Tinuke Craig, director of dirty butterfly at the Young Vic 1 - 11 October. Photo by David O'Quigley
Tinuke Craig’s fascination with drama began at the age of 17 with a production of debbie tucker green’s stoning mary. Fast forward to 2014 and the winner of the Genesis Future Director’s award is making her professional debut with tucker-green’s dirty butterfly. A rather fitting homage. Having previously worked on The Changeling at the Young Vic, Craig is full of praise for the theatre where she is beginning her first tenure.
Since graduating from Lamda, the Londoner has racked up a considerable amount of experience as an assistant director, but admits she is “bricking it” over her first professional endeavour. Incredibly humble and refreshingly honest, I am curious to know what aspirations and hopes this new director has for the future of British theatre.
What made you choose the play dirty butterfly as your professional directorial debut?
I saw stoning mary at the Royal Court when I was about 17 and it was one of the first straight plays I’d seen; I’d seen a lot of musicals before then. I suppose I was fascinated by the way that with theatre we describe it as ‘gritty’ ‘urban’ or ‘kitchen sink.’ Then we have other theatre that we call ‘Avant garde’ and ‘experimental’ or ‘poetic’ and I think debbie marries the two beautifully and exists in the space between them. I found it interesting that she uses what we associate with naturalism and uses that to create something heightened and abstract. So that interested me then, but I probably couldn’t have articulated it very well! But that turned me onto her work and as I got into directing she became an interesting prospect.
I think the pressure just comes from the fact that it’s my first professional production and that’s terrifying for obvious reasons. The fact that the play’s been done before isn’t relevant, otherwise nobody would ever do Hamlet.
Has it been done at the Young Vic before?
Yes, in quite a similar context about seven years ago. Mike Longhurst directed it I think as part of the Jerwood Young Director’s Award. It was a very closed performance with no press night so the Young Vic thought it was a good idea to do it again.
Does the play having been put on at the theatre before increase the pressure in any way?
Not really, no. I didn’t see it, so that helps. I think it’s not the kind of play where your production is gonna be anything like anyone else’s. I think the pressure just comes from the fact that it’s my first professional production and that’s terrifying for obvious reasons. The fact that the play’s been done before isn’t relevant, otherwise nobody would ever do Hamlet. So it’s alright. The act of directing itself is the pressure bit.
That’s an excellent point, as you have actually been an assistant director on Hamlet at the Royal Shakespeare Company. Was that useful in learning how to make a production your own?
Well it was from an assistant’s perspective, so you’re there to aid the director in their vision. So making it your own is easy if you’re directing it because you’ve had a response to it, whereas making a play your own when someone’s told you you’ve gotta do it is hard. With that particular production David Farr wanted to do it because he had a particular response to the play and that’s what tends to drive you to do it. I think that’s true. (Laughs.)
Congratulations on winning the Genesis Future Director’s award. How did that come about?
Thanks very much! There’s a selection process, which is extensive. So it starts with an application and the first round is a piece of writing on yourself, your vision as a director and the play that you would like to put on. Then a long list is drawn up and we have to do things called ‘Lightning Talks’ where you have ten power pint slides with quotes or images on them and you have ten seconds per slide to talk about your artistic vision and express whatever you think is most important. Then a short list is drawn up and you go into an extensive meeting with David Lan (artistic director, Young Vic) Sue Emmas (associate artistic director, Young Vic) and Natalie Abrahami (director and Genesis Award Fellow) and there’s much more challenging questions and an involved discussion. Then finally you get the yay or nay. I was lucky because I got a ‘yay’.
I wasn’t expecting it at all. There were exceptional directors up for the Genesis Future Director’s award with me, so I’d taken myself out of the running. It was just an incredible surprise.
How did you react when you got the ‘yay’?
Sue rang me and I said “Are you sure?” and she said sarcastically “No. We just thought it’d be funny to pretend that you won it.” (Laughs.) I was shocked. I was on a train so I couldn’t do lots of jumping and whelping; I had to be reserved about it. I didn’t tell anyone for a while either, because they had to finalise things and so it was all internal. Then obviously being completely terrified; just bricking it basically. I wasn’t expecting it at all. There were really exceptional directors up for it with me, so I’d taken myself out of the running. It was just an incredible surprise.
dirty butterfly at the Young Vic 1 - 11 October 2014
What do you think of the Young Vic and the work they typically do?
I like the Young Vic. I think it’s my favourite theatre. I also like the Barbican and the Royal Court. There are two things I like about the Young Vic; the first is that they have a genuine commitment to getting people engaged in the arts and it’s beyond the Arts Council requirement. It’s a genuine fuelling for them as a company and their Taking Part department is just extraordinary. They’ll just call people and offer them tickets to get a wider demographic for the play. They’ll put cheap or free tickets aside for local people or new directors or young aspiring artists who need to see theatre for their work but can’t necessarily afford it. There’s a real desire for their audiences and their practitioners to be as diverse as possible. The second thing is that the work they make is so varied and international, and so accessible. They’re really interested in getting the best directors in the world in like Benedict Andrews. David Lan is doing something exciting in his quest to expand who goes to the theatre and who makes theatre and what we think theatre is. Also it’s got a cool vibe; the bar’s lovely and it’s a supportive place to be doing your first show.
dirty butterfly is about people that don’t necessarily have stories written about them and they’re written about in a loving, honest way.
As part of the next generation of theatre directors, what do you think is the best way to engage with new audiences?
I think it’s partly about expanding on the stories that we’re telling. I think there’s still a sense that theatre is not a world that’s for everybody. Until we articulate that the stories we’re telling are about the wider world and there’s real representation of race and class etc, I think that won’t change. I think another huge thing is to make theatre more affordable and also to let people know about that. Unless you’re a drama student or already go to the theatre, you probably won’t know that you can get tickets for ten pounds if you’re under 25. So you remain in the state of thinking it’s gonna cost you 50 quid and you won’t understand it anyway. I think if there was a more of a drive to let people know that this is something available to them, I think that would be invaluable. Also it’s important to shake off the snobbery of what audiences should be; not just in terms of demographics, but in terms of how you behave in the room and what you can and can’t wear and so on. I think for a lot of people theatre just doesn’t occur to them as something they can do of an evening, and changing that will be invaluable.
Although this is your professional debut as a director, you have worked as assistant director on many productions and been involved in several community work projects. Thus far what has been your most enjoyable working experience?
As a director, two things. Assisting director Joe Hill-Gibbons on The Changeling at the Young Vic was helpful. I was one of two assistants and we both worked well and I felt like a part of the company, and it’s hard to include an assistant like that so kudos to Joe for pulling that off. Also there was a sense of anarchy and ‘Oh why not?’ about it and if it worked, we worked out why it did. So it was a fun play; sexy and a bit gross and weird. It was a formative experience. Also I did a production of Waiting for Lefty by Clifford Odets. It was only half an hour and only on for one day. I got to work with a huge cast and it was a great experience of creating a world on the stage really quickly, and also it’s a beautiful, political play. I’d love to do it again; so I suppose that’s one that I’m proud of.
Why should people come and see dirty butterfly?
Well, I think that the play is affecting in a physical and visceral way and that can be exciting. It’s always something that we strive for, but the writing is so solid in this beautifully active way and I think that will be exciting. Also it’s about people that don’t necessarily have stories written about them and they’re written about in a loving, honest way. I think between myself and debbie’s writing and the great team of actors I think we’ve managed to capture something exciting about the world she’s talking about, and I think it would be great to engage with that as an audience member.