Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Girls Like That at Derby Theatre. A chat with Hannah Johnstone


Yesterday I caught up with Hannah Johnston  in the busy marketing department of Derby Theatre. Second year theatre arts student Hannah is currently in the midst of learning how to market and sell a play through sterling advice from professionals at one of the East Midlands top regional theatres. As part of her studies at Derby University Theatre Arts department  she is very much involved in a new production of 'Girls Like That' by Evan Placey. She said that so far it has been a brilliant experience but before embarking on the journey of arts marketing she had no idea how much work was involved. Hannah added "The professionals like Heidi McKenzie and Caroline at Derby Theatre are amazing and just when I think I have done my job they come up with even more ideas on how to promote a show!"

Hannah continued by telling me of her experience of being interviewed on BBC Radio Derby the other day.  "It was really interesting but scary for a first timer like me. I seemed to have a constant lump in my throat! Saying that I came away thinking that I had done a reasonable job and the next time I will have some idea of what to expect. Actually, it was exciting!"

Placey's play explores what happens when a fictional sixteen year old girl called Scarlett posts a naked picture of herself online and through modern media means it goes viral. Rumours run wild and everyone in the school pecking order is quick to judge. Scarlett finds out that she has no true friends as the friends she has grown up with become her worst enemies. However, when a picture of a naked boy pings its way through cyberspace the reaction is not the same. The play examines the fragility of friendship and the pressures on the digital generation. In the Derby University Theatre Arts production the cast runs to thirteen and the production is on the main auditorium stage. Booking can be achieved through this link on the Derby Theatre website. On the Friday morning there is a free performance for school parties but hurry as tickets are going very fast. Age guidance 13+

In our very interesting chat Hannah was keen to make people aware that the themes of the play have a deep link into celebrity culture. This was especially true as some years ago when certain female celebs naked photos from previous relationships were hacked it all became a big scandal and perceived as an invasion of privacy by many. Interestingly enough this new interpretation of morality gained ground even though the people affected had chosen to be in the public eye. The concept of the viewer being the 'one in the wrong' not the celeb for taking the photo was different from the interpretations of the past. Hannah said that when she did her research she found information going back to 1984 when Vanessa Williams was the first black Miss America. As a younger and unknown woman Vanessa had taken some naked photos of herself that were eventually taken up and published by the Penthouse magazine and Vanessa was forced to relinquish her title. Another Vanessa ( a young starlet for the Disney Corporation) had a similar circumstances and was forced to apologise for her exposure. Hannah thought that the moral journey and people's reactions to female and male photographic exposure had taken a different turn and these themes are explored in Placey's thrilling play 'Girls Like That'.

I asked Hannah to tell me a bit about the playwright Evan Placey. Hannah: " It says on the back of the script that he is British Canadian and the play was originally performed at Birmingham Rep toured and finished its original run at West Yorkshire Playhouse in 2013. It was done recently as well so I have been able to see how that performance was marketed and see how that could help market our production at Derby Theatre. It was done at the Unicorn Theatre in London and I had the social media side of that to look at too. They did a pre-show trailer as we have and I was interested how they used technology to promote the piece that is about 'exploiting' technology in a bad way. In our trailer we wanted to bring out the spite and bitchiness of the girl characters in the play."

We went on to discuss other plays such as Pilot Theatre's Antigone and a brilliantly done production of Spring Awakening produced by Headlong Theatre both of which really showed off how theatre can be enhanced through accentuating the storyline and themes through invention and technology especially to engage a modern young audience.

 'Girls Like That' looks to be an explosive production at Derby Theatre (Thursday 5th to Saturday 7th Feb 2015) and Hannah Johnston's growing skills as a newly confident marketing person and promoter will no doubt be a challenge and time to be proud of. I look forward to reviewing this show on press night

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