Rupert Simonian: Lost Tribe Theatre/Film / by Declan Maloney Drummond

Why did you choose 'Jonah and Otto' as the first Lost Tribe production?

When we set up Lost Tribe Theatre, it was with the deliberate aim of bringing underproduced British works to New York and underproduced American works to London. There are several playwrights adored in their own country who have never quite managed to make that journey across the Atlantic for whatever reason, and chief among them for us was Robert Holman. When we started on this, we found out that Robert Holman had never had any of his works produced in New York. We found that ridiculous, but at the same time got quite excited that we could be the ones to give New York this great gift of presenting a Robert Holman play for the first time. We couldn’t pass that opportunity up. I had worked on a Holman piece before, back in 2010 when I was in A Thousand Stars Explode in the Sky, written in collaboration with Simon Stephens and David Eldridge. On opening night, Robert gave me an inscribed copy of Jonah and Otto as a gift. So maybe there was a little element of fate behind us doing the play!


What's been the biggest challenge bringing it to the stage?

To be entirely honest, the biggest challenge is money. Theatre is expensive, and for a new company it can be difficult sourcing the capital you need to put on a decent production. We certainly didn’t want to cut corners or not do this fantastic play justice. American theatre doesn’t have quite the same system of subsidies set up that the UK does, which makes innovation and risk taking difficult. I’ve always felt that leads to theatre becoming very ‘safe’ and samey. This aside however, we’ve actually been really lucky in putting together Jonah and Otto. We’ve had a fantastic team, who have allowed us to avoid some of the panic and crises you might expect putting together a production!


You've worked internationally. How different is it doing a play in New York to London?

Most of the differences come in the practical side of affairs rather than the artistic. It is little things like it being more of a challenge to get reviewers in over here. It seems like in London all the papers will go and see everything – they may slate your production, but at least they’ll see it! Over here it’s harder to get them in the room. Unions certainly have a lot more sway in New York than London, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but can throw up some stumbling blocks you might not have expected. I’d say more than anything, a real key difference is that in London the focus is very much on the words of the piece, while in New York it seems that focus falls upon the actors. Why this is, I’m not sure, but it changes the atmosphere of the rehearsal room and I think is possibly a reason why we stand out here, as our production is based strongly around reverence of the writer.


You've done a lot of new writing, including world premieres with the likes of Simon Stephens. Do you prefer to do new or recent work as opposed to classics?

That’s a great question. I think I’ve always preferred to do contemporary work, as I just feel more intimately connected to it, which has always been an important thing for me as an actor. The great thing about performing new writing specifically is that you become part of the creation and part of the history of the play in a way that you don’t with works that have previously been produced. There is a historic element to being in a world premiere. You don’t get that with other works.


What are your future plans for your career and for Lost Tribe?

Well, world domination for a start. But that’s a given. For my career, in the immediate future I am doing a lot of auditions and transitioning back into being an actor, rather than an actor-producer (for now at least). As for Lost Tribe, we are currently in discussions about what we’re doing next, and where we’re going to do it. Whether we produce another British play in New York, or head back to London with an American work is up for debate. We have a lot of ideas of plays we want to do, and it’s exciting being at this stage where everything is a possibility. In the meantime, we will give some focus to Lost Tribe’s film branch, which is currently developing a very exciting project based on a short film that I starred in a couple of years ago. I can’t give too much away in terms of details just yet, but follow us on social media and sign up to our newsletter and you’ll find out all about it just as soon as I can!