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Interview: Danny Kaan Discusses Adapting To Online Theatre Work

The photography and cofounder of The Digi Creative shares how he adapted and kept busy during lockdown

Interview: Danny Kaan Discusses Adapting To Online Theatre Work
Danny Kaan

Danny Kaan is known for photographing West End stars and being one half of The Digi Collective, often supporting the socials behind your favourite shows and stars. We chatted with him about pivoting to different types of work in this new world of digital theatre.

How are you doing in this current regime of lockdown?

I'm doing well, but I'm actually a little bored, to be honest. In lockdown one and two [in England], I was really lucky to still be involved in many projects. Now, there are days when I do literally nothing and get bored, as much as everyone else is!

How did you first get into photography?

So, very long story short, I bought a camera one day when I was sixteen. My mum was really against me buying a camera; she wanted me to keep my money and didn't think I needed to spend so much money on a camera I didn't really need. I just bought it and started taking pictures.

A few years ago, I went to the Olivier Awards, when they used to do live outdoor performances in Covent Garden. I went there with my camera and took a picture of the Les Miserables performance. Carrie Hope Fletcher was in the cast at the time, and she shared one of my pictures on social media.

That moment made me realise that even people like Carrie really liked my work. I felt like I'd finally found something that I was good at and that I really enjoyed, too.

How, then, did you become so involved in photographing London theatre events and stars?

After a while, I started reaching out to producers. At first, I said I was working on my own portfolio. In the beginning, I didn't feel good enough to actually charge people; I just really wanted to learn and do more things.

When I decided to move to London, it became a job. I just reached out to more and more people and was lucky in that I worked with a lot of producers at their first-ever events. Building those early relationships as they went on to bigger things really helped.

I got to know the performers and was able to connect with them on social media afterwards. Then, they might introduce you to new producers or bring you on board for their solo gigs. Knowing so many people is key.

Interview: Danny Kaan Discusses Adapting To Online Theatre Work
Danny Kaan

What's your favourite thing about capturing live performances?

I really like being ready: taking your camera, changing the settings and making sure everyone is focused and in the frame. Then, when I leave the event, I like scrolling through my camera roll to see if I got any cool shots.

I also like making other people who couldn't attend the event happy by sharing them on social media.

But of course, it's not just photography that you do. Can you list all the "hats" you wear?

That's a really good question. I used to work in an office doing online marketing after studying it at college. Whenever there was a small idea within the team to make a graphic or a little video, my colleagues always went, "Oh, Danny can do that."

If I want to make something happen or want to know something, be it creative or digital, I teach myself. I just watch loads of YouTube videos on things like how to edit a video. That said, I wish I could say that about my singing!

After doing that for a few years, you gain some skills. But I should say it's a really basic skill. I would still say that I'm not a professional in any of that sort of work, but I really liked doing it.

For example, I can do graphic design. I'm not the best at it; I wouldn't do it full time. At The Digi Creative, my company, we run so many social media profiles for people; we need to do graphic design, we need to know how to make websites and write content.

Those skills were really needed last year when theatre went online, and so my gain was being in the right place, at the right time, with the right skills.

You also co-produced a photography book last year, Dear Audience, featuring people in the UK theatre industry. How did you find the process of developing and publishing a book?

Being honest, I found the process stressful in that there was so much to do. I don't think I would ever do it again, even though it was the best project I've ever worked on in my entire life! The response has been incredible and amazing.

The whole project grew much bigger than what we initially had in mind: In the end, we had 143 people involved. I remember going to the printers for the first time, asking for a quote of 75 pages up to 100. We ended up with 155 pages, almost doubled the size originally intended.

There is so much work involved behind the scenes going on: we didn't use a company for the book design or the website, but designed it all ourselves. In the same way, we didn't use a company to send all the books out; we just went to the post office every day, which was ridiculous but so cool.

You've been involved in lots of different filmed theatre projects over the past year. Any highlights?

Intermissions was definitely one of my highlights. That was the first time I was actually in a room with creative people after the first lockdown. I remember we were meeting on Zoom, just waiting for the announcement from Boris to say we could do it.

As soon as the announcement came out, we agreed we were doing it the following week. I remember it was the hottest Friday ever. We were really sweaty and nervous but so happy to be together in a room again with so many incredible people out in the garden.

I loved working on Songs for the World, even though the editing hours were long. Seeing it go into the London Palladium was a big emotional event as well. That was really cool. I also really enjoyed doing the Drive-In gigs too. So many people were living their best lives in their car, even on days when it was raining!

I also really enjoyed the Tonight at the London Coliseum shows. That was the first job when I was back in a theatre, but weird because it was an empty theatre. Only the crew and artists were on stage; there was nobody in the auditorium.

Working on The Last Five Years, the version with Lauren Samuels and Danny Becker was also a highlight. That was the first production from Lambert Jackson to be filmed from the performers' own homes and edited together and then watched by people. It's cool at this point to see how the whole industry has changed. We've gone from filming things at home with smartphones to people filming with professional gear and green screens in just a year. It's been a strength of the industry to adapt to delivering theatre in a completely different way.

At what point does a filmed theatre performance become a film? Is there a line between the two?

That's a really good question. I think as long as you think or feel that it's still live, it's theatre. I've worked on projects where things were pre-recorded, and some scenes took seven takes. When I was editing, you could really see the difference between the acting choices in the first and seventh take. I find I want to use the first take as much as possible because that's almost like how someone would do it on stage now.

In a film, everything is perfect-absolutely everything. Theatre has to feel like it's live. I think as long as something feels like it's being seen for the first time, then it's theatre.

Do you have any tips for fellow multi-taskers and creatives?

Just make something and don't try to be the best at it. Know your skill set and take ownership of your skills. You do things your particular way. A friend who is a professional video editor asked me why I edited a piece of work a certain way when I showed it to them. I simply replied that that was just how I work.

It's also important to know where your skill set ends. I know I can take photos, edit a video etc., but I can't do fancy animation. Just be honest. Nobody can do everything.

Looking back on the previous lockdowns, I realise I should have taken more time to rest. Just because you can do loads of different things doesn't mean you should. Make sure you have some breaks, too, for your mental health.

Any upcoming projects you can tell us about?

Lambert Jackson are restreaming all the Leave A Light On gigs - that's seventy different shows! That was a lot of work but a lot of fun. It's interesting to look back at how people used to do home concerts compared with how people are doing them now. You even see that difference between the two seasons of the concerts.

I've also seen some clips of Brooklyn, which looks really cool.

I'm also doing some filming for The Grad Fest at Cadogan Hall. They do great work providing grants and opportunities for new graduates. Between lockdowns, they've gone from running events behind a restaurant to Cadogan Hall!

Which musical theatre characters would you most and least like to spend lockdown?

I think I'd like to isolate with Jamie from Everybody's Talking About Jamie, but at the same time, I think that would be a bit much as well. As much as I'd love having a party animal around, he has no pause button.

I'd also say Kate from If/Then would be good. When I saw the show on Broadway, I literally fell in love with her. I thought she was amazing. She's really good at motivating people, which would be really helpful right now.

I don't think I could handle Gretchen from Mean Girls. She just doesn't stop talking. Even though I like talking, I also like to be silent and have no one to talk to. I don't think Gretchen can do that.

Where can we go to find out more about your work?

You can find me on social media on Twitter and Instagram. I also have a website and a YouTube channel. You can still order copies of Dear Audience too.

Dear Audience is available to purchase online

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