BWW Interview: Nikolai Foster and Chris Stafford Discuss The Future of Curve Theatre

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BWW Interview: Nikolai Foster and Chris Stafford Discuss The Future of Curve Theatre
Chris Stafford and Nikolai Foster

Curve Theatre in Leicester, currently led by Chief Executive Chris Stafford and Artistic Director Nikolai Foster, has developed a reputation for producing and programming bold and innovative work, with many productions going on to tour both in the UK and internationally.

Chris and Nikolai talk to BroadwayWorld about their time at Curve, hopes for the theatre's future, and how audiences can support the theatre industry during these difficult times.

What's the first piece of theatre you saw that really excited you?

Nikolai: The very first thing I saw was a touring production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats. The event of actually going to the theatre excited me, but the show itself didn't. I loved the experience of being in the theatre, and the cats being all around the auditorium. The whole thing of the lights, the design, the magic of it. But I do recall my 11-year-old self thinking, "This piece is barking mad and I have absolutely no idea what's going on." I'd fallen in love and I was marvelling at the experience, even though my critical faculties were thinking "Well, this is crackers".

Chris: I think Nikolai's is a bit more showbiz than mine. I saw something when I was very little, but after that I didn't go and see anything until I was about 17 as part of my A-level Theatre course. So I'd been in plays, but I'd never actually been to see one. Which is quite interesting, because you're having to understand what theatre is without having a context of experiencing it.

We went to see The Caucasian Chalk Circle at the Library Theatre in Manchester, which is sadly no longer. We were studying Brecht, so like Nikolai, I don't think I was actually blown away by the script or anything. But it was the whole 'liveness' - the audience experience. I remember thinking "This is quite extraordinary".

Nikolai - can you tell us how you made that transition from wanting to act to realising you had a passion for directing?

I went to drama school with the ambition to be an actor. Like a lot of people, I thought if you wanted to work in theatre, that's what you did - you became an actor. It was a very different time. Today, theatres like Curve make the different roles that exist within theatre really clear and accessible, but that wasn't the case 20-odd years ago.

So, I toddled off to train at Drama Centre. Halfway through my training, I became very interested in other things like writing scripts, building sets, lighting, rigging and and so on. You had to perform these roles for the third-year students as part of the course, and it was a wonderful tool to get you to consider and develop an appreciation for all of the jobs in theatre.

Our principal at the time was Christoper Fettes. At the end of our second year, he told me I was going to be thrown out because I was no longer applying myself to acting. He said I wasn't good enough and I wasn't putting in the hours. Christopher trained Anthony Hopkins, who went on to base his character study for Hannibal Lecter on him - so you can imagine what this man was like!

This was, of course, terrifying for me. I come from a working-class community in Yorkshire, and my mum had maxed out all of her credit cards and nearly bankrupted us to pay for my drama school fees. The idea that I was going to go back home was terrifying. I don't know where it came from, but I said to him, "OK, I'll come back in my third year and assist you as a director. I'll learn about directing." Honestly, I hadn't thought about being a director before that. It wasn't something that somebody from my background or upbringing naturally feels they can do. So that was quite a brave statement. Christopher looked at me with a real sort of Hannibal Lecter-ish terror, and said, "OK, let's do it".

So that's what I did. I came back in my third year and I assisted Christopher and other directors like Reuven Adviv and Peter Farago. And from there, I found out about the Channel 4 Regional Young Directors Scheme and applied for that. It was a leap of faith, and a real moment of desperation that led me in that direction.

How did you both get your start in the professional theatre world?

Chris: I knew I was interested in theatre, even though I hadn't really seen much of it, and I was quite academic at school. I was the only person in my family to do a degree. My parents were actually really supportive, but I think they wanted me to do something more sensible.

