For the past 12 years, Paul Crewes has called Kneehigh Theatre in Cornwall, England, home while working on developing relationships with other companies and building a touring circuit in the U.S., starting with the company’s Brief Encounter. During that time he was introduced to the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, forming a strong relationship not only professionally but personally. And now he joins the company as its latest artistic director.
What initially attracted you to the Wallis?
We were in Berkeley five years ago and I drove down to L.A. to meet with the people here at the Wallis about bringing Brief Encounter. At that time, all this was being built. It was a hole in the ground where I could just about see the shapes of the auditorium and it struck me as just an unexpectedly amazing place in this sort of setting. After that I just continued the relationship with the people here, and they asked me to be on the search committee for [an] artistic director. In that process, it became interesting to me.
You are the first official artistic director of the Wallis?
Yes. The structure had been different before. Rachel Fine and myself are jointly running the organization as managing director and artistic director. The first two or three years were more of trial and error years. While this is the fourth season for the Wallis as a whole, it’s the first for me and I feel the first for the organization in the form its in now.
Have there been any challenges being the first?
Well, on one level it’s good because you’re not trying to do something different. And you have opportunities here with such a young organization. To me, that’s exciting. I think the challenges are that you have no foundation to build on. You’re starting from scratch and we’re at a stage where we have to earn the respect of our audience and fan base.
Will the Wallis both produce and host productions?
We’re in the process of figuring that all out. This is part of why I was brought in. I have always been keen to produce work as well as present work. My goal is to put a program together that is opening up to new audiences as well as continuing to support our current audience base. We’re a “center for the performing arts” and I think that’s important to remember. We’re defining that now in a sense by saying music, theatre, and dance are the three main focuses. Theatre we can both produce and present. Dance we can bring in L.A.-based companies as well as international artists. With music we want to look at all genres that we can engage our audiences with. One of the main things I feel we should be doing is supporting artists in L.A. because there are a phenomenal amount of artists here.
Are there things you can do at the Wallis that you were unable to do at Kneehigh?
They’re worlds apart to be honest. With Kneehigh you’re focused on the work and on the creation of the piece. We were working project by project. Coming here, to a performing arts center, you’re working with a broader variety of artists and genres. Instead of focusing on creating one piece over a few months, I am able to enjoy meeting and working with a much larger range of people and artistic disciplines.
946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips, just opened. How did this piece come about?
This was the last show I helped curate with Kneehigh. Michael Morpurgo (War Horse), the author, has been a fan of Kneehigh for some time and came to us to talk about adapting one of his novels. Emma [Rice] and he talked and they decided to adapt the novel together since he’d never adapted one of his own pieces for the stage. Emma was really the one who decided on Adolphus Tips. Her mother had been reading the story to her grandchildren and it just clicked. So they moved forward with the adapting.
Looking toward the future of the Wallis, where do you see it headed down the road?
More of the same I hope. Keeping and developing relationships with artists and other institutions. Working with Susan Feldman at St. Ann’s on certain projects will always make sense to me. Definitely continuing that relationship. Building our audiences is also a top priority. Building a diverse and accessible program of work that appeals to a broader audience. Making a place for everybody. And having some fun at the same time.
Anything special on your wish list here for the Wallis?
I could do with a rehearsal room. We don’t have one of those yet.