Interview with Felix Cross, Theatre Director, Nitro Black Musical Theatre

How did you prepare for the EMCCAN Nottingham Carnival Queen Show 2013?
We had a casting session at the New Art Exchange, Nottingham and at the Hyson Green Youth Club as well as a few drama workshops with the young people of Nottingham. I am really trying to show the young people the types of performance we will be doing in the full rehearsals. We had another session on the 18th May 2013 and then started full time rehearsals on the 26th May. We rehearsed Monday through to Friday then the show was at 7pm on Saturday 1st June 2013 at The Playhouse Nottingham. I wrote to the show and engaged with sponsors and contributors to formulate ideas.

How many actors, dancers, and performers were in the show?
We probably had about forty talented young people with ages ranging from 16-25. There were a couple of people a bit younger than that though who just could not be left out. The performers were very good and great kids. We did some improvisation work and it was enlightening for me to see their energy and performance skills.

How did you explore the idea of carnival through theatre?
The title for the show is Rainbirds and Drumbeats. The rainbird represented the idea of the flamboyance, the style of costumes and sheer beauty of the carnival; whereas the drumbeats represented the slightly edgier side and historical context of the carnival. The carnival was not always a colourful celebration; it has a serious side to it. It has a side to it that is about claiming the streets. It has a side that reflects the roots of it coming out of slavery and so on. Whilst most of the young people might have had a limited understanding of all that, we played around with all of this, the history of carnival, current carnivals and carnivals in the Caribbean.

Would you class the production as a musical or more of a play?
It was not a play as such and if you think of musical you think of a story – it wasn’t going to be that either. There were performers who talked directly to the audience and there were calysponians, rap artists, steel pan artists, dancers and drummers.

Tell me about your theatre company Nitro.
Nitro is a small company as there are only four of us. I am the artistic director, we have a finance director, a producer and a digital marketing manager. We employ actors and performers for each individual production and we are a touring company. We came to Nottingham nearly ten years ago to make a show called Slam Dunk at the Nottingham Playhouse – a hiphop, basketball show set in the world of basketball and street ball.

How did your career begin?
I have always been a musician. I was a guitarist, became a song writer then I moved from song writing into stand-up comedy for a few years. Then somebody saw me performing and asked me if I wanted to be in a comedy play. I said yes, so I did a bit of acting- not much though as I was a terrible actor! Then in 1985, somebody said do I want to write some songs for a new musical so I did but I also ended up writing the script. The show was well received in London and I have been writing musicals and working in theatres ever since.

Where did you study to work in theatre?
I didn’t study through formal education; I picked things up as I went along. When you start working in something you enjoy, you pick up thing so quickly because your mind is open to it.

Who inspires you?
All sorts of people. Usually it’s not big figure heads like Nelson Mandela, Bob Marley etc. As a writer, I have an idea for a subject matter. For example, I am working on four different shows at the moment. One of them is a very tragic piece called Requiem for a Witch Child. It is about children who are abused because people believe they are possessed by evil spirits. Artists are not writing about this enough. What inspires me often are TV programmes and reading articles. When I see brilliant artists, plays and musicians this inspires me to write or produce even more.

Congratulations on receiving your MBE. Tell us about this.
I usually forget about this! It was last June in 2012, on the Queens’ birthday. Anybody can nominate anybody.

Are you happy with it?
Of course I am happy – in a sense. It was quite difficult though as I don’t really agree with it. However, when the letter arrived, it said, ‘We would like to offer you this award but first we would like to know if you will accept it’. So you have to tick a box to say if you would accept it. I kept the letter in my draw for about two weeks as I didn’t know what to do. Then I thought I would accept it as my mother would love it and also because I realised that the people I actually worked with nominated me and I was delighted that they did that for me. The fact that the award is called an MBE and is seen to represent the British Empire, that’s unfortunate. However, they had no other way of nominating me for an award. So, whilst that medal is the only one, I’ll take it! I had a nice day at Buckingham Palace too.

No! We had fizzy water or apple juice. We could help ourselves to this!

Contact: NITRO Black Musical Theatre Email: Tel: +44 (0)20 7609 1331
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