I trained at the Central School of Speech and Drama. Nikolai and myself were actually at drama school at the same time - just around the corner from each other. Who'd have thought we'd be joined at the hip 20-odd years later? [laughs] So I went to Central and I trained to be a drama educator. Similar to Nikolai, I didn't train in what I ended up doing. From there, I was actually really lucky. I spotted a job at The Globe Theatre - they'd advertised it in the Guardian, and no one had gotten it yet. So within six months of graduating, I started at the Globe, where I stayed for nine years.

Nikolai: While I was in my third year assisting at Drama Centre, a fax came through advertising that the Queen's Theatre in Hornchurch was looking for a rehearsal assistant. Just someone to make the tea, be in rehearsals and help out. So I ended up doing that as part of my studies. I was getting the District line up to Hornchurch every day - doing these epic days of rehearsing at Drama Centre in the daytime, then rehearsing at the Queen's Theatre in the afternoon and in the evening. And it was there that I saw the advert for the Regional Young Directors Scheme. So I'd say that it was hard work really, and a lot of luck. Seeing those opportunities and taking them when they presented themselves.

Why did you want to come on board at Leicester Curve, and what were some of your main aims when you took over?

Chris: I wanted to work at Curve because I'd spent the first nine years of my career in a producing house, and from there I zigzagged. I worked at Bristol Old Vic, which I loved. Then my job prior to starting Curve was executive director of a company called dreamthinkspeak, which does site response work all over the world. And whilst I really enjoyed my job, I really missed being in a building, and in a producing house.

So I was very keen to find my next job in a building. But it needed to be one I felt like I could really connect with. I hadn't been to Curve before I went for my job interview, and when I stepped through the door, I completely fell in love with it. The democratic nature of the place lends itself to everything of my values. The relationship with the audiences - the barriers are completely broken down by that architecture. So that's what drew me to Curve. And the communities, the diversity. We have the world on our doorstep, so we have a great opportunity to tell lots of stories.

Also, I wanted to do something that would test me. I'd never worked in musical theatre before. It's played a big part of my career for the past seven years, but prior to that I'd done lots of plays and drama. So I liked that I was able to learn about musical theatre a bit more. I think it's when Nikolai and I started working together in the theatre that we started to think about what it stands for and what we want it to achieve.

And, fundamentally, we want it to be a theatre that can connect with the people who live, work and learn in our city. Which means that we have a programme that is incredibly diverse and incredibly popular. And we both celebrate 'popular'. 'Popular' can often be derided as being negative or lacking in artistic credibility or vision. And actually we recognise that popular commercial theatre can be incredibly artistically driven. Often, the best stuff actually is. Look at Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh - they are massively creative artists who invest in making great art that is incredibly popular. So that was our overarching vision.

When running Curve, how much of your day tends to be more on the admin/business side of things vs the creative?

Nikolai: I don't think we necessarily see much division between the two things. Obviously, if you're having to do a financial spreadsheet or if you're in a finance and resources committee meeting, they are very admin based. But we work so closely together and don't really consider one thing as administration and one as artistic, because everything is artistic. It's a theatre and arts factory, so everything by its nature is an artistic exercise. And all of us, whether it's Chris, myself, the cleaners, the technicians - we're all engaged in this idea of trying to make a piece of theatre.

So I don't think you could say that something is one or the other. It's all brilliantly and beautifully messy. And one thing can't exist without the other. If you don't have robust financial structures in place then you can't put on any shows, and if you don't have great shows, there's no point having great budgets. So the two things flow beautifully together. Although I did fail GCSE Maths twice. I haven't told anybody about that before. [laughs]

How do you divide responsibilities between you? And do you tend to approach things from different points of view?

Chris: It extends on what Nikolai was saying. I would always say I'm a creative and Nikolai's an artist. I think there's people who are responsible for the 'artistry', to the degree that I will be the one who oversees the strategic and business side of the place, but I won't go and direct a show - because no one should ever have to experience that! But we also cross over all the time. I think Nikolai and I would say we are always a first amongst equals, and it depends on what the subject matter is.

