Heather Ralph is a London-based theatre producer from Northern Ireland. Currently she’s working with a number of companies on new and returning shows, but took a little time out of her busy schedule to chat about life as a producer, and tell me a bit about what we have to look forward to over the coming weeks.
“What does being a producer involve? I sum it up to friends as a constant chain of emails! Which isn’t actually that far from the truth,” she explains. “It entails a lot of organising of things – mostly my inbox! – and talking to venues. Once a project is off the ground, I usually head up the marketing campaign as well, which requires even more emails and a lot of time spent on HootSuite, Twitter, Facebook, you name it! I really like to try and connect theatre companies with each other, so am always on the lookout for other companies to cross promote with. This is so much easier when the shows are part of a wider festival, like the VAULT festival for instance.
“Before you get to this stage of a project, however, a lot of time goes into research. This is usually for funding and opportunities to develop new work. The tricky part of this is narrowing down what is most suitable for which project. If you just apply blindly for everything with every project, I personally would have no time for all those emails I have to send!
“To sum up it’s a lot of time spent at a computer, so I try and go into the rehearsal room as often as possible, even just to work on my laptop at the back. With all my current projects I’ve come on board at different stages. Shows like Rounds and purged, I’ve been on board since the start. With Rounds in particular it’s been great to be in the rehearsal room in the first few weeks, seeing how the actors come up with their ideas, and when we’ve had junior consultants come in to help us develop movement sequences by showing us how they perform things like a cranial nerve exam!
“My goal is to continue to work with people I like who produce work I love, while trying to survive the London rent prices at the same time! That would be my advice to anyone else: when you find people you like working with, stick together and make work; a great team can achieve anything. One of my favourite companies to work with is Haste Theatre, they make great work and are so driven – if you haven’t heard about them you should really check them out. As a company they’re very self sufficient and produce a lot of their own stuff – I’ll usually come on board and give them a helping hand with press and advise them with ACE forms and venue splits every now and again.”
So what’s on the horizon? “Dr. Zeiffal, Dr. Zeigal and The Hippo That Can Never Be Caught! is an award-winning kids’ show from Mouths of Lions with fantastic falling over, a lot of hippo chasing and loads of little hippo enthusiasts laughing at Dr. Zeiffal. It may be billed as a kids show, but we welcome old and young Hippo Catchers. I first came across this show as an audience member; it was just my boyfriend and me amongst a lot of little Hippo Catchers – this is how I refer to children now – but we loved it!
“Then there’s Blood & Bone, a colourful, kooky and downright dirty puppetry show from Cicada Studios. If you want an hour to forget your woes and have some real belly laughs, I’d advise catching Dr. Zeiffal, Dr. Zeigal and The Hippo That Can Never Be Caught! and Blood & Bone – though I will of course warn you that Blood & Bone is not a children’s puppet show. It’s for adults and gets very dirty very quickly. Those who are opposed to puppet nudity and puppet sex should probably not attend…”
That’s not all: “Oyster Boy is a multi-award-winning dark comedy about the struggles of a boy born with an oyster shaped head from Haste Theatre, and purged is an intimate, physical, visceral play by Catharsis about the impossibility of communicating to others the issues around mental health deterioration. Last but not least, Resuscitate Theatre are bringing back Rounds, a powerful and urgent tale of the first line of defence for the NHS.
“Rounds and purged are less zany shows, but equally as engaging. Both are based on true stories, dealing with mental health and issues that affect all of us daily, either directly or indirectly. Mental health awareness is a really important subject to me; both shows are a brave attempt to educate and move our audiences while offering some clarification into other people’s lives and their decisions we may not understand, which I think is an important thing for theatre performances to offer. Both shows focus on human relationships, and their physical style allows for a great sense of urgency to be portrayed.”
Heather’s particularly excited about the return of Rounds. “Genuinely I love this show. I shouldn’t say this but everyone knows it’s my favourite project I’ve worked on to date. And I’m even more excited it’s at Blue Elephant Theatre. Please check this venue out – it’s doing great things with new work and the team behind it are all superstars. I came across it last year when I worked with Les Femmes Ridicule on their show In The Gut and since then I’m never out of BET! I’m pretty sure Niamh (the Artistic Director) will eventually block my email address…
“What’s happening with the NHS is terrifying. Rounds focuses on the humans behind the junior doctors, and I think it demonstrates an important life lesson on our own vulnerabilities and how the government responds to them. Exeunt Magazine gave us a great quote for Rounds, but the sentiment stands true in anything: ‘Rounds is a lesson is vulnerability; without vulnerability we will never learn and we can never recover.’ The NHS and all its staff are very vulnerable right now, it’s how we go forward from here that will matter. The scary thing is the path so far doesn’t look that great.”
Juggling such diverse projects is a challenge – but an enjoyable one: “Kids’ shows is actually a new thing for me this year, and it’s been quite fun figuring out all the different rules that come with how to produce a kids show!” reveals Heather. “Mouths of Lions are no strangers to kids’ shows, so we’ve all really knuckled under as a team to make the most of the VAULT festival. But yes, it’s so much fun, it means my day is never boring. The challenge is to stay on top of everything and remember who you talked to about what show!”
Two of Heather’s shows can be seen at this year’s VAULT festival, which opens this week. “I’ve never done the VAULT festival before and I am so excited! There are so many great shows happening, but I have my eye on a few that I really want to get to: Cat Loud’s Wayward, Shrapnel Theatre’s Litterati, Cornwall vs China (shameless plug: you can grab a combo ticket for Cornwall vs China and Blood & Bone for just £18…), Redbellyblack Theatre Company’s A Year from Now. And one more high recommendation from me: Bric a Brac’s Ash, directed by Anna Marshall, who’s the director of Rounds.
“Why check out the VAULT festival? Because this is a month of great fringe theatre at affordable prices happening right here in London. No trains to Edinburgh or Brighton needed, just grab a tube to Waterloo and enjoy yourself!”
Check out the links below for more details and to book for Heather’s upcoming shows:
Dr. Zieffal, Dr. Zeigal and The Hippo That Can Never Be Caught! – 28th-29th Jan then 11th, 12th, 25th, 26th Feb, VAULT festival
purged – 5th-6th Feb, Hope Theatre
Blood & Bone – 15th-19th Feb, VAULT festival
Oyster Boy – 2nd-3rd March, Blue Elephant Theatre (and touring)
Rounds, 16th-18th March and 23rd-25th March, Blue Elephant Theatre