An in-depth interview with Daniel Richards; the artistic director of Penryn-based theatre company ‘Owdyado.
I wrote an article for Cornwall Community News about the company. I’m also writing a feature about Dan for my university newspaper, but since theres so much more to it than I can cram in those articles here’s the whole interview.
How long have you been involved in writing and performing?
“I wrote my first show when I was sixteen so that’s eight years”
“I always co-wrote with Ciaran Clarke up until I was about 20 and then I wrote my first show by myself”
Tell me about the first show?
“that was a show called Puss-Puss which I don’t know if you saw. It was our first Near-Ta show and it was pretty ropey and it was basically really surreal. It was basically the Second World War but with cats.”
“It was an excuse for us to do lots of fart jokes and put on stupid costumes hence why we were cats but it didn’t really mean anything. I can’t even remember what the story was. It didn’t really have a story; it was lots of gags.”
“It was about this kind of resistance. That’s it I remember now: there’s this one cat, who was a Siamese called Fluffy, who was meant to be this sort of Führer-esque character who wanted all of the cats to be pure Siamese, and so he was going to kill all the other cats. What the fuck were we thinking?!”
“And then there was this underground resistance of cats led by Pussy, who was me, and a dog; a General. I can’t remember what his name was. It was kind of just lots of really stupid gags really roughly thrown together in a storyline, and at the end everyone dies; in the classic theatre tradition!”
“That was performed at the Poly for one night; one evening at the Poly.”
(Poster promo for puss-puss)
When did you first realise you wanted to be involved in theatre?
“I remember saying to my parents that I wanted to be an actor when I was five. I didn’t really understand that as a concept I just knew that I wanted to show off more than anything.”
“When I got older, about sort of ten, I started going to after school theatre club. That was when I got into performing in front of an audience. So it’s quite a long standing thing; it’s one of those things you can’t remember where it came from or why, it just always has been there.”
How did the new theatre company come about?
“[Owdyado theatre] came about because I was working with Miracle theatre on a show with a girl called Charlotte Bister and we became good friends and after the show Charlotte was finding it difficult to get work, because there wasn’t a lot of work around at the time, and I was working with Miricle but wanting to do something different.”
“We realised that we both had a similar idea of what we liked about different parts of theatre and I wanted to do something which was different from Near-ta Theatre which was the company I owned with Ciaran.”
“Near-ta theatre is quite comic and Ciaran was always the main writer. I wanted to do something, not more serious but something with my own tag on it.”
“We had this idea ‘About a Bench’ which we got from just saying how interesting it is that you can watch people on a bench and you can get a bit of a story just from a couple of sentences or little things like that and you can kind of get a little bit about peoples lives just by watching them.”
“It was all basically based out of boredom we just wanted to do something else and we figured no one was giving us a job so we should make work for ourselves.”
How long has it been going?
“That’s been going now for two years! And we’ve just been touring [About a] Bench basically that whole time”
“And we started doing walkabout at festivals; like different characters. And now we’re writing a new show with that company so hopefully we’ll keep doing that.”
How much has About a Bench developed since you first performed it?
“Fucking loads. A really crazy amount. When I first wrote it, it was a lot longer. It was probably about an hour and fifty minutes and now it’s an hour and twenty minutes so we’ve flashed quite a lot out; cut loads of it. But when we first did it we had a musician with us which we don’t have anymore so we recorded the music later on and also it was a lot more bitty the first time we did it. Now all the stories kind of flow and link together. The structure is a lot better than it used to be and that’s mainly because we did the first tour of [About a] Bench and it went down really well and everyone enjoyed it.”
“We lost Alfie who was our musician; he had to go away to uni and stuff blah blah blah”
“Charlotte went away and I was sort of thinking the script and how we could change it. And when she got back we got in touch with director called Simon Harvey. He works for Knee-high. He came and watched a run and he helped us by cutting a lot of it and what he did was he took all of the scenes, which are sort of like little sketches in themselves, and played around with the different orders we could do and figured out how to sew them together basically.”
“the basic point of the show is still there but its changed a lot”
(Owdyado Theatre: Dan on the right)
What’s the most difficult thing about being a performer?
“The most difficult thing about being a performer is you’ve got to work hard for not a lot of money; which is the lifestyle of being a performer. It’s sort of the same whether you’re an actor or you’re a musician or you’re an artist. You end up doing a lot of your own work and not getting a lot back other than the experience of doing it. I’ve just about made a living.”
What do you think about the state of arts funding?
“It’s insanely criminal really that you can pump the arts full of money for such a long time and then pull the carpet from under its feet; it’s so unfair.”
