A Light Grilling…. Shôn Dale-Jones

How did you end up making theatre? Did you grow up in an arty household?
My Dad was very funny and a real storyteller but never got involved in theatre. He had five children and ran a green grocery business. My Mother also had five children and didn’t do any acting or anything like that - but she loved playing with us as children

Give us an overview of your career so far.
Slow, steady, long burn…
When we started Hoipolloi in 1993 there was no funding for independent small-scale theatre. We ran the company, touring all the time, for the first seven years without any funding whatsoever (apart from £300 for marketing - once). Then, in 2000 we started being well-funded before deciding to let go of our funding in 2013/14. We wanted more flexibility. Those 12 years saw my career develop really well - lots of my own writing, performing all over the world - including Sydney Opera House, Barbican, New York, Berlin, Vancouver, Bogota….The last 2 years I’ve been writing a TV sitcom with Jon Plowman at BBC, made a new show (The Duke) and mixing things up….

Did you have an encounter with a ‘life changing’ work of art that made you see how things could be done differently?
Hmmmm…70 Hill Lane by Improbable Theatre was eye-opening - blending mundane reality with big imagination….I get most of my enjoyment and stimulation from films….

What are your top three favourite works of art of all time?
Festen is a cracking film. Simon McBurney’s The Encounter was great. Ken Loach is just the best.

How did you end up in Cambridge?
We worked with a tour-booking agent who was based here and she suggested moving to the city. We had a two year old daughter at the time and realised what a great place it was to bring her up.
Your company Hoipolloi decided to not re-apply for Arts Council National Portfolio Organisation (NPO) status last time around.

What was behind that decision and how are things different now?
As I said above - we wanted more flexibility. It proved too complicated to mix making theatre with developing TV and film projects. Things are now more uncertain but we are more open to see broader opportunities … Our relationship with ACE continues however and we are very lucky because the people we work with at ACE are very understanding of what we’re trying to achieve. It’s a very good, productive conversation.

What are you working on at the moment?
A new live solo show called Me and Robin Hood and the TV sitcom Off the Map with Hugh Hughes.

How do you feel about the UK voting to leave the EU? Will it have an impact on you personally or professionally?
I was really sad. I understand that there are people living in the UK who are living lives of poverty and simply voted for ‘change’. I’ve enjoyed the freedom that comes with being in the EU. I trained in Paris. I married a beautiful Swiss woman. We have a daughter, Josie, who is now twenty three - I want her to have the same benefits we had - having Europe open to us for business and travel…I love the idea of Europe. I love the idea of solidarity. I love the peaceful intention of the Union. It’s hard to know what impact it will make. I’m part of a group exploring the idea of creating a United European Union of Artists as a positive response to the vote. 

Activism or escapism?
Activism…I have to admit it’s becoming the only way I can see living these days - I’d say I’m a humanitarian looking for the most peaceful way through, increasing empathy and spreading love…

How do you go about creating a new show? Do you have a typical working process?
It changes all the time. Recently I sit down a write more and more. For me, it’s all about story. Crafting a good story is hard work…It takes time and discipline…I find ways of making my writing practical…I will move from the desk to the rehearsal room seamlessly in my small studio.
I’ve made shows through improvisation - devising with a group of actors, collaborating. It’s invigorating…

What’s been the highlight of your career so far?
I remember being in Sydney, walking through the Botanical Gardens towards the Harbour to play to a full house at the Sydney Opera House and having a smashing feeling

What’s the worst mistake you’ve made and what did you learn from it?
Being bullied into writing a script for a show that I wanted to devise with a group of actors. The script was useless and rather than throwing it away, we tried to make it work. The bullying was from a ‘big’ theatre who were determined that a script was necessary. I learnt to articulate the process I use to make work each time I enter a project and only work with people who are prepared to offer me that freedom and support…

If you didn’t do what you do now, what else would you be doing?
I love photography and documentary film-making. Perhaps I’d try that.

What advice would you give an emerging theatre maker?
Go for it. Have fun.
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Shôn Dale-Jones has worked as a producer, director, performer and writer with the BBC, Barbican, National Theatre Wales and Sydney Opera House. Based in Cambridge, he has presented his work all over the UK, Europe, USA, Canada and Australia. He is best known as an award-winning writer/performer with his comic creation, Hugh Hughes and his hit shows Floating, Story of a Rabbit, 360, Stories from an Invisible Town and Things I Forgot I Remembered. Winner of Best Scripted Comedy Drama at the BBC Radio Awards, he is cur-rently developing a TV sitcom with Jon Plowman/BBC. His latest show The Duke was awarded a Fringe First at the 2016 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and comes to Cambridge Junction in October.