Meet Brixham's International Awarding-Winning Theatre Company
Based in Brixham is a theatre company, whose passion and dedication has resulted into a strong international reputation. The South Devon Players Theatre & Film Company started with two performers and a dream, now that’s turned into an award-winning theatre company. We spoke to Laura Jury, co-founder, director and performer to find out more.
You were founded in 2005 with the proceeds of a car boot sale; what do you recall about the very beginnings of the South Devon Players?
A lot of hard work! That never ends, but we have always had a "can-do" attitude despite whatever setbacks we have encountered. The struggle in the early days of starting out was finding rehearsal space, and as a new team, finding performance venues which were willing to show our work. We were unable to get booked by theatres for years, so we started outperforming in church halls.
Once we were able to break that glass ceiling and get theatre venues, this meant we started attracting bigger audiences and getting taken more seriously by the public. Church hall shows, with all the marketing in the world, only attracted small numbers.
What has the last 14 years meant to you; and to be part of the South Devon Players today?
It ended up as my life's work, to be honest. I cannot imagine a life without it now, and I can be quite fiercely protective of the organisation and our team. It is tough - the workload, of admin, directing, creative planning, marketing, performing, costuming, set creation etc can get rather overwhelming; and you could not sustain the workload if you didn't absolutely love the projects, and believe in the team, the people, and what you're doing. We have absolutely incredible people in the team and love welcoming new team members who share our vision to make our own professional opportunities here centred on Torbay.
What type of people are part of the South Devon Players?
Everyone is either an established professional performer or someone aspiring to that same outcome. Because the standard is high and the expectations, to achieve that standard match, we find that as a general rule, we tend not to be a "hobbyists" group for people looking for a "drop-in." Most of us work externally as freelance performers - a number of us work with other professional production companies/ acts, in theatre, films, music, and education. Two of our team are also freelance models. Some other members also own their own theatre and dance companies. One of our more far-flung team members is one of the Equity (actors trade union) executives in Ireland. It isn't so much a case of "going on to do," usually, but working concurrently.
What is important is that whether someone has been a performer for 30 years, or this is their first time stepping on to a stage, and whether they are 9 years old (our youngest) or 71 (our eldest), that we are all ambitious, as well as friendly, supportive, and enjoy working together - and learn together - as a respectful fun team. Some people have described it as a "family."
You recently won a theatre award in New York, tell us more about the award and what you think set South Devon Players apart?
I always try to network us both locally and further afield around the world - with the Internet, you can film shows - as long as you own the relevant copyrights - and they can be screened all over the world. This brings us into contact with organisations all over the world, some of whom follow our progress. Local actors feeling there aren't many professional opportunities in an area so rolling up their sleeves and making some for themselves, (with lots of innovation, problem-solving, recycling, due to horrendously tight resources) is a subject that seems to impress a lot, though to me it seems a perfectly reasonable solution. So, we were contacted and asked to submit to the Long Island Theatre Awards, and while most of the awards were for US based productions and teams, there was one "The Theatre Partner Award" which was international. Because we were not in a place where the judges could easily visit in person, they were happy to have a video of the show sent over to see our work that way. I sent the video and then pretty much forgot about it - until this summer when I had an email that we had made it to the nominee list, with an invite for a representative to go to the awards in New York. I was planning to go, but fell ill, another member of our team went over in my place, and at about 5am our time, I received the news that we had won the award. The trophy is now back here in Brixham.
Your latest production is a reprise of your Macbeth, set in a post-apocalyptic near-future post-apocalyptic near-future. What is it about this production that has audiences and all of you so obsessed?
We don't do Shakespeare all the time; in fact this is the second time we have performed Shakespeare in our company history, but one of our approaches to the Bard's text is that we never cut any of it, unlike many companies. Where we usually specialise in the historical drama, we do become a little more experimental when it comes to Shakspeare. Ours is most certainly not the only post-apocalyptic theatre take on Macbeth; but of the others I have seen, it is never explained what the reason for the "post apocalyptic " style is, which is a point critics often pick up on and dont like; where we open ours very clearly with the end of a nuclear world war, staged with the use of special effects. We paid a lot of attention to the characterisation, text, sub-texts, and making sure that everyone understands their character and text, in-depth. It's grim and dark in places, but colourful as well. A lot of my influences, as director, of the styling of this, came from the Mad Max universe.
After the first run of the shows (originally intended to be the only one), we received a number of requests for further performances and a second tour. We were invited to Europe as well, but with the Brexit uncertainties, could not find the funding to go, so the tour is the UK one only though we are hoping once the political landscape becomes clearer, that we may be able to take up the foreign invitations for a future Shakespeare production.
It is certainly true that we, as a cast and crew, love this production. Obsession is too strong a word. An actor or crew member has to love the show, to do it justice with focus and energy, but you also have to be able to let it go when the show run finishes, and move on to the next production adventure.