Spotlight on…

October 29, 2010

Interval Productions was founded in 2009 by aspiring performer Tori Allen-Martin, who found herself frustrated with the gap between youth experience and professional acting. The company’s focus is performing up-and-coming musical theatre at intimate venues, and giving a platform to talented performers who are starting out. “I’d always been inspired by the Notes from New York series, which was all about performing contemporary musical theatre (the kind that doesn’t get enough exposure) in West End theatres,” she explains. “It made me realise it is possible, you just have to have the get-up-and-go and the balls to do it. You can’t be afraid, you have to take risks.” As well as working with friends and contemporaries, Tori’s networking skills meant the company soon forged links with better-known West Enders, and now produces slick, cutting-edge shows with the emphasis on quality vocals and quirky song choices.

I caught up with Tori to find out about Interval and their latest production, To Do.

Tori Allen-Martin - Joseph Shaffery Photography

So, when did you start producing and what gave you the idea?

The first show I produced was called Time of the Month back in 2008 at my local theatre, and that’s when I got the bug for it. I was just missing performing, so my friend [playwright] Sarah Henley and I just got off our arses and did something – and it went down well, people seemed to enjoy it!  Then it all spiralled from a course I did called Taking Notes in the summer of 2009. It wasn’t about turning you into a clone, it was about bringing out the best in you, and I think that’s its real point of difference and the reason I wish it was a full time course. You’re also learning from people who are doing it right now, and what’s more current or contemporary than that? Hearing Paul Spicer talk about having the crazy idea to just rent a West End theatre and do The Last Five Years made me realise that what he had done with Speckulation was what I was trying to do, just on a larger scale. So I officially set up what I’d already started as Interval. The first show we did under the name was Six in the City in June 2009. I wanted to bring new voices to the table and give people who work their arses off a platform to perform and to remember why they do this. It just so happened that composers such as Kerrigan & Lowdermilk, Kooman & Dimond, Ryan Scott Oliver and Pasek & Paul were also coming out of the woodwork. There was a new crop of contemporary writers just waiting to be showcased… so that’s what I did!

What has been your favourite show to work on so far and why?

Probably Open All Night: The Songs of Lance Horne because he’s such an inspiration, and basically a genius. Lance and I planned most of the show via Skype while he was in Las Vegas, and then we had a 2am Balans dinner the night before the gig and sorted the set list. The night itself was a lovely mix of Interval regulars and West End performers, and there was such a buzz; some of the Hair cast came down, Graham Norton was there. It was just this lovely, creative, theatrical party –  one of those nights you feel you just witnessed something really special. [Lance] just gave a ton of aspiring musical theatre performers who he’d never heard – he just trusted my judgement – the chance to sing this incredible material. My favourite show that I didn’t produce was ZIP: A Street Dance Musical (Camden Fringe) which I worked on this summer. It tackles some of the issues of gun and knife crime, and it was such a special production – we had people sobbing in the front row on opening night!

Which West End stars and producers inspire you?

Paul Spicer, without a shadow of a doubt. Before I knew him he inspired me, and now that he’s a dear, lovely friend of mine, he inspires me even more. Not just because of his immense talent and because of what he’s done for theatre in this country [as one half of Speckulation], but just because of the person he is. He really cares.  I’m very lucky to have him in my life, and grateful too. Another inspiration to me is Julie Atherton, who has also become a good friend. I’ve been her backing singer at the Delfont Room and at Band on the Wall in Manchester, and even when we’re just rehearsing in a kitchen, she never stops feeling it and bringing her all to a song. She could have me in tears in her front room or an arena the size of the O2, it’s just in her. We recorded for Lance Horne’s album the other day and she sat by my side like a beautiful little kitten the whole time I did my bit, helping me.  I love her work ethic, she really knows herself as an actress & singer – she knows what works, she knows what will translate to the audience, and she won’t take any shit. I will never forget the opportunities these two have given me and I want to keep giving any opportunities I can to other people, so that it never runs out. We need to support each other in this industry cos it can get really hard to keep your chin up sometimes.

The industry is a tough place to be. What advice would you give to young performers just starting out?

Keep at it. It is a struggle and you will get rejected. Also, if you do get a break, don’t buy into your own hype because it’s only for now. It’s a reality in this industry that your whole life will be highs and lows, but as long as the highs are worth it, you know it’s the right path for you. You also have to learn to stop taking it personally, because the second you walk into an audition they know if you’re right or not – you might’ve been the best singer or dancer there but if the male lead is already cast and he’s 5’5″ and you’re 6’2″ it doesn’t matter how well you can do it. Another thing is to get yourself out there. So many people moan because they’re not getting seen for auditions or they’re not ever getting picked, so find places you can perform, put on your own cabarets or shows – no-one is stopping you. How do people know you exist if they’re not seeing you perform? Make your own waves; it feels so much better when you know you’ve achieved it all on your own too. There are good people out there who will help you if they can but they’ve got to know about you; prove yourself and do courses like Taking Notes. Work with the people you admire and drop the cameras, stop seeing them as people you’re fans of and see them as people already working in the industry you want to be in. Be realistic, make it happen and never stop learning.