“It’s really detrimental. It will prove to be really detrimental to a lot of arts.”
“I think Britain in general is quite proud of its art. We’re quite artistic people really; we’ve got a good history of it. If you don’t nurture it then you’re going to end up with nothing.”
“We have never got any funding ever from anyone because the moneys not out there; and it’s getting harder and harder”
Tell me about the ‘End to End Adventure’?
“Because we aren’t getting funding and we’re finding it difficult we figured we’re just going to have to rely on the kindness of others so we wanted to do something sponsored and so we decided to cycle from John O’Groats to Lands End in character dressed in costumes and ask people to throw money towards us for it and that’s hopefully going to help to fund the new show. That’s all for funding. That’s so we can do the work that we want to do and it would be lovely if the arts council could just give us ten grand but it just aint gonna happen.”
What kind of venues do you prefer to perform in?
“I always prefer to perform in a theatre. I’ve performed in fields and in cafes and in bars and in village halls; and they’re all good and they’ve all got there own merits. But there’s just nothing like being in that space which was built specifically for what you’re doing. And its so actor friendly; it’s just a pleasure to always perform in the theatre.”
What do you think is important about performing in schools?
“You forget how alien theatre is to people sometimes, especially if you live in it like we do.”
“You go to a school and you’ve got kids coming up to you afterwards saying that’s the first piece of theatre that they’ve ever seen…ever! These aren’t young kids these are fifteen year olds doing their GCSEs. That’s insane!”
“It’s really nice to be able to have that opportunity to be the first thing that they saw and they always love it! They fucking love it!”
“They’ve got a pre-decided idea of what theatre is and they think it’s dull and sort of stuffy and then they come and see it and they’re like ‘wow it’s actually really fun’.”
Where do you draw your inspiration?
“I really love theatre of the small. I like theatre which is about nothing in particular. I love conversations on stage which you could hear outside if you wanted to. I like harnessing that. We’ve all had it when you’re sat on a bus or a train or something and you overhear a conversation and you think ‘that is so fucking mental! This is so weird, so surreal; what is going on?’ That’s a bit of theatre really.”
“My favourite scene in About a Bench is the old people at the end. Their not really talking about anything but it’s a lot of fun to play and you get quite a lot from it. You get a lot about their life and who they are and what they’ve done.”
“I really like Tom Stoppard, and Harold Pinter and Sam Beckett because they use that kind of language and they wang it into this kind of existential place which is always quite interesting.”
Whats the difference between walkabout theatre and performing on stage?
“Walkabout theatre is continuously improvised. When you’re on stage you’ve always got the safety net of a script and you’ve got a driving storyline; you know roughly what’s meant to happen scene by scene. When we’re doing walkabout we develop basic concepts.”
“Our first walkabout show was on the isles of Scilly. It was called the Silly Scilly tours. We had these two characters who were tour guides and we wanted to try to get people to come along on this tour and basically just feed them bullshit information; just make stuff up about the town, about the people. We wrote a few specific things we were going to say and then we improvised the rest of the time. It’s really fun. You get a lot of great moments from it.”
“Charlotte was saying that in the isles of Scilly, because there’s lots of different coloured houses and there’s lots of people wearing different colours, that if you wear a specific colour then you can only go and live in a house which is of the same colour. And then we walked around the corner and there was this blue house and these two people stood outside wearing all blue. It looked like they were posing. They weren’t; they didn’t know what was going on. But that is just perfect; that’s so fucking weird! So you wouldn’t ever get opportunities like that on stage.”
Tell me about the new play?
“The new show is called ‘Wrongdoings and Wake Up Calls at the Stop-Off Motel’. It’s quite a long title. And it’s about two people who wake up in a Vegas motel room without any recollection of how they got there, who the other person is. Basically they’ve just woken up in this room and around them are slight clues as to what happened.”
“Basically as they begin to figure out what they think’s happened they discover this one thing in the bathroom which throws them into this dilemma. It’s incredibly dark. They’ve been thrown into this situation.”
“It’s quite a lot of fun to write. We came up with the idea and I had never seen The Hangover. Whenever I explain the idea to people they say ‘Oh, like the Hangover?’.”
“I watched The Hangover recently and I’m completely convinced that it’s going to be nothing like the Hangover.”
“It’s darker and slightly more existential than The Hangover.”
“We’re tour booking at the moment. We’re hopefully going to be touring from the beginning of September till mid December across the entire south-west.”
“We’ve got a few venues that we did last year who have already confirmed us; places like the Poly.”
“We’ve got a few good venues from doing [About a] Bench as well, but were also trying to sell to new venues.”
(Wrongdoings promo design)