Director of PAPER HEARTS Tania Azevedo has Tea With Wilma

Tania AzevedoWest End Wilma reviewer Kara Alberts caught up with Paper Hearts director Tania Azevedo for a chat about the show

I saw Paper Hearts at the Edinburgh Fringe last year and absolutely loved it. Now you have a transfer to Upstairs at the Gatehouse from the 2nd of May before going to Germany. So for people who didn’t catch it in Edinburgh, what’s the show about?
The show is about an aspiring book writer Atticus (Adam Small) who feels like his life has no purpose, he cant finish his book and he’s haunted by the voices of the character of his book and he feels like his life is not going anywhere until the new book store manager, Lilly Sprocket (Gabrielle Marguiles) arrives, who kind of makes him be the better version of herself.

How did you get involved with the show?

I got involved initially as a dramaturg. Since leaving Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts, where I went to drama school on the musical theatre course, I’ve done mostly directing of new musicals and development of new musicals, so I got recommended to work with Liam O’Rafferty, the writer. This is his very first musical, Liam is a complete newcomer to the industry he’s never worked in theatre before so it was a completely new thing. He had a first draft and he was looking for people to steer him in the right direction, so I was his dramaturg and I worked with Liam for about half a year before we realised that there was really strong potential in the story but actually we felt it needed to be tested because he was a newcomer and so we thought it needs to go to Edinburgh. Liam had seen some of my work that was on at the time and invited me to join it as the director.

So who makes up the rest of the creative team alongside you and Liam?
Daniel Jarvis is the musical director and also the arranger and orchestrator and he has done some original music and lyrics as well. Lindsay McAllistar is our choreographer, who is joining us for one week only and choreographing the whole show in one week because she is going on tour with Strictly Ballroom to Canada which meant she only had this week, and we knew that we needed to have her back. So our cast are having to learn the choreography before anything else which they are coping with really well.

So it was in Edinburgh last year. What made you decide to bring it to London and Germany?
We genuinely didn’t know what to expect going to Edinburgh as it’s a really feel good show. Usually I find I tend to see more political shows, shows really pushing boundaries and I don’t think that is what Paper Hearts is. Paper Hearts is deeply rooted in being a love story and it’s a family, feel good show. So we were very blown away by the audiences reaction. We had American audiences that really connected with it, international audiences who – even though English wasn’t their first language – really got involved with the story. It made a lot of sense to people in the literary world, they really fell in love with the story for the love of books and how you can connect with a character from a book and have your life transformed by that.

What changes have you made for the transfer?
For Edinburgh it had to be a 75 minute piece, we knew that before the draft was finalised. So we were writing for the clock, so a lot of time we had to compromise quality to fit the time constraint. So when we sat down and looked at the reviews, and knowing we were transferring we wanted to make it into a two act show. There were a lot of character journeys we wanted to see completed.

So when you originally cast it, what made you think ‘that’s who I want’ when your leads auditioned?
When we cast it last year in June we knew we didn’t have the R and D (research and development) time a new musical requires. So our only salvation was to get in extremely intelligent actors, so when we were looking we knew the singing ability was a second thought because the musical was being developed in the room so we could adapt it, as long as we had the actors with the intelligence to ask the right questions and develop the character while still understanding the language of the piece. So if you were to read the first draft of the show, you would see so much of Atticus is what Adam Small has created. So that’s what we were looking for.

What is your advice to someone who is writing or has written a new show?
Trial your material in as many scratch nights as possible. I know that Hannah Elsy Productions has one and there are lots going around. Just to get as much feedback as you can on it and then once you have a first draft, get a director involved before anything else. I just think working with someone who has an outside vision to make sure the structure of the piece is in a strong shape and then you can go out and sell it. Edinburgh is great to trial new musicals, maybe for other art forms it’s a bit saturated, but for musical theatre I would say there is still space for a great musical to emerge.

So you mentioned you went to Mountview, how did you go from being a musical theatre performer graduating from Mountview to a director?
The choice happened pretty much as soon as I graduated, and it was sort of an unwilling choice. During Mountview we devised a musical called The Picture House and then we won the Scottish Daily Mail Edinburgh Fringe Award to take it to the fringe that summer. We were just a group of third years who had put it together and someone needed to take the lead as director. We took the show to Edinburgh, we got a transfer to London. It was October after I graduated by this point and I quickly weighed up the enjoyment I was getting from performing and the enjoyment I was getting from making the show happen and realised that I liked having control over my career. I had an agent at the time, I was doing the audition rounds and I felt so frustrated by the lack of control and so I applied and got accepted into the Kings Head Trainee Director programme so I did that and started directing from there.

There has been a push for more gender equality in the industry. What is it like being a female creative?

There isn’t an equality yet, by any stretch of the imagination and I do think that, well I feel, that male creatives are more likely to be taken seriously when pitching a show. I mean, I can only speak from a directors point of view, but so much of a directors work is to pitch a show and to convince venues, producers, investors and people that your ideas are worth investing energy and time and money into. I feel like there are a lot of doors that are closed because an all male creative team are sometimes seen as a safer bet than female creatives. I would say that the other thing is I don’t think musical theatre is a very feminist art form, especially when we look at old book musicals. I think it’s getting better, but I think that for too long female characters have been written as the romantic interest. I think things are changing, for example Marianne Elliot’s female Bobby (Company) that’s grand and new things are being written that are addressing this but I still think that its not there yet. I find it a challenge when I go into a library looking for inspiration and new ideas, I get stuck reading scripts and thinking, I can’t direct another show that is about a man who has all the women loving him. I do think it is getting better though, with inititatives being put in place to create a 50/50 gender split but I don’t think there is equality yet.

Finally, why is important that Paper Hearts is seen?
I think that, at a point in the world where there is so much negativity and bad things happening and general chaos, and everyone is aware of this on a global scale, what Paper Hearts is, is it is humane. It is a human story about reconnecting with your sense of self and about forgiveness and about being aware of the immediate. It has a real warmth and it shows the humaneness of human relationships.

Interview by Kara Taylor Alberts @karaalberts