Interview with Fiona Buffini

Nottingham Playhouse appointed Fiona Buffini as an Associate Director in summer 2013. Here we find out a bit more about her and the work she is leading through our participation department and find out how she feels about directing her first main stage show for Nottingham Playhouse, Time and the Conways.

About Fiona

As a freelance director, Fiona has worked at the Royal Shakespeare Company, National Theatre and in the West End. Fiona also has extensive experience of working with communities in the UK and abroad. Projects include working with Holloway Prison, Clean Break Theatre Company and Orkney Youth Theatre. Through VSO, Fiona had the opportunity to work in Rwanda where she lived and worked with members of the Batwa, Hutu and Tutsi communities devising a drama that challenged racial stereotypes.

As well as her directing and community work, she is an experienced teacher, having worked with emerging artists at all the main UK drama schools. Most recently, she designed and ran a course for young directors at The University of Manchester.

On joining the team at Nottingham Playhouse, Fiona commented “The Playhouse has a well-earned reputation for producing work of the highest quality, and as a freelance artistic director, I am very happy to be making my home in a centre of excellence.”

“Nottingham Playhouse has a real commitment to the community it serves and I am delighted to have been given the opportunity to bring this work firmly into focus and to further enhancing its reputation for producing work not just FOR the people it serves, but WITH the people it serves.”

Mass Bolero

Fiona’s first big project for the Playhouse is directing Mass Bolero, a not-for-profit, mass participation event which is being choreographed by Jeanefer Jean-Charles and filmed and edited by the Confetti Media Group for broadcast on Notts TV.

Mass Bolero is designed as a tribute by the people of Nottingham to Torvill and Dean in celebration of the 30th anniversary of their Olympic win in Sarajevo and as a way to unite many different groups of people across the city and county.

Fiona explains the project in a nut shell: “The project involves the production of a short film to the soundtrack of Bolero, in which groups and individuals from all over the city and county recreate sequences from Torvill and Dean’s Bolero routine in their own environment (rather than on the ice). So, for example, the Playhouse staff performed their segment on the main stage at the theatre.”

On Tuesday 8 April, the general public had the opportunity to take part as the final dance move was filmed on Nottingham’s Market Square. Participants were also surprised on the day by an appearance by Torvill and Dean themselves.

When Fiona first shared the idea for Mass Bolero with Torvill and Dean they were very touched by the idea that so many people would be prepared to take part in a celebration of their Olympic victory. Once the project was confirmed by chance the filming schedule for Mass Bolero coincided with their Dancing on Ice tour dates in Nottingham and they generously agreed to make time for a short cameo appearance in the film.

Filming has now concluded and Fiona will be hitting the editing room this week to pull together all the different segments of the world-famous Bolero ice dance routine. The Mass Bolero film will launch neat14, (Nottingham European Arts & Theatre Festival) on May 23rd and will be featured on Notts TV. All participants have been invited to the premiere at Nottingham Playhouse.

Q&A with Fiona

Tell us about the work of the participation department.

When people think about the theatre traditionally they think about something being given to them; sitting in the dark and watching the show. There is a clear divide between the audience and the people making theatre. Participation is about there being no divide; the audience playing a part in the making of theatre. As a department we offer people from all walks of life the opportunity to not just see how theatre is made but to make it themselves – whether that be as directors, actors or in a role behind the scenes.

Why should people get involved with the work of the participation department?

On the whole theatre is not something you can do yourself. We depend on each other for everything. Getting involved with theatre at an early age helps improve social skills as it encourages an individual to collaborate, negotiate and learn how to give constructive feedback to peers. I’ve seen first-hand how life enhancing being involved in a participation project can be. By engaging imaginations and encouraging participants to step into another person’s shoes we are, in our own small way, helping to challenge prejudice, and widen horizons. Often we work to give a voice to those who otherwise might not have a voice in the community.

Who do you work with?

We try and engage with all sorts of different groups, particularly those that think it might not be for them. Our job is to not sit in this building – we’re here to go out and say to people: what can we offer you in your community? That way we can create opportunities that people truly would like to get involved in.

Have there been any major changes in the participation department since you joined?

The biggest change has been a name change. Before I joined the organisation we were an Education Department but we are now known as the Participation Department. To date our work has been predominantly with young people and I am interested to see what we can do with adults of all ages.

Time and the Conways is the first main stage show you are directing for Nottingham Playhouse and it kicks-off the autumn season. What can you tell us about it?

Time and the Conways was written by J. B. Priestley, who many will know from his play An Inspector Calls. It was written in 1937 and is based around the Conway family in two time periods: 1919 and 1937. The two time periods are significant as our autumn season is based on the theme of time and memory and has been designed to complement the many events nationwide marking the anniversary of the First World War and 75 years since the outbreak of the Second World War.

I’m very excited to bring it to the Playhouse stage as it’s a brutal piece of writing and I can’t wait to get my hands on it and reveal its inner beauty, ugliness and guts. We’ve got a big cast and I know they will relish the challenge of performing a play that examines the nature of time.

At the end of the play, I hope it will leave people to reflect on their own lives and think more about the forces that shape our futures.

Tell us about the children’s Christmas show you have programmed this year?

This year’s show is called WIGGLEGIGGLE and is a co-production with Replay Theatre Company who are based in Northern Ireland. We are specifically targeting those aged 3-5 and plan to perform the show at nurseries, schools and Sure Start centre as well as here at Nottingham Playhouse.

What’s really exciting about WIGGLEGIGGLE is that it is being developed with people from that age group. At the moment Anna Newell is in a rehearsal room developing the show. The idea of the show is to excite and intrigue children with what language can do – and what they can do with language. As well as being inspired by the conversations with children from that age group, we will also be drawing on the substantial research around the power of music and rhythm to develop listening skills and other key speech and language development skills.

Being able to articulate yourself is so important and we hope that WIGGLEGIGGLE will not only entertain as a Christmas show should, but help play a part in a child’s development in this area.

You can see a show produced by Replay Theatre Company at neat14. This will give you a good idea of what to expect from WIGGLEGIGGLE. A Boy and His Box aims to do with drawing what WIGGLEGIGGLE hopes to achieve with language.

If you want to know more about the work of the Participation department or are scratching your head wanting to know how you can get involved with the Playhouse, contact Rachel Bates on 0115 873 6234.

Photo by Trevor Bartlet. Fiona directing a segment of Mass Bolero.