Things like strategy sit with both of us. But when it comes to the business, it is me, and if it comes to the art, that's Nikolai. But we are entirely equal. We both take responsibility for programming the theatre, and making decisions about produced work. And I think that is really important. Because often the executive directors or the chief execs get put in a box of just 'doing the business'. And actually, the business is the art. So by default I have to be a part of all of that. But likewise, Nikolai will get involved in things like our menus, catering and that sort of thing. Fundamentally, I like to think both of us always catch everything.

Nikolai: I think the minute you start putting things in boxes in the theatre, like "The chief exec does this, the tech director can do only this", you immediately shut down conversations and avenues of exploration. And we all know that when we go down unchartered paths, that's where the most interesting and dynamic work comes from.

British theatre has been riddled with snobbery and a desire to pigeonhole people and put them in boxes. "Musical theatre performers - how dare they do a play?" everybody cried a few years ago. But those attitudes are changing now. And I think that is our ethos - we believe that nobody should be put in a box or pigeonholed. And that begins at Curve but hopefully spreads right out from our building.

What are some of the rewards and challenges of touring shows, and why is it important to keep that going?

Nikolai: The theatres outside of the capital serve some of the most diverse, vibrant and artistically engaged communities you could ever wish to meet. And we're very proud of the work we're creating at Curve. It has a really distinctive house style, which is one of class, quality and integrity. We want to be imaginative and proactive, but make work that's really popular and speaks to diverse and large groups of people.

So, why not take something we're very proud of and share it with more people? It's all about collaboration and sharing with audiences. Reaching as wide a group as possible. In 2017-18, more people saw our work on tour than that of The National Theatre on tour. That is an amazing achievement for Curve and a fantastic testament to everybody who's creating the work.

Chris: Also, it's the idea that you pour your love and heart into making a show which only lasts for a number of weeks. Some things are only meant to last for a short time, and that's fine. But for us, it's about how to get our work seen by as many people as possible. How to exploit it.

Also, to be really honest, it helps to pay the bills. We're really honest about that - the fact that we have a very successful commercial touring arm of our business. And if we haven't managed to get that side of the business working the way it does, there would not be the work that we invest in at Curve. The new dramas, the new commissions. Work that might not be seen by tens of thousands of people, but it's really driving us forwards creatively and artistically. All the touring work absolutely feeds into everything we do at home.

When programming, how do you find the right balance of plays/musicals and perhaps more challenging artistic work vs something that's popular, like An Officer and A Gentleman? Do you see your role as catering to the local audience, advocating for certain work, or a combination?

Chris: For us, everything we do is about the work and our audiences. We try not to describe things as 'popular' or 'not popular'.

If it's visiting work, the first thing we do is ask ourselves: "Is this a company we know of? Is the artist making it exciting?". And the next question is, "Who will come and see it?". And that happens with everything, whether it's produced or programmed. If you always ask those questions, you're going to have a diverse programme. We want to be able to go into our theatre any night of the week and see a cross-section of diversity in all its forms.

So, for us, it's about making sure we're always bringing new work to our doors. And new work is always a risk - it doesn't matter who's making it. We want to have work that will demonstrate what 21st-century Britain is in all its forms. We're fortunate in Leicester that we're in an incredibly ethnically diverse city, and therefore it's important that our audiences can see some heritage of their experiences on our stages. But also people that look like them on our stages. So that informs our casting policy.

So, we don't have a quota of work that's popular and a quota of work that may not sell as many tickets. It's all born from our audiences. We might have six months where there's more musicals than dramas, and that's because we're not marking it that way. But I have confidence that anyone living, working and learning in this city can pick up a brochure and find something that they're attracted to.

Nikolai: In terms of what people perceive to be a harder sell or more challenging piece of work, I feel quite strongly about putting on shows that people will want to come and see. If we thought something wasn't going to sell any tickets because it was really obscure or esoteric, I'd question why we were putting it on.

