Q & A with Courtenay Johnson

Founder of Carbon Theatre

What was your original vision for Carbon Theatre and how has this evolved? 

I started Carbon to produce female-led projects and was originally pretty flexible about what those could be but I was all about theatre – plays, devised work, new work. As we’ve grown (and got through a pandemic) this has become much wider as an art form and how we work and interact with people through creativity. I’m more and more excited by forming a project for our audiences as well as creating brilliant theatre that we want to share with more and more people!

What challenges have you faced in the 5 years since you founded Carbon Theatre? The pandemic must have been a big one of course, but do you feel you have faced/ face specific challenges being a female led theatre company? 

Yes, the pandemic really shook our plans but luckily, we were able to regroup and create some brilliant projects within restrictions and revive some projects that were nearly lost; like When We Died, that originally premiered in March 2020 – the week before the first national lockdown. We also are based in Northamptonshire, where the county council declared bankruptcy in 2018 meaning local support and funding is pretty slim. It’s really tricky to get things off the ground and it can take a really long time! 

Can you talk about the importance of female storytelling and how you feel your productions have/can inform and shift opinions? 

There have been some shocking reports about the lack of gender equality in theatre and representation of female stories so if we can do anything to help shift that then I’d be really pleased! 

How do you choose the projects and people you work with?

Sometimes projects come out of long-term partnerships with communities, artists or organisations but sometimes it is really sparked off an idea or single aim that seems exciting and feels like it needs to happen – right now. 

What is your process for developing a project?

The joy of producing such a variety of art forms and projects is that the process is normally quite different for each thing. We really enjoy working on some development of an idea or project and then planning a full out larger project with lots of activity and wider aims – projects like this have included 60 MILES BY ROAD OR RAIL and Jo Blake’s HERESY project.

 

Click here for details of current Carbon Theatre projects
https://www.carbontheatre.org.uk/projects

Your productions shine a light on some distressing subjects, can you talk about how you support the mental well-being of your cast and crew? 

Particularly for Fox and When We Died, we thought a lot about our team and our audiences from start to finish. On both shows we’ve worked with Psychologists who specialise in the subjects we are working with to make sure we know what the script / story is doing (for example, we looked at what were the trigger points and how we could manage those – we looked at inaccurate ‘myths’ that we needed to avoid feeding into – we looked at resources and supporting organisation who we could signpost people to). We also ensured we had the right team with us on tour who were all on the same page about team wellbeing and care.

Tell us a bit about one (or all if you have time) of your current touring productions Fox, When We Died and The Witness and what stood out to you when you were approached about the project(s)? 

My longest journey has been with When We Died – which I originally came across in 2018, through our Director Andy Routledge. Alex and him had met through the Bruntwood process and the script immediately resonated with me. The central concept of the play is so unique and tragically beautiful and enhances what the play is showing, telling and presenting to its audience. It was a long road to get the play into production at VAULT Festival 2020 and then the first national lockdown fell the week after we closed. In 2021, we created a filmed version of the show before working hard to get it back out on tour – with more dates to be announced shortly. 

Fox similarly never had its chance to tour after its premiere at Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2019. Alongside Katie and co-producer Becky, we felt that this story of new motherhood needed more performances and we were really keen to present these on tour with morning shows specially for new parents to bring their babies with them – or any adult looking after a new baby.

Jo Blake’s The Witness has also been a long development process which happened over the pandemic. We completely a small R&D but we laugh about the fact that this project – later titled HERESY – seems to have to overcome numerous weird problems and mishaps beyond our control. Luckily, we secured funding to create this huge and beautiful project surrounding the show with talks, 

What’s in store for Carbon Theatre in 2023 and beyond? 

We are currently sitting on some very exciting announcements which will be out in about 2 weeks! And of course, we’ve got some funding applications in the pipelines for activity starting Autumn 2023. Stay tuned! 

Interviewed by Victoria Willetts

For more details on Carbon Theatre click here: https://www.carbontheatre.org.uk/

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