Tell me a bit about the Interval team – who helps you make things happen?

We have Ellie who is our resident musical director; she’s this incredible, loving, hippy earth mother who knows just the right thing to say when i’m freaking out the week before a gig. She’s mad talented and it’s nice to have a resident because she cares about Interval like it’s our little baby, just as I do. Because she is classically trained, whereas I work completely on my ear and what feels right to me, we’re a good combination. She can take my flighty nonsense and transform it into something that makes sense! Ellie created our website too, and I was overwhelmed when I saw it. We don’t do any of this for money, just for the love of it, and the time and dedication she puts into Interval is something I’m eternally grateful for. Then we have Ava; while I work more as the Creative Director, Ava lends me a huge helping hand on the production stuff. I’m really emotional and dramatic (it’s the performer in me), so Ava provides the diplomatic response and can take my five thousand emotions and neaten them up into two paragraphs that make sense. It’s a skill, and I’m so glad she’s by my side. Tom does our posters, runs our Twitter and films for us. He’s also really passionate and dedicated and wants to be involved because he cares, I think it’s important to have people like that around. He reminds us why we’re doing this by getting excited about it, and when we’re knee deep in ten thousand emails and songs, worrying that no-one will come, he’s still bubbly and light and looking forward to it. For me as well, Andy Coxon (one of our performers) is a backbone of Interval. A gig without him wouldn’t feel right to me now. He’s my security blanket. I love him to pieces, but we’re really naughty together and should probably be separated! Another one, Jessie-Leigh Edgar,  has been part of it since day one, and her and her family’s support means so much. All of our performers are a part of the Interval team as far as i’m concerned, I can’t name-check them all but they’re all special and wonderful.

What are your top three dream roles?

Mimi in RENT, Dionne, Sheila or Jeanie in Hair… a record deal and an arena tour (the pop girl hasn’t gone from me yet.) Dream big! I’m not the kind of person who’s right for many roles, and due to my race there are some roles I’ll never be able to play, period dramas for instance, I’m more of a specific. But if i’m right for something I might be perfect for it. That’s something I was scared of before Taking Notes – I just felt my chances were slim to none. Now I’m prepared to hold out for the right thing, even if it means I work less. When I signed with my new agent (VSA) in July this year, one of the things they picked out about me was what they called my ‘brave choices’ and the fact that I didn’t always ‘do the obvious’, so I think it was a decision worth making.

Tell me about the concept behind To Do.

It’s not got as much of a theme as the others, which all had a kind of story. This show is just about giving amazing talents the opportunity to sing the kind of stuff they want to and to remind people that this stuff is still being written. I worked with Julie [Atherton] and Ashleigh Gray recently, when we were backing singers for Lynda Carter – it was one of the funniest weeks of my life and I really wanted to work with them again. Then I saw Jason Robert Brown and Anika Noni Rose at the Garrick the following week, and I couldn’t have been more proud of the Speckulation team, it was just beautiful. So I thought right, that’s it – back to basics, time to get singing what we want to again. It was just a couple of weeks of inspiration from all directions, so I kind of went in head first and  booked this thing, and it’s kind of come together on its own. What’s different this time is our Ensembelles, a featured group of young performers choreographed by Rachel Kay (who I met doing ZIP). They’re all phenomenal talents in their own right, and when you put them together – wow. I don’t think people will expect it, and I’m really proud of them; they sound insane.

What was the first musical you saw?

My family have taken me to see things all my life from ballets to operas to musicals, I remember seeing a musical in New York (where I was born), when I was about three, but I can’t remember what it was called. I saw Joseph, I remember that – with Philip Schofield. That ‘Close Every Door’ song wouldn’t leave my head. The first show I remember seeing and being inspired by was RENT. By far. I saw it five times, twice on Broadway. That’s when I thought, ‘that’s what I want.’

What do you think is the best show in the West End right now?

Oh God. I do love Avenue Q (not just because Paul’s in it!) because it’s just a little bit different and it’s got some depth. But that’s closing. To be honest, I like things that do short stints – for instance Parade at the Donmar, which was the most stunning thing I’d seen for ages. Productions like that excite me more, and the talent usually floors me. I think when it comes to large West End shows we need a shake up; I’m bored of every film ever written being turned into a musical. I’d go and see a fringe show any day over a big West End one. I saw Idina in Wicked, I have friends in Sister Act and We Will Rock You and I enjoy them, and people like Patina Miller and Mazz Murray knock me off my feet. But personally, I learn more from smaller-scale productions. I generally enjoy anything I see at the Donmar, and Jason Robert Brown‘s gig in September was sensational… that’s the stuff that floats my boat.

Find out more about Interval Productions here, and catch Julie Atherton, Ashleigh Gray and Stephanie Fearon in To Do at Freedom bar on Sunday 7th November.


2 Responses to “Spotlight on…”

  1. Abby Says:

    Very interesting interview, great to hear what Tori and Interval productions are up to. Some great songs on Interval’s website =)

  2. Kirsten McGregor Says:

    What an inspiring interview and story. This is the kind of thing i have always been interested and to read that someone is finding a way to do it is great! Admire you greatly Tori!

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