I've been heavily inspired by Robert Aickman and Edgar Allan Poe, League of Gentleman, silent movies - Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin are my heroes, and Laurel and Hardy, and then the natural surroundings - walking through the Goyt Valley, getting lost in Hayfield, discovering and uncovering the dark secrets of towns and cities and bringing them to life.
You used space in The Old Courts for research & development, how did you find it? The space was great - there were some great books on the shelves which I was immediately drawn to - a book on strange tales and magic,crime and punishment, so it was a great place for me to write and develop some scripts. But during these weird times, the other members of the team were unable to be in the space due to COVID rules. The record store owner (Paul at Static Records) inside The Old Courts kept me company with great tunes and chats about Brandon Flowers.
How have you had to adapt your way of working this year due to Covid-19?
We've turned the work into radio plays and done more work online. So one of the pieces I developed at the Old Courts is called "Ravaged By Time" and it's a historical ghost story that's been filmed and will be streamed online in October. The whole project had to change. We couldn't do any slapstick or circus, we couldn't be in a room together and all the sharings which we were due to perform (including one at the Old Courts and Everyman Theatre in Liverpool) were cancelled. This was deeply sad for us, but I thought, why not bring the circus to the radio! So the next audio drama is May Day which is set at a parade and at a circus in Twyllingdale. Each of us involved in the R&D has been affected professionally. Sian is the co-director of the Circus House in Manchester which had to close. Emma was in the middle of a theatre tour before it suddenly had to stop. So I think the fact we've managed to somehow make and create work in the middle of a pandemic is pretty remarkable. What do you have planned next?
For this project I'm piecing each bit into one play and then we'll hopefully perform it in a theatre. As much as zoom has helped and streaming services have allowed people to engage with the arts in different ways, nothing beats being in a theatre. During the pandemic I was selected by the BFI to be one of their Northern Voices of 2020 so I'm right in the middle of writing a short film script for them which I hope to pitch in November. Where can people find out more about your work? There's a website for the project - and I'll be updating it regularly with work. We're also on buzzsprout too - and the audio plays are also featured on the Bamalam Productions website too - www.bamalamproductions.co.uk. Sian Berry, the director, is the co-director of Circus House in Manchester and people can look at their great work here: www.thecircushouse.co.uk.