Interview with Matt Jamie – we chat theatre, current production Pod, podcasts, music videos & Bedlington Terriers.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with director, actor, videographer, photographer and creative Matt Jamie….well for a good few years now on various projects! As is with the weirdness of the world – we’ve never actually met in person. I met him digitally as a videographer, but like many freelancers, has a never ending bag of skills and tricks like Felix The Cat.

I was delighted to be invited to support Matt’s current production – Pod; Matt is the Director. Pod is a brilliant theatre production that tells a brilliant contemporary story. This play has been in the making for some time – the initial run was cancelled due to the pandemic and I’m thrilled it is getting the space it deserves to connect with audiences. And I’m so excited to see it – it is the first production of the Alphabetti Theatre new season and it is my first time back in a theatre, actually watching a play for pleasure!

Pod is about a family gathered together, sharing more than just a cramped camping pod and a bottle of gin.  Secrets are revealed and they find answers to questions nobody was expecting to be asked.  Audiences will feel uplifted, moved, amused and ready to visit the bar! Pod runs from 31st August – 18th September at Alphabetti Theatre; Pay What You Feel tickets available now via: www.alphabettitheatre.co.uk/pod

It has been a privilege to champion Pod and get to know some of the Pod creative team – some old friends and some new creative peers! It has also been brilliant to get to know Matt better professionally too and as my jam is all about championing and celebrating creatives – I thought it was the perfect time for a little Culture Vulture blog post.

So without delay – an interview with Matt Jamie!

Matt Jamie

Hi Matt, let’s start with an introduction!

I’m Matt Jamie – I trained as an actor (actually I trained in Biomedical sciences first and ditched a PhD to go to drama school…sensible move?) – but now I work mainly as a theatre director, photographer and film maker, and producer of audio work.

Very sensible decision! Tell us more about your journey into creative industries?

When I was studying sciences, I joined the theatre group at university (Bradford University Theatre Group at Theatre In The Mill which is now an excellent fringe venue) and got the taste for it there. I’d always enjoyed theatre but never imagined working in it.  I then got a job and PhD placement doing research into diabetes but alongside that was pursuing places at drama school – figured if I didn’t get a place I’d carry on and now I’d be Doctor Jamie.  Instead, I’m now working in the arts in the North East!  I spent 13 years in London working mostly as an actor (some terrible commercials and music videos exist online) and an actor’s headshot photographer, with occasional dips into directing, before moving to the North East and taking on more production / direction work.

You’re a theatre maker, director, actor, film maker and a podcast/audio drama maker – that’s quite a rare mix….can you tell me a little bit about that? Are you like me and just refuse to be pinned down into one thing?

Working in the arts its useful to diversify.  I’ve been lucky enough to find other jobs which are connected to the arts but also possible to earn money from! (For a while in London I did work in a call centre selling theatre tickets…).  At one point I was an actor / photographer / film maker / composer / graphic designer / director.  I figured it was time to streamline a bit into the things I was more skilled in or enjoyed more.  I usually go with some kind of hyphenated description, depending who’s asking.

Tell me about your theatre company Coracle? How and why did it start as a company?

Coracle began in London; I came on board as a film maker for their first piece of development work at Battersea Arts Centre – a sort of abstract physical dance piece created by my friend Lucinda Lloyd.  Then Sarita Plowman joined Lucinda on a course at the City Lit and they wrote a short piece of text which eventually we developed into Coracle’s first full production “Bird Of Pray”.  It was a mix of theatre, movement and film and really one of the darkest things I’ve ever worked on as far as content went – some people walked out of the show, as it was so much…! But it was well received and went on to the “Branching Out” Festival in London.  We then all took some time out pursuing solo careers until I formed Coracle North East with writer and actor Arabella Arnott in 2017 – with more of a focus on new writing (though I might come back to more abstract / physical / multimedia work in the future).  You can see some clips of Coracle’s early work on our website.

Matt Jamie

Coracle highlight project so far?

