INTERVIEW – Annabelle Hollingdale

INTERVIEW – Annabelle Hollingdale

Here on Rose’s Supposes, I love using this blog as a platform to share the stories of creatives working in all different areas of the arts. Whilst interviews with performers aren’t too tricky to find, I’ve always found it harder to gain a proper insight into the careers of those working behind the scenes. The writers, composers, directors, choreographers and all other creative brains are so integral to the theatre industry and often don’t get the recognition they deserve.

Now, I’m WELL aware that my humble blog is just a tiny smidge in the beast that is the internet, but just humour me for a second. The thought of someone reading an interview with a creative and thinking “Huh, I never knew you could do that as a job…I want to give that a try!” is ABSOLUTELY what I’m all about.

So, while I will shamelessly admit that interviewing industry professional is hugely fulfilling and inspiring for me personally, if there’s a certain role in the Arts that you’d really love to hear more about, let me know! I’m going to be asking questions for as long as anyone will let me, so if you want to join in on this messy journey of artistic discovery with me, give me a shout!

Today’s interview is with the lovely Annabelle Hollingdale, who is a Director.

*Side note* Funnily enough, we recently realised we actually already knew each other, and for probably the most stagey reason there is (she was in a production of High School Musical directed by my Mum around ten years ago, so naturally – I was at every rehearsal.) I can’t begin to tell you how nice it was to see her again and hear about all the incredible things she’s been doing.

In addition to what is written below, we also discussed the importance of reaching out to those who inspire you, knowing what your strengths are and embracing the multitude of interests we have as creatives, without feeling the need to pigeon-hole ourselves. We also chatted until our coffee got cold. It was wonderful.

You studied Acting at University – when did you realise you wanted to be a director?

I originally did a three year degree in Acting, going in with the intention of graduating as an actor, but always with the secondary intention of being a director in my late forties/early fifties. At the time I thought a director needed to be older to have that level of experience and knowledge, and it didn’t occur to me that young females could be directors and people would listen to them.

I got half way through my actor training and wasn’t enjoying it as much as I thought I would be. There was a particular guest director that we had come in to the school and his way of working just completely clicked with me, and my interest shifted to what he was doing, how he was working with actors and how they were responding to him. It sparked an interest that that was potentially what I wanted to do. So in my third year, I pulled out of some of the acting projects and said “please can I shadow this director when he comes back to work with the year below.” And then for my dissertation I chose to direct and that consolidated it for me.

The school had its strengths but for me, I regarded the teaching and material we were given as somewhat dated and slightly sexist…and I initially graduated feeling rather bitter and astray.

It took me a little while to work out how to use that positively, and then after a few months I realised that it had actually taught me the biggest lesson I could ever have hoped for: it showed me the kind of work I want to make and how I wouldn’t do it, and actually how I would go about doing it. So I don’t regret the training at all and I think to know how actors work is an invaluable part of a directors work.

What was it that drew you towards directing during your time on your Acting degree?

I realised so much about myself during that time and the kind of work that initially I wanted to be doing as an actor, but then I wasn’t seeing enough of that in the industry. I felt more empowered as a director and I thought I would have more of a voice and a vision as to the kind of work that is out there for people. For me, I just got bored and frustrated with not being in control of the kind of work I was making, of sitting waiting for the phone to ring for auditions, and disagreeing with creative decisions and not having the power to say or change anything. It had always been in the back of my head for some time, and it got to the point where I thought there are so many female directors leading the way and paving the way for others, that now seems like a better time than ever, and why not?

You were the Assistant and Resident Director on Spring Awakening at the Hope Mill Theatre. How did that opportunity arise?

Spring Awakening has been one of my favourite plays and musicals for a long time, and there was a real buzz around the Hope Mill in general which I was excited by. Then I saw that Luke Sheppard was directing Spring Awakening at the Hope Mill and so, for me, the three hand-in-hand was just a dream and I knew I wanted to be a part of it. I emailed Luke’s agents and we ended up Skyping. We seemed to be on the same page with what the show was, as it was a revival but with a new setting and feminist overtones, empowering the character of Wendla a lot more. It was a very special production and a pivotal point in my directing career. Luke Sheppard was an amazing mentor and I’m very grateful that he gave me that opportunity when he didn’t have to.

What does being an Assistant and Resident Director actually involve?

It does vary depending on the project and the director you’re working with as to how hands-on you can be as an assistant, and what they require from you and are willing to let you do. I was particularly lucky with Luke [Sheppard]. Luke and I also work in very different ways; I’m annoyingly organised and he has the amazing ability to go in with an open mind and let things work organically. We had a kind of Ying and Yang relationship which worked really well.

And then once we were through with rehearsals, and Luke had another job lined up, as a Resident Director I went in three to five times a week to watch the show. I kept an eye on it, fed back to actors and gave notes, just making sure it was maintaining its standards.

* I then boldly interrupted here as I just couldn’t help telling her how incredible I thought it was that she’d already been a Resident Director so young. But of course, Annabelle’s modest response was this… *

That all comes from Luke – he was the one that opted for me to have that title and felt comfortable that someone would be there for the course of the run. He was only the other end of the phone and I was the go-between between him and the show, which was an amazing experience and one I’m very grateful for, especially to have had so soon in my career as well.

