Curtain Call: The Other Room - Cardiff's first 'pub theatre'

AfterDark’s Dean Hodge speaks to The Other Room’s Directors Kate Wasserberg and Bizzy Day ahead of the launch of The Other Room next month.

Cardiff is a very exciting place to be right now as anyone lucky enough to live here will testify, with a rise in quality independent music venues and festivals, and the addition of quirky bars, boutique hostels and now the impending launch of the first ever ‘pub theatre’ within the Welsh capital. There seems to be a growing army of creative mavericks forming together to transform the city into a glowing hub for the artistic community.

Scratching away underneath the surface of the capital is a vibrant arts and theatre scene which until now has been criminally overlooked, a view shared by the visionary duo of Kate Wasserberg and Bizzy Day. Hence, they have both set out to launch their very own pub theatre, the first of its kind in Cardiff, teaming up with Dan Porter and David Wilson to give the theatre a home within the hidden gem of a bar that is Porter’s. What started as a small idea has eventually transformed into the soon-to-be-opened venue The Other Room Theatre, which is set to launch this year in Cardiff.

The opening season was announced last week with the theme entitled ‘Life in Close-Up’. It will consists of three productions – the notorious ‘Blasted’ by Sarah Kane and Howard Barker’s unflinching The Dying of Today, which will both be directed by Kate, and a new bi-lingual play ‘A Good Clean Heart’ by Alun Saunders.

In an exclusive, in-depth interview given before they officially announced TOR’s opening season, the theatre’s Artistic Director Kate and Executive Director Bizzy spoke to AfterDark’s Dean Hodge about their pub theatre’s humble beginnings and the rapid progress it has made towards becoming one of the most talked-about new additions to Cardiff. Additionally, they lift the curtain on its opening season and what is in store for its first year.

DEAN: How did you first come up with the idea for The Other Room?

KATE: Before I moved here, I was the Associate Director of Clwyd Theatr Cymru for five years. I was lucky to work with lots of wonderful Welsh playwrights, actors and theatre makers, which was a major factor for me wanting to stay in Wales once I moved on from that role. It struck me that there was no pub theatre in Cardiff or a small-scale ‘fringe’ scene. For me, it presented a wonderful opportunity to stay in Cardiff and channel my theatre background into setting one up here. I was very fortunate that I eventually met Bizzy, who has made the idea her own as well and brings so many inventive ideas which I would never have thought of.

DEAN: When you first came aboard the TOR team Bizzy, what did you originally think of the idea?

BIZZY: Kate contacted the Welsh National Opera with a proposal for The Other Room asking for ideas for fundraising, and as I was an intern there at the time I immediately volunteered at the chance to meet her. The next thing was she offered me to work as a partner with her, which was completely unexpected but exciting at the same time. What keeps me grounded is that I know that I don’t know everything about my role yet, and so I’m always willing to learn and try new things. I’m very fortunate to have some incredibly supportive people around me.Dan Porter and David Wilson from Porter’s have been brilliant mentors to both me and Kate, as they have been through a similar journey with Porter’s to what we’re experiencing now with The Other Room. We have an excellent core team as well consisting of our Marketing Officer Ben Atterbury, Marketing Assistant Aaron McGregorChelsey Gillard and our Press Officer Alice Baynham.

DEAN: When did you come across the team at Porter’s, and eventually decide to build the venue for TOR there?

KATE: The main criteria for our potential venue was somewhere ideally with a bar as we wanted to enhance the social element of our theatre. My friend Ruth Hall, who is a theatre designer, suggested I talked to Dan Porter, the owner of Porter’s bar, particularly because of his acting background and because he took a similar route to the one we’re currently taking. When I eventually met him and talked about our idea, he immediately pointed me to the bar’s cinema room as the perfect space to build a separate theatre. The rest is history.

DEAN: Can you explain how you managed to fund the project?

BIZZY: We wouldn’t be where we are at now without the Kickstarter campaign which we ran back in May last year. We had no money or funding at all, plus no web or social media presence, so we basically pulled everything out of the air within a fortnight. We originally set a target of £2,500 for our campaign and ended up raising £7,500 which was overwhelming.

KATE: Having that level of support definitely gave us an extra incentive to really make our idea happen because we felt we owed it to all those people who donated money to our campaign and got behind us.

DEAN: TOR has gone from being an idea between just the two of you, to now involving a large team of people. What has it been like to work with them, and how would you sum up the journey TOR has taken to finally opening this year?

KATE: It’s incredible to me that what started as one tiny idea in my head has turned into an idea shared by a whole team. At times, it has been hugely challenging and it feel like we’re running into a cliff face of our own ignorance. This is new to all of us and we’re all learning as we go. Inevitably, we’ll make mistakes but we learn from them and as a result grow stronger individually as well as a team. If I ever get overwhelmed, having such a strong group of people around me is the reason I can never walk away from it. Everyone involved in TOR are such inspiring people and I feel very honoured to get to know them.

DEAN: Can you give more details of when we can expect in TOR’s opening season?

KATE: We have three productions, the first being ‘Blasted’ by Sarah Kane. It is an incredibly shocking piece of theatre but one that deals with the issues of war and violence in a compellingly honest way. Another element of it I’m excited about is that the play is being scored by an original concept album by my good friend Nick Gill who is a talented composer and playwright.

The second production, which again I’ll be directing, is ‘The Dying of Today’ by Howard Barker. The play examines our relationship with tragedy through a single meeting. It typifies the strangeness, wit, and grandeur of Barker’s work.

The third and final production of our debut season will be ‘A Good Clean Heart’ by Alun Saunders, which will be directed by former Sherman Cymru Associate Director Mared Swain. It’s a bilingual play in Welsh and English about two brothers raised apart, one in Carmarthen and one in London, and explores one’s relationship with his language, culture and sense of identity.

DEAN: Can you explain about the ‘TOR Presents’ programme?

BIZZY: It’s about opening up the barrier between the stage and our audience and allowing people to interact, through discussions and workshops, with the people on the other side of the curtain.

KATE: We want both The Other Room and Porter’s to be a place where people can meet up with their friends, socialise with people with mutual interests and ultimately be a hub for the artistic community. The theme we adopted for our opening season, which is ‘life in close-up’, is a special one because it highlights the beauty of simplicity and looking beyond the surface.

Tickets for The Other Room’s inaugural season, which opens with Blasted by Sarah Kane on Tue 17 Feb, are available now from www.otherroomtheatre.com. To keep updated on The Other Room, you can also follow the team on Twitter @TORtheatre and Facebook.

Interviewed by Dean Hodge: https://deanhodge.wordpress.com

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