One Foot in the Door and We’re Just Getting Started
There’s no business like show business. Finding a foothold in the theatre industry can be tough and if you’re a young person hoping to pursue your passion, you know you’re battling it out with hundreds just like you. Founded in 2007 by a group of third year students from the University of Winchester, Foot in the Door Theatre is an excellent opportunity for young people to get the chance to perform and showcase their talent in an environment that is not so cut-throat. I spoke to founder and current company director Kate Raw about Foot in the Door and why its existence is so important.
Tell us how and why FITD came into being
Foot in the Door was first started by a group of Performing Arts and Drama students who simply wanted to perform as a group of friends, showcasing their talent together before they graduated. That group did a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, for which I was in charge of costume. The group graduated, and we thought that was the end of Foot in the Door. 2 years later, after directing with another company in Winchester, I decided I wanted to do a similar thing with the people I had worked with. I contacted the directors of the first show, and asked to use the company name, and they handed over the leadership to me. I produced Much Ado About Nothing with an entirely different set of people. From then on my priority has been to showcase the talent of people who have experience in the performing arts, who don’t necessarily get a chance to perform in their day-to-day lives. With each show we gain new members, both from recent graduates and current students, as well as our returning members, which we have established lasting friendships with. Over the past few shows we have been honing our style and really gaining an identity as a company. We love performing as a group and producing quality work together.
What is your role at FITD?
It’s difficult to explain my role with Foot in the Door. Initially I just wanted to direct, but as the company has grown, my role has expanded to cover all the administration that comes with running a theatre company. This ranges from designing the advertising for each show to booking venues to organising insurance and risk assessments – mostly a lot of paperwork! I have about 5 years’ experience now, so with each show it becomes a little easier.
My main focus is the creative vision for the company. Within each show, I am either the director, or on the directing team. This ensures that our productions have a consistent aesthetic and quality, and are recognisable as Foot in the Door shows. I also look after the company wardrobe, sourcing / making costumes for each production. Finally, I appoint the teams for each show, giving opportunities for members to develop skills in each stage of production, for example, the actress who played the lead in our last show will be directing our next.
Why is it important that young people have this professional environment without the pressures that come with the theatre industry?
Following on from the previous question, I think it’s important that the members of company feel they can develop their skills whilst feeling supported and encouraged. We have a variety of people in the company; some are predominantly actors, some dancers, and some singers. We aim to provide an environment where they can learn off other people in the group, and contribute their own skills. In a professional company, you are often expected to work at an experienced level immediately, and feel pressured if you are unsure of anything. I feel we provide that experience, but have fun whilst doing it.
We rehearse as a professional company would, taking time off our day jobs to work on each show. For instance, on our summer productions, we take two weeks, and work solidly on the show from 9-9 every day, and then perform at the end of the two weeks. Actors are expected to know their lines before rehearsal. We are often living together during this time if we are performing away from home, and we support each other through the whole process. During rehearsal, the show becomes our full time work. This focuses our actors, and you get to know people very well very quickly. This also allows us real time to not only block the shows, but to develop characters, and have workshops with the casts, which all aids in maintaining the quality of our shows. This in turn encourages members to keep dedicating their time to our productions, feeling that the work we do is really worth something.
I hope we provide a space where performers feel they are able to improve themselves, and perform to the best of their ability. We are very aware of encouraging people, and maintaining equality in casts, whether somebody is the lead or Chorus Member #3, everybody is part of the same production.
You’ve performed quite a few period pieces – a lot of Shakespeare – how did you decide what kind of Theatre Company you wanted to be? Will you produce anything more contemporary in the future?
I’m not sure we ever made a conscious decision as a company that we were going to predominantly perform period pieces. I think it’s just grown from the love we have for these plays. One of my main inspirations for the company are the productions at Shakespeare’s Globe. When we do our open air performances we try to really engage with our audiences in the same way, making the language accessible, and especially introducing these sorts of plays to our younger audiences. But this certainly doesn’t mean we’ll rule out contemporary pieces for the future. Our production of The Snow Queen that we did earlier this year, although not a contemporary story, was an original script, written specifically for us. We have a fair few writers in the company, and it would be a shame not to utilise that. But at the same time, we want to keep our shows accessible, and most of our shows are aimed at a family audience. We currently don’t perform anything with overtly adult material, and I have found that tends to rule out a lot of contemporary writing. I don’t see us giving up Shakespeare any time soon – we have 35 more plays to get through!
How difficult is it managing FITD with a day job?
It is difficult. But it is worth it. I have worked as teacher alongside running Foot in the Door over the past couple of years, and it is hard to strike a balance, but I love being busy. I have a very supportive company, so if there is anything I think somebody else can do better, I can ring them up, and they’re usually happy to help. I think it is helpful to surround yourself with a production team that have strengths in different areas.
For our members, we try to be accommodating. We understand that work takes priority, but it can be hard if they are unable to get time off. We always get feedback that we’re totally worth it, and that working with the company is like a holiday, taking time to invest in something they love doing.
What has been the company’s most successful production?
That’s really hard. I would say two for different reasons. The Snow Queen, because it was the first original piece of work we’ve performed, and it was fantastic to really work a show from scratch with no prior influences. Plus it was the first we’ve performed inside a theatre, so we learned a lot as a company.
Then The Taming of the Shrew, as although we’ve done a few of Shakespeare’s plays, I think it was the hardest to get right. There are so many ways to go with it, and making it accessible for a family audience was a challenge. But we did it, we had such fantastic feedback from the audiences and I feel we achieved a genuinely joyous festival atmosphere. It was certainly my favourite Shakespeare we’ve done. We also received a little funding off the back of it, and this has allowed us to consider touring it next year. This is something we have never been able to afford before as a company, and it’s a real privilege for us that somebody likes our work enough to approach us with funding.
What is FITD working on at the moment?
A number of things for 2014. Firstly in February we are performing Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus in both Winchester and St Albans. Then The Taming of the Shrew Tour during April and May, hopefully starting at Wolvesey Castle in Winchester, and then making our way around a number of historical sites around the South West, keep an eye out for venues and dates! Another Shakespeare summer project. A dance project collaboration with the company Cuckoo Creatives, and finally a short tour of The Snow Queen around Arts Theatres in the South East in November/ December. So quite a bit!
Do you have any advice you’d give to young stage actors or other young people hoping to work in theatre?
I think the main thing is to challenge yourself. Surround yourself with people who are better than you, and learn from them. Let them inspire you. Whether this is through formal training, or volunteering with a local theatre, take these opportunities to meet people, and make yourself the best you can be.
Where do you hope FITD will be in the future and will you still be a part of it?
Our first job for the new season was to appoint a committee, and we have done that. I now have 4 members of the company to help me with major decisions, as well as dividing my current workload. The next is to establish connections with venues across the south that would like to work with us. Eventually, we would love to perform open air as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and organise national tours, but we’re a little way off that yet. I will be involved in Foot in the Door for as long as people want to keep doing shows with us, and I keep enjoying it. In the short term, there are a number of shows I have on my list, and can now discuss them with the committee. We would also like to start touring on a regular basis. Whatever we do in the future, I hope that our priority remains encouraging and embracing people in the Foot in the Door family.