What was it like working at the Hope Mill Theatre?

The Hope Mill is an absolute powerhouse! The work they create and the collaborations they endorse are to London standards and above. Joseph [Houston], William [Whelton] and Katy [Lipson] are a creative dream-team and they have founded a hidden gem which I am ever grateful to have on my doorstep.

What do you think can be done to support female creatives?

What a few theatres have done amazingly recently is employ female Associate and Artistic directors, and companies in residence led by a female Director. Emma Rice at the Old Vic and Tamara Harvey at Theatre Clywd in Wales to name but a few. There are now an increasing number of theatres that have strong female directors at the forefront, whose creative vision is the pivotal force behind its running. So I think it’s to keep supporting theatres like that and to keep making contacts with female directors…and to not give a f*ck what anyone thinks because there’s always going to be hurdles, but now’s a better time than ever to try your hand. There are a few amazing males out there who are excited about collaborating with and giving voices to females. Times are changing and I think as long as people are being open minded to that and saluting that, it’s the only thing we can do really.

Who or what inspires you in the industry?

It’s probably an obvious answer really but I think Vicky Featherstone (Artistic Director of the Royal Court theatre) is incredible. She would be an absolute dream to work with. Just the Royal Court in general, their work always excites me. I love the collaborations with the new writers and I think their work is so innovative and topical. One of the best pieces of theatre that I think I have ever seen was at the Royal Court, and it was a play called Violence and Son, directed by Hamish Pirie. I was absolutely blown away and I thought about it for days afterwards, and no production had had an impact on me quite like that. That was maybe five years ago and it still stays in the forefront of my mind as the kind of theatre I think people should be making – that’s the kind of theatre I’d love to direct.

What’s something you’ve seen recently that you would recommend?

I’m a big fan of anything Jonathan O’Boyle – I think he is incredible. Recently he did Aspects of Love at the Hope Mill, which is transferring, so go see it! I also went to see Rain Man, which has Mathew Horne in it, which again, he [Jonathan O’Boyle] had done. I think he has an incredible ability to breathe new life into theatre, and take stories that are widely known and bring them into today’s world and give them a fresh life. That’s exactly what I think theatre should be – I’m all for classics being revived as long as it’s saying and offering something new, and he does that amazingly.

Are there any projects you’re working towards that you’re able to talk about, or something you are particularly drawn to?

I want to put something of my own on in the new year, whereby it’s completely my own vision. I’ve had the best time assisting but I think it’s time I take that leap of faith and put something on which is entirely my own. Musical theatre I absolutely adore, that goes without saying, but my passion and strength has always been working with naturalistic text. I love plays that are set in real time, in one location and the audience are rendered as a fly on the wall. I love playing the truth and dynamics of a relationship and how much can change in the space of an hour/an hour and a half. Even working on musical theatre, my priority is always the truth of the acting – for me, that’s the heart of any performance. I have to believe what the characters are saying. I would much rather hear a singers voice break through emotion than hit a note perfectly and me not believe a word they say.

What advice would you give to aspiring directors?

I think as long as you know the kind of work you like and why, that’s the best starting point you could have because you can develop from that. It’s fine for your tastes to change after every show that you see as long as you ask yourself why you like it or why you didn’t like it, or what you would do differently. Your brain is constantly engaging with the world of theatre and of directing. I think just see as much as you can, speak to as many people as you can. Formulate your own initial way of working and then you can be flexible to take essences of that from different things you see and different people you speak to. What I like and what I think I know now will probably be so different in a years time and that’s, for me, what keeps it exciting.

You were also recently involved with Heathers during its run at The Other Palace, ahead of its West End transfer to the Theatre Royal Haymarket. What was it like working alongside the (no less than iconic trio of Andy Fickman, Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe) creative team?

They made it look so easy, because it’s their baby – they know that show inside out and they lived and breathed it. They loved it so much that everything fell into place. It was so perfectly cast and the relationship between the three primary creatives is just…you can’t manufacture that. That’s something incredible that I think translates. It’s an absolutely incredible team that was treated like a family. For me, the biggest thing I took away from working on that production was the importance of the environment that’s created. I think that stems primarily from the director and Andy has an incredible gift of making an environment feel so safe and so fun, but equally encouraging utter professionalism and hard work. We ate lunch together every day, and that sounds like a small thing, but actually it all feeds into it and it is so important. You can see that resonate onstage as the relationships they’ve created are incredible. They’re an amazing group of people and the show deserves every success. It has its following for a reason and the show itself is more apparent than ever. Andy’s just a wonderful human being and an amazing director.

Finally, I like to celebrate the rosy things in life here on this blog, so I ask everyone I interview this question – if you could do one thing to make the world a rosier place, what would you do?

Listen to each other, just don’t be an arsehole! Because there is no excuse and there is no need…and everyone is capable of not being an arsehole!

It was so inspiring to speak with Annabelle, and I can’t wait to see what she creates next.

Until next time,

Olivia Rose 🌹

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