You mentioned An Officer and A Gentleman. Well, people say "That's very populist, that's very commercial". Well, it is, and it isn't. The title is, and it has a very iconic moment that happens at the end of it, but it's a story about a working-class community on the fringe of American society. At a time when Reaganomics is taking off and a large percentage of the white working class is being left behind. All these factories are closing down, and this military base offers this sort of snapshot of a way out. In our version, it's a story of a young African-American woman who is the first black woman to fly jets. And a young man who sees no way out because of his mental health issues, and tragically takes his own life. And that's an interesting story.

So something that can be perceived as commercial can make you question what we actually define as commercial, and what we define as challenging. You could take some of those ideas and themes and put it on as a play at the Royal Court, and everybody would think it was Grade A, world-class art. But what we do really well is allow a predominantly working-class audience to come into a safe space and see some major themes, many of which they may have struggled with or see reflected in their own lives. And they're able to embrace them in such a way that they feel very much a part of it.

I think An Officer and A Gentleman. is quite a good example of that. It's dismissed as commercial and jukebox and so on, but actually it's a very profound and honest story about a group of people who have marginalised and forgotten about.

Do you get frustrated that there perhaps isn't the same level of respect for musicals?

Both: Yes!

Chris: Yes. Especially when you look at the artistry involved in creating a musical, the collaboration that's required. That understanding of what everyone has to do. I'm not saying that musicals are 'better' than plays - they're all making work for audiences. They're all about telling stories. And as somebody who hadn't worked in musical theatre prior to joining Curve, it was probably one of the steepest learning curves of my career - understanding what everyone does as part of the process. But also, when you're in that writing room with a new musical, it takes a long time to get it up and running. And of course there's also debates and discussions about investment required. It's about putting together all of the layers that are required to tell that story effectively.

And then you look at musical theatre performers themselves. They're expected to act, they're expected to dance, they're expected to sing. For example, in West Side Story, around six of the actors playing the Jets were ill over Christmas time. Some of our company had to go on stage after just half a day of rehearsal to learn somebody else's tracks and lines. And on top of that, they were able to sing the hell out of somebody else's songs. It's incredible. I'm in awe of people who've got that sense of versatility and skill base.

I think people having a lower opinion of musicals is less common now, because people are more accepting that it is an art form. But when people do have that opinion, it comes from the old values of, because something's popular, it therefore isn't given the same weight.

Nikolai: Like Chris, it makes my blood boil that there are so many areas of our society and cultural community that think of musicals as a second rate art form. It astonishes me. For the Americans, it is their art form. They invented the musical and they hold it in the absolute highest regard as one of the most complex, sophisticated and elevated art forms. And I couldn't agree with them more.

People bark on until they're blue in the face about getting new audiences into theatre. They're virtue signalling about diversity, and yet they turn their noses up at one of the greatest and most egalitarian art forms that absolutely will get people into the theatres, which is the musical. If English or whichever language the musical is performed in isn't your first language, you'll still understand the plot. You'll absolutely understand the complexity and the sophistication of the human emotion of that musical, because of the music. Because of the way the people move in the space. And it is such an important art form in terms of getting diverse groups into our theatres and celebrating our shared cultures and histories.

I do think opinions are changing now. They're changing because of economics. Many theatres recognise that the musical is a way of getting bums on seats. But I don't think that's a bad thing. And I think all of the great musicals are about important issues. They're political. I don't think there's one great musical that's been written that's not on a par with Shakespeare in terms of what it has to offer the world and say about our society today. Whether it's Oklahoma, West Side Story, Hamilton - even The Boy Friend is a social critique on the English class system and snobbery and so on.

Similarly, do you think people have any incorrect preconceptions about regional theatre/audiences? Have any local responses to work particularly surprised you?