We started in the North East with a double bill of plays, called “Trajectory” including Arabella’s first full length play “Life After” and a short by Steve Byron called “Bricks and Mortar”.  This was our first collaboration with Alphabetti Theatre as Coracle (though I’d been involved in various things before).  It was also the last play to perform in Alphabetti’s old venue on New Bridge Street before it was demolished!  We then had the pleasure of bringing the first play to Alphabetti’s new venue on St James Boulevard with “Overdue” by Arabella – which won Best At Fringe (North East Theatre Guide) and was nominated Best North East Play (British Theatre Guide) as well as five star reviews.

Tell us about your personal career highlight so far?

I was very proud of the work on “Overdue”, but probably appearing in the music video for the 2004 remix of “The Key The Secret” – which reached I think number 187 in the charts, probably no thanks to the video – was my finest hour / 3 minutes as an actor.

That music video is just BRILLIANT. Music videos used to be so good…..Anyhoo – how did your relationship with Alphabetti start?

I think I first directed a reading of a play at The Central which Ben Dickenson was organising.  He then introduced me to Alphabetti Theatre, and I can’t actually remember what the first thing I worked on there was.  They used to run an event called “Soup” which was a mix of short form pieces and I directed several short plays for them there, and some reaction plays which I really enjoyed.  Artistic Director Ali Pritchard also cast me in “Continuum” – which was a terrifying experience (I was playing a man who had a head injury and basically talked non-stop for 60 minutes in rambling nonsense, and we only had 6 days rehearsal.  The scene changes were only marked by the lights shifting between the bed and the two chairs but the lighting desk was faulty so it would regularly skip cues and we’d have to guess what scene we were in.  One night I skipped an entire scene with some fairly crucial plot information in it.  Spent the rest of the play wondering if any of it would make sense…

Pod at Alphabetti Theatre, Newcastle

There is something so magical about lo-fi theatre though – I bliddy love ‘Betti! What is the context of your relationship now?

Coracle is an associate company of Alphabetti and has been involved in some of their new writing programmes.  I also do freelance work for them producing trailers, audio description work and producing audio plays.

Why are theatres like Alphabetti important in the region? To audiences and to our sector?

Alphabetti is the only “Fringe” venue in Newcastle and has a unique place in the arts scene making art/theatre as accessible as possible – keeping tickets almost entirely ‘Pay What You Feel’.  Also the nature of the space and the way it’s staffed means people who love theatre and people who might never go to the theatre will all feel at home there.  And the unique talent and personality of the Artistic Director, Ali Pritchard are a big draw.

You’ve mentioned your audio play work….tell us about Playstream? Why should folx check them out?

Playstream is Coracle’s podcast which is home to our audio drama work.  A lot of our work is accompanied by ‘reaction pieces’ – responding to the themes of the production we are working on – and these have often taken the form of audio work or been recorded for audio after they’ve had a live production.  Our new production “Pod” is accompanied by some audio drama pieces, including plays written by Alison Carr (well known in the region for her writing) and Claire-Marie Perry.  Also worth a listen is Wendy Erringtons “Saluting Magpies” which is a longer – form drama which was originally due to be produced at Alphabetti but became an audio drama because of the pandemic.  Degna Stone’s “Probably” – is “a sharply written monologue on age, race and fear” (The Stage) and is another strong piece we recorded after she performed it alongside our 2019 production of “Down to Zero” by Lizi Patch.

Podcasts and audio plays had a huge upswell across the pandemic – what podcasts // audio plays were you listening to?

I’d been listening to “RadioLab” for a long while and it’s always excellent – a mixture of current affairs, science and tech but not in any way dry and as dull as I just made it sound!  I really enjoyed the drama serial “Homecoming”, and for pure stupidness, Bob Mortimers “Althletico Mince” should be listened to whenever normality takes over.

Now I’ve brought up the pandemic topic – I may as well ask, how has freelance life been for you across the pandemic?

Like everyone else most work took a nose-dive when the pandemic hit.  Arabella and I had just done the dress rehearsal for a play directed by Alex Elliott and then theatres were closed the next day – and we were about to start rehearsing for “Pod” (originally due in May 2020).  I managed to keep some work as a voice artist (audiobooks and other bits and pieces going) since audio recording was one of the few things still possible remotely.  I’m happy to be getting back into actual buildings with actual people.

Happy you’re still with us as a creative freelancer! Right, so tell me about Pod? What is it? What is it about?

