Backstage and Beyond – Brian Logan, Artistic Director
Welcome to Backstage and Beyond, a series of interviews in which we talk to theatre industry professionals to find out more about their jobs. Everyone knows what an actor does, but it takes a lot more than just the people on stage to make a show. Please join us as we quiz people in all sorts of cool theatre jobs on their work, what it involves, and how you could do the same. In this instalment we talk to Brian Logan, the artistic director of Camden People’s Theatre.
Can you explain to us what exactly your job involves?
I’m artistic director at Camden People’s Theatre, which means taking responsibility for the artistic and creative activity that happens at this venue. So I programme all the shows presented on our stage, and also devise new themed festivals and new ways of programming. I oversee all of our artist support activity – i.e. the way we help theatre artists to make their work and develop their careers. I’m the person who is first point of contact for artists who work with, or want to work with, CPT. I also decide which artists / projects we should commission, whose work we might co-produce, who we should appoint as Associate Artists, and so on. Also, I sometimes direct in-house productions; and I regularly mentor or act as an ‘outside eye’ for artists who are making shows with CPT’s help.
I see a lot of shows, too, and regularly meet with young and emerging artists to discuss their work and how CPT might help with it. Alongside all that, I share responsibility with our Executive Director for the theatre’s strategy and vision, and maintain an oversight of fundraising, marketing, community engagement and practically every other aspect of CPT’s work.
How did you come to work as artistic director?
For fifteen years before I came to CPT, I co-ran a touring theatre company that I set up in my early twenties with friends. We toured the UK and internationally, and made twelve major shows over that period. I also maintained a parallel career as an arts journalist, writing about and reviewing theatre and the arts more widely for The Guardian, Time Out London and others. I never studied theatre per se; I did an English and Modern History degree at Queen Mary College, University of London.
What does your daily schedule look like?
No two days are the same. An average day might include lots of catching up with emails; one or two cups of tea with artists who we’re either working with or hoping to work with; a meeting with a CPT partner or prospective partner (e.g. from another cultural organisation, funding body or local community group); and then attending a sharing of new work by an artist with whom we’re hoping to develop a relationship.
Then there are periods where I’m in the rehearsal room every day for three or four weeks making a show. But they’re less frequent.
What are the best parts and the worst parts of your work?
The best part is getting to spend my working life among (usually) young artists who constantly inspire me with their resourcefulness, creativity and optimism; with the new ideas they’re bringing to bear on theatre – ideas I’d never dream of having myself. I’m really lucky to be surrounded by so much invention and passion and conscientiousness. The other best part is when the building is crammed full of people buzzing with excitement at whatever unexpected piece of theatre they’re about to encounter on our stage.
The worst parts are the ongoing struggles – which aren’t always successful – for example to raise money to realise all of our (or our artists’) ambitions. There are sometimes difficulties around the building we live in – relating to its upkeep and so on. Sometimes, too, it’s difficult to draw big crowds to the often experimental work we present – and it’s always disappointing when there’s not enough people in the audience. Which doesn’t happen often, thankfully.
What advice would you give to young people who are interested in going into your line of work?
I would advise them that it’s a really exciting and inspiring line of work. But they should only do it if they love stories and performance and entertaining people, and if they have lots they want to communicate about the world. Not if they want to be famous or think it’s in some way glamorous or whatever. (It isn’t.) I’d warn them that they won’t make much money.
I’d advise them not to sit by the phone waiting for the approval of other people, but to initiate their own projects and make their own work. And to take a lively and generous interest in the work of others – from whom there is always a lot to learn.
I’d also advise them to engage with the real world beyond the theatre. If you want to make work that people want to see, you have to engage with what those people are dealing with, with what’s happening in the world.
What are your hopes and dreams for the future of theatre in London and the UK?
There are lots of perceived threats to theatre at the moment: underfunding; cuts to the arts in education; austerity; Brexit. I hope that not only does theatre resist these threats, but that it plays its part in the fight against everything these threats represent. I hope theatre stops getting represented as something posh people do in gilded playhouses (that’s a tiny fraction of what theatre is), but as something millions of us watch and do in town squares and schools, at festivals and carnivals, in arts and community centres, throughout our lives. It’s where we dream up new, unexpected and more generous ways to live. And I hope we all keep doing that, and that theatre helps us all find our way to a kinder, more imaginative and people-centred world.