Chris: We're going to sound like we're on our soap boxes! But what drives me insane - and it doesn't get banded about as much now as it used to - is the term 'provincial theatre'. We're in the 'provinces'. Which totally indicates that it's outer - we're not at the heart. It's not as important. And fundamentally, regional theatre is the lifeblood of theatre in this country. We need the West End, we need London and we need regional theatre. I think one of the challenges that can be faced sometimes is the term 'the regions'. To put basically everything outside of London as a homogeneous landscape, when absolutely the reality of it is that we're all operating in different communities, different environments.

We do get crazy when people think regional work is lesser, or not 'as good'. We actually had somebody being really offensive on Facebook a few months ago towards Curve, making comments around the idea that the West End is the only place in the UK to find quality theatre. Well, there's lots of quality in the West End, but there's also lots of quality happening up and down the country. So it does drive us insane.

However, we are committed to making work for our audiences, and watching audiences go on a journey with us. When we started at Curve, a big challenge for us was building audiences for dramas. We didn't have a hugely loyal drama audience. And actually, over the course of the years, we've had things like Memoirs of an Asian Football Casual, a brand new drama, virtually sold out. Memoirs ended up on an 85% capacity, and it was new work generated in Leicester.

So for us, we're very much serving one economy. And at this moment in time, now more than ever, we can see that we are all as one. We're all making work, and we're all vulnerable and exposed. And the idea that regional theatre is less important or that it's less driven by quality - I beg anyone who has that very wrong understanding to leave wherever they are and go and see the rest of what's out there. Like London, like anywhere, there's some terrible work, but there's also some great work. That happens everywhere, due to the ecology of arts and culture.

Nikolai: I think the snobbery comes from journalists who have the perception that the benchmark is London, and everything else is secondary. And like Chris said, theatre producers, theatre-makers, actors and audiences - on the whole - know that's not the case. And again, talking about Memoirs, it was incredible. It was just a wonderful piece of writing, beautifully acted. And the way the audience responded could only have happened in Leicester. That was something so unique and so remarkable about this city and the people who were in it at that time.

So anybody who says that certain things are second rate, or shouldn't be allowed - it's all just nonsense, isn't it? And what we're living through now puts that into sharp focus. We've got to work together. We've got to find our commonality. Find what unites rather than what divides us.

What are you most proud of achieving at Curve?

Nikolai: Well, I don't know what Chris feels, but my feeling is we're only just getting started. We haven't finished, and so the thing that drives you hasn't happened yet. Because if it had, you'd leave. If that makes sense.

I would say, however, that because we've had to temporarily close the theatre, that means we've now had a period of reflection. And I feel like what I miss is probably what I'm most proud of. I miss walking into a building filled with people singing, or doing youth theatre workshops, or over-55s dance classes. It's a theatre which is brimming with life and community and a sense of people making things.

But that's not necessarily what I'm most proud of achieving, because it's nothing to do with me. It's just about people coming in and taking ownership of their theatre. It's a theatre full of life and beauty and love. And it's desperately sad that it's asleep at the moment.

Chris: I think Nikolai's right. There's a sense of pride that people own the building. When the theatre opened 11 and a half years ago, it opened in the middle of a recession. And it had such a negative opinion around it for that reason.The building cost a lot more to open than anticipated, and it had a really rocky start.

We're massively grateful to those people who led the organisation before us, who stayed with it and committed to it. And the ambition for Curve was always that it would be a hub for our community. That it would be a place where artists would come and make work. Often, the spaces are completely taken over by classes and community groups. And it's taken ourselves, our colleagues, everyone before us, to get Curve to that position. And I'm really proud it's happened during our time. That our community really does own it, and they take control of that space.

We are, and I really do mean this, we are merely custodians of the building. We look after it. It's not ours - it's never ours. It's not my theatre, it's not Nikolai's theatre. It is a theatre that belongs to this city. And I think it's a joy to see how it's been taken into people's hearts. The fierce loyalty people have for Curve is everything to us, because it means the theatre has become what it always set out to be.

It's obviously very hard to look ahead in these strange times, but could you tell us about some of the work hopefully coming up at Curve?

