At the start of this year we welcomed two new Participation Practitioners into our fold, Joe Gilmour-Rees and Amy Hailwood.
Joe and Amy are both freelance theatre directors and facilitators with experience producing new works, working on large scale productions and delivering work in the community. At the Octagon Joe and Amy will facilitate weekly sessions with young people, over 50s and people with learning disabilities.
So… Joe and Amy, welcome to the team! Can you tell us why the role of Participation Practitioner at the Octagon appealed to you?
Joe: It's a really exciting time for the Octagon, in its 51st year! With a new building opening soon and Lotte joining as Artistic Director there are lots of possibilities for the future are opening up and I am really excited to be part of that.
Amy: The thing that gets me out of bed in the morning (apart from my annoying alarm) is the potential that theatre has to transform the world around us – by bringing people together, showing us the world in a fresh light and stimulating new conversations. Working as a Participation Practitioner is a really direct way to share that potential with lots of other, interesting people.
What are your favourite types of theatre / what do you enjoy most about theatre?
Amy: I regularly see a variety of different types of theatre but I am particularly drawn to new writing, contemporary dance, physical theatre and participatory theatre. I’m also a sucker for anything with a directly political element, for example I really enjoyed the National Theatre’s Verbatim show - My Country; a work in progress. What I enjoy most about theatre, is its communal nature.
Joe: I love theatre that is big, bold and full of life. My favourite companies are Kneehigh and Told by an Idiot. I really like and respect the work of the director Sally Cookson as well. I am definitely interested in shows that feels like anybody could go and have a great time - whether that's through getting lost in a new world, laughing at and with the characters, or learning something new about the society we live in.
What does a drama session at the Octagon entail?
Joe: We start by doing some really simple games and getting to know each other. Sometimes people think of acting as having a starring role, but really so much of the work we do is based around working as an ensemble where a group of actors work together to tell a story so team work is really important. We'll then start looking at some specific skills - perhaps puppetry, physical theatre or play-writing.
Amy: You can expect there to be fun and a lot of laughter but also space to explore serious topics. You can expect to try new things, experiment, make a right mess of it, laugh about it, learn something new about yourself and someone else, gain brilliant new skills and all this without once having to pretend to be a tree.
Did you attend any drama groups when you were younger?
Joe: Yes - I joined my first drama group at aged 7 in Warrington. It was always one of the places I felt the most comfortable as I was growing up.
Amy: In one primary school I went to, I was part of a band of friends who used to perform plays together. When I think back we must have had some chutzpah as we staged a full production of The Wizard of Oz in front of the whole school without any help from teachers! I can only imagine that somehow this planted a seed of possibility for the future, however small.
You have both worked with the Octagon before, what have you enjoyed most about your time in Bolton?
Amy: I have previously worked at the Octagon as an Assistant Director, a freelance facilitator and even worked in the marketing team. I live in Bolton and spent my teenage years here and what I consistently enjoy most is the people. They make me laugh and are full of heart. Whether it’s a mainstage show or an end of year participation performance gala, Bolton audiences get stuck in, and I love that.
Joe: There's a real sense that the Octagon is an institution in Bolton and the town is really proud of it. It's exciting to work at a place which is such an important part of the town!
What experiences lead you into working as drama facilitators / theatre directors?
Joe: I always wanted to be an actor when I was a child and slowly realised I was more suited to being behind the scenes. I did a year teaching English in France so that experience in schools really helped lead me into the work with young people that I do now.
Amy: I think I first realized the immense power of theatre as a ten year old watching a production called Coloured Children Flying By which was about plantation slavery. It took me many more years to work out that I could myself be creative, and even MAKE theatre but then there was really no stopping me. Sharing this brilliant discovery with other people as a drama facilitator seems like a natural extension.
What are you looking forward to for the future?
Amy: It’s very early days in the role so I’m still taking things in and getting to know the groups we work with, as well as enjoying dreaming with the rest of the team about all the exciting projects we might do. Nothing is set in stone yet but we have a fantastic team, so I’m confident that what we can offer is going to go from strength to strength. Outside of the Octagon I’m excited to be launching a new, theatre for social change company, later this year.
Joe: One of the first things I want to do is make sure the work we do with our young people and older people is as exciting and as high quality as the work on our main stage. I want audiences to attend our community and young people's productions not just because they know somebody involved, but because they are excited to hear what these new voices have to say!
We also want to make sure that anyone in Bolton of any background feels like they can get involved with the Octagon. So I will be looking at what I can do in the youth theatre and participation groups to make this happen.