“Pod” is a play about a family coming together for a weekend away in a camping Pod.  The mother, Iris, and two grown up daughters Rose and Daisy are there to celebrate the birthday of husband / dad Geoff, who is sadly no longer with them.  Along for the trip is Dan, married to Rose and he’d rather be training for his marathon than being in the middle of the sometimes tense family dynamics.  It’s about dealing with grief, about family secrets, about identity and forgiveness… but it’s also very funny! Daisy thinks she knows something about the family she hasn’t been told… she’s also got something to tell them.  But it turns out there are more secrets under the surface which come out over a few gins and some cake.

I love the character Daisy – from the snippets. She feels very familiar. You created and cast pod before the pandemic? What is the process like bringing something back after all this time?

It was difficult to have to put the production away, not knowing when or if it would ever see the light of day.  Happily we’ve now got a three week run coming up.  We’ve had some time with it to get back into the swing and polish it – it’s been great!

Kylie Ann Ford as Daisy at Alphabetti Theatre

And as we speak – it is open for a run at Alphabetti Theatre until 18th September!?

Amazingly we’re actually now programmed for longer than the original run would have been if the pandemic hadn’t hit – so we’ve got the luxury of three weeks.  There should also be online screenings available too at some point.

You directed the piece – for folx not familiar with theatre, what is the role of the director? What did you do as director on Pod?

Theatre is a very collaborative process between the actors and director (and designer and writer).  My role as the director is to give some kind of shape to the piece – in some ways literally: finding ways to make the play work on the stage, where people should be, how the scene works best and makes most sense.  Alphabetti is actually quite a challenging space to direct for with the audience on both sides so it’s important often to keep the action moving on stage so everyone can see.  As well as those more physical elements the director also is the outside eye on the piece in terms of pace, tone, where the highs and lows of a scene might work best… the ‘journey through the play’ and so on.  A lot of the ideas will come from the actors and the text, and I’m really there to fine tune things – I suppose a little like a conductor if you’ve ever watched an orchestra: just lifting bits here, changing the pace there and so on.  In many ways with a piece like this ideally the audience shouldn’t really notice the directing.  If the play flows well, and the story is told and people have a good time that’s my job done!

David Raynor as Dan and Pod writer Arabella Arnott as Rose in Pod at Alphabetti Theatre

Interestingly a lot of the themes of the play – really resonate with the pandemic so lots of folx will be able to relate – being stuck together with family, unexpected conversations, tested relationships, heightened emotions?

Yes, we wondered coming back to it if we’d need to add anything in or take anything out to make it work “post-pandemic” but everything seemed to fit surprisingly well.  Even the whole set up of a camping trip made sense in the scheme of things. We’ll be interested to hear how people relate to it.

What do you hope audiences take away from the show?

We hope people will find the play funny and moving – it’s about coming together through difficult times and finding common ground with wildly differing views… something people might be familiar with! 

Why should folx go and see it?

It’s a great night out, a fun and relevant play with a great cast of North East actors, at an excellent venue and it’s Pay What You Feel so what’s to lose!?

Kylie Ann Ford as Daisy and Judi Earl as Iris in Pod at Alphabetti Theatre

After all this time and working on it – how do you feel sharing it with audiences?

Very excited to share this with audiences after all this time.  The set looks amazing (we’ve built an actual camping pod!) and the performances will be top notch.

And what’s next for you? Next project?

What’s next is a complete unknown.  There are a few projects we’d started to look at back in 2020 which I’ll dust off and see if we want to produce them in 2022.  Meanwhile I’ll be carrying on the many-hyphenated jobs I do for other people’s plays and productions!

Where can audiences keep up to date with you? And your work?

More about coracle on www.coracleproductions.com.  Our podcast is on all podcast platforms and our website – search PlayStream wherever you normally listen.  And if you’re looking for a director, photographer, film maker or audio creator, head to www.mattjamie.co.uk

Anything else you want to tell me about?

Bedlington Terriers are excellent dogs. I recommend them.

Strong dog choice – good to know. As someone who has worked with Matt – absolutely thoroughly recommend him for everything he listed above.

I am really excited to see Pod and will be sharing what I thought on my Facebook page – so keep an eye out! Pod runs from 31st August – 18th September at Alphabetti Theatre; Pay What You Feel tickets available now via: www.alphabettitheatre.co.uk/pod

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