Chris: One of the things we're determined to do, even while we're in this temporary closure, is carry on planning. Our doors are going to open one day and we're driven by wanting to ensure we've got an exciting programme coming up. There will be a big announcement soon of a huge title which will hopefully be at Curve next year. And we are determined during this time of closure that we do still continue to make some announcements. I think it's really important for the lifeblood of our industry that we're looking ahead. Even though it's hard when we don't know when we can open.

Nikolai: We're busy prepping The Wizard of Oz, which will be on at Christmas, and we're very excited about that. And we've just launched our 'Rainbows of Curve' appeal. The appeal was inspired by all of the beautiful rainbows that kids have been putting on their windows, as a beacon of hope and mark of respect to the incredible NHS workers. We're asking children and young people to share their rainbows and other Wizard of Oz-related artwork with us, and we'll use those images as part of the set for our production. So we're really excited about that.

And we're really looking forward to the stuff we're doing online. We're doing interviews, Instagram takeovers, we've got loads of archives of our shows online, we're doing online dance workouts. So we're remaining very upbeat. And the doors will open, and we'll be ready and waiting with shows like The Wizard of Oz and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and ready to rock again.

How much does this shutdown impact a venue like yours? And what can we (theatre fans, up to the Government) do that would really help?

Chris: I think we're the same as any other business really, in terms of us being in a position where we can't trade anymore. Although we're very lucky that we get arts council and local authority funding, I think there are some misunderstandings out there that that pays for everything. And actually, it makes up a proportion, but it's only 20% of our turnover. So we've lost 80% of our business. And for a business that breaks even and makes a tiny surplus every year, that's a huge, huge knock.

We know that our turnover at best will be reduced by a couple of million this year. And that's an optimistic scenario. So it's really tough. And the only way that we're going to get through this as an industry and as a sector is by truly working together. We're going to have to rethink some of the ways in which we work, how we get work on our stages. And my hope is when we open our doors, our audiences will want to come back. And we don't know what that's going to look like, and how that's going to affect the future.

But fundamentally, an organisation like Curve is a charity and most of our income is now gone. So what I would urge audiences out there to do, if they can, is to support their local theatre. If they can make donations, make them. No matter how small. And certainly big is always welcome as well!

Of course, we understand that many people can't make a donation. But when you're able to, think about buying a ticket. We've still got our Christmas shows on sale. If you can buy a ticket or even plan to buy that ticket, that is really going to mean a lot to us. The business of theatre is always a risk because we're dependent on the box office. And now more than ever, we're going to need to see that audiences are coming back.

On another level, the Arts Council are doing a terrific job supporting the sector, artists and NPOs, but that support is limited. £90 million is a lot of money to support NPOs. £160 million to support the sector is a lot of money. But unfortunately, it's not going to be the money that's needed for the quick recovery that the sector needs. And that is no word of fiction - that is a reality. So what we need is the Treasury to take note, to listen. Because when we're told we can open our theatre doors, many of us won't be able to have programmes magically start up again. It's going to take a period of time. And I think it is critical that the Treasury and the DCMS are able to take note and hear that it is a real, real problem.

So whilst the Arts Council are doing a terrific job at supporting, there's only so much that they're able to do. And fundamentally, they can't be all things to all people. It's the same for organisations like Curve. We're constantly wrestling with the fact that we can't be all things to all people at this most critical time. And that's really hard because it means in the long term, some very difficult decisions are going to have to be made.

Nikolai: The only thing I would add, which might sound flippant: If there are any multimillionaires reading this who love the incredible work Curve are doing within our communities and they'd like to donate a few million pounds to help assure our theatre's future - we'd be very happy to have a conversation!

How are you both spending your time during the shutdown? Any tips on good reads, things to watch online, other displacement activity?

Chris: Well, we're spending a lot of time working at the moment. I'd say we probably speak on average seven times a day. We're in the fortunate position of being able to have some sense of normality in these strange times.

