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We’re delighted to introduce you to Jennifer Lane Baker, our Birkbeck Trainee Director who will join Team Curve for the next year as part of her Theatre Directing (MFA) course to learn and develop her skills. Read on to find out how an inspirational teacher set Jennifer on the path to becoming a theatre director, her passion for musicals and what she hopes to learn from her experience at Curve.
Tell us a little about yourself
I grew up in Gloucestershire, where most of my experience in theatre came from school drama groups and local pantomimes. I first had a go at directing at school, and I continued directing as much as I could at university. I’m currently training on the MFA Theatre Directing programme at Birkbeck.
What made you want to gain experience at Curve?
I’m really passionate about musical theatre and about theatre that works through dance and music, and so much of Curve’s work explores that relationship between music, movement and storytelling in a really exciting way. Curve also has such fantastic links with so many groups across the community and it is going to be a real privilege seeing how this work happens.
You’ve joined in the middle of an unprecedented situation for theatres across the world, how have you found things so far?
It’s been bizarre starting to work at Curve whilst not even living in Leicester yet, but everyone I have spoken to has been so welcoming and accommodating. I’m very excited to be based here at such a crazy time – although it’s not what I would have expected, it’s wonderful to be in a place where we can discover what theatre can be now and how it can work.
Did you always want to be a director?
I directed my first play in my final year at school, where a really inspiring teacher supported me through it. I hated drama GCSE and had I not tried directing at that point in sixth form I don’t think I would be working in theatre now. At that point I thought I wanted to be an actor and so I trained briefly in musical theatre. It was such a fantastic experience and I gained so much respect for the incredible work that actors do, but it just wasn’t for me. It was at that point that I really worked out that I was going to be a director.
What’s the first production you remember seeing?
My family and I have always loved Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, so the first production I really remember was being taken to see the stage show in the West End. The most magical moment was watching the car fly on stage right in front of me! We also used to go and see a pantomime every year at Christmas, and one year I asked if I could be one of the girls on the stage. The following year I was in my local community pantomime, and the rest is history.
And what’s the best production you’ve ever seen?
This is such a difficult question, but one of the most inspiring productions I’ve seen was an immersive, promenade production of Jason Robert Brown’s Parade, by a company called Vivo d’Arte, that took place in an old factory. The musical itself is sublime, but this production really make me rethink my conceptions about what musical theatre can be.
What are you most excited about for this upcoming year with Curve?
I’m so excited to work with some amazing people and hopefully (Covid permitting…) make some incredible pieces of theatre! I’m ready to get back into rehearsals and start working with people again – it feels like such a long time since we’ve been able to do that and I’m such a people person.
What do you most hope to learn from your time with Curve?
I’m really hoping to find out about all the things I don’t know about how a theatre works! I’d love to learn more about other people’s jobs and about all the work that you don’t necessarily see on a stage. From an external point of view it’s really easy to just engage with the productions you see without understanding much about the organisation behind them,
What are your ambitions as a director?
Without sounding cheesy, I really just want to be able to make work that inspires me and inspires other people. I adore the feeling you get after seeing a really stunning production and if I can spend the rest of my life creating work like that I will be very happy. I love working alongside other people so I’m looking forward to meeting all the fantastic, talented, creative people I’ll hopefully get to work with in the future.
What does theatre mean to you?
To me, theatre is about telling stories and it is about togetherness. I recently was able to go back to a theatre for the first time since lockdown started and what really struck me was the electric atmosphere that was created between a group of people sharing the same experience. Being able to work together and share stories together is what makes theatre – whatever form that ends up taking.