Chelsey Gillard

29 April 2020

“Hello, I’m Chelsey. I grew up in Bridgend in South Wales a town without a theatre. Normally I split my time between Cardiff and Scarborough. It’s a beautiful, scenic journey between South Wales and North Yorkshire – I even have a favourite service station. Right now I’m in lockdown in Cardiff in a one bed flat I share with my partner, a Rottweiler, 40 goldfish and approximately 20,000 honey bees.

I’m a theatre director. At the moment I am the Associate Director at Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, as well as running PowderHouse with Jac Ifan Moore and being a creative associate with Chippy Lane Productions Ltd..

I’m also an occasional (and somewhat shy) Burlesque performer and aspiring knitter.

I have always had amazing women role models in my professional life who have absolutely championed me. Amazing people working in Wales like Kate Wasserberg, Bizzy Day, Rachel O’Riordan, Tamara Harvey and Rebecca Hammond have given me a lot of help throughout my career so far. Sometimes that was in the form of jobs and sometimes it was really candid advice. Now I really believe in that form of unofficial mentorship and try to carry that through in my own practice. Being a woman in this industry is hard, there are still entrenched biases against us, but the world is slowly changing and women voices are being heard – we just need to make sure we keep that door wide open and extend the invitation to those who are still silenced.

For me theatre helps us make sense of the world around us, it can help us have a ‘practice run’ at the tricky moments in life to develop empathy, resilience and shared stories. Which is more important than ever right now.
Most of my freelance work has been in new writing which I love, it’s a really joyous feeling to be the first director to work on a play and I often get to help the writers redraft the work before it reaches the rehearsal room. I think about it as being the midwife or the doula helping the play emerge.
I set up PowderHouse with Jac Ifan Moore because all our mutual friends kept telling us we should work together, even though we had never met. We have a shared aesthetic style and a love for work that is created in non-traditional ways; that may be through devising, creating a collage of existing texts or structured improvisation. We also have a shared interest in the languages, politics and stories of Wales and want to really explore under the skin of our nation and how it connects to the rest of the world.

I didn’t know that being a theatre director was a real job, let alone one that I could actually do, until I was about 23. My original plan in life was much more sensible but I constantly found myself on the stage. Now this is a funny little anecdote but I think it speaks to the real lack of cultural aspiration where and when I grew up. I am so thankful for the experiences I had with Bridgend Youth Theatre, the Bridgend Youth Critics (now Get the Chance, run by the ever generous Guy O’Donnell) and for the inspiring English teachers at my school. They all gave me experiences beyond my little world that finally led me to a degree in English and Drama where I found my real passion. I get really angry when I think about all the kids from working class families who don’t know that there’s a whole world of arts and cultural jobs that they would be really ace at. And even if they do already know it feels so much more realistic to follow a career that is stable and will pay the bills. The naïve optimist in me is hoping that when we begin making theatre again we will be forced to rethink our structures, particularly around pay and gatekeeping.

I absolutely love the connections with amazing, inspiring people I have made through doing my job. I get to meet so many disgustingly talented people and they inspire me to pull my socks up and be as amazing as I can. That’s everyone from actors, other directors, stage managers (the true heroes of theatre), the plethora of designers and technicians who make everything magical and most importantly the audiences. I think it’s a real privilege to be able to share an experience with an audience that may change their lives in profound or small ways, having a platform to encourage people to see the world a little differently is an incredibly empowering feeling.

As PowderHouse we are currently doing a research and development project that we have had to move online, which is proving an exciting challenge. We also have a few exciting projects coming up, sadly I can’t say too much right now but keep your eyes peeled for more anarchic sharings from us. Chippy Lane have also just released a podcast episode showcasing some short pieces written and performed by the current RWCMD 3rd years, that I was lucky enough to work on. As soon as we are allowed outside for more than an hour I’ll be heading back up North to re-join the team at The Stephen Joseph Theatre where we will be welcoming our wonderful community back into the building to share more stories.”

Find Chelsey here:
Chelsey Gillard
Photo credit: Rhys Denton

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