I'm watching lots of Netflix. And I absolutely do not feel guilty about that. Ozark is really good - I've just finished Season Three. I'm watching Apple TV - The Morning Show is one I would recommend. Also The Servant. There are two things that are helping me a little bit. Firstly, restrict the news viewing to once a day. And that's just very personal to me. And the second one is to remember if I don't achieve anything - that's fine. In other words, I may not learn how to play an instrument. I may not read 50 books, and I may not leave this isolation with a six pack. And that's okay.

There can be a lot of pressure coming from social media. The idea that we're going to leave this period having read all these books and nourished ourselves. And I think it's brilliant if you are doing that. But also I have no guilt about not doing it. Whatever way we're getting ourselves through it is fine.

Nikolai: Yes - I'm reading and watching stuff as well. I'm reading Julie Andrews' autobiography, which I'd really recommend in these times. She's had a really hard life with lots of challenges. And her voice is a bit like the Queen's - it's very reassuring! I'm just about to start David Lan's memoirs about his time at the Young Vic. I think that's probably good food for the soul for theatre people. And I've really enjoyed Tiger King on Netflix. Or Lion King, as Chris calls it! [both laugh]

But, to echo Chris, I think that's what's going on in the world now is enormous. It's of such magnitude, and we shouldn't be trying to put content on social media and show that we're busy and having a 'normal' life. What we should be doing is reflecting and trying to understand a bit more about ourselves, and why we've collectively arrived at this point in the world. There's too much greed, too much selfishness. Capitalism sort of racing out of control. And I think a period of reflection is no bad thing. So when we do emerge we're much more centred, grounded and more connected to ourselves. And therefore the world that we're all part of.

So, I echo Chris's thoughts about trying to uphold this attitude of "I'm going to write a book and a musical, and I'm going to be this incredible... whatever."' It's like - no. The world is telling us - just stop. Mother Nature's basically said, "Get up to your room, shut your door, and have a think about the damage you're doing to the world".

Chris: I think the sad thing is, now that people have more time, the social media checks are at the highest levels ever. Guilt can set in, thinking "I've not achieved today". That's almost worse than it's ever been before, I suspect. I'm very fortunate that I'm not by myself in my flat. But I can imagine if you are by yourself, social media is a huge interaction and that's hard going for people. I think it's really tough.

Any advice to those hoping to follow in your footsteps - either directing or on the executive side of things?

Chris: My advice would be very straightforward. Be curious, humble, and work hard. I know it sounds really beige, but you've got to do those things. I think they're values that can sometimes be underestimated. It really is about working hard. Especially in our business.

Nikolai: I think my little bit of advice would be to know what's come before you. Learn about the history of theatre. Probably from about 1956 onwards is a good place to start. And then dip into those decades and know who the great chief execs or managers of the theatres were - and why they were successful. Know who the great directors were. Maybe learn about the people that failed, and why they failed. Learn about great actors. Because that's just so important.

We're so obsessed with the future - but the theatre relies on tradition and heritage. As boring as that might be in the 21st century. But you've got to know about what has gone before. And it's never been easier, has it? You just use Google and you can find out so much.

Chris: And just to add to that, I'd say go and see work. I find it interesting that you sometimes meet people very early on in their career who really haven't. And I understand that that can be an economic challenge. But, for example, Curve do £1 dress rehearsal tickets. And even if you haven't got a quid, you're still let in. So, see work. And get a sense of what excites you. Also ask yourself the question: why do you really want to do it?

Finally, what are your major ambitions for Curve in the future?

Chris: Well, they've changed a little bit now. If you'd asked me this a few weeks ago, it probably would have been a slightly different response! The big ambition now is that we recover. That we really can recover and get through this. Restore the building back to what it was with the same drive, ambition and fearlessness that we had before.

Click here for more information on how you can get involved with the Rainbows of Curve appeal

Photo Credit: Ellie Kurttz


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