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I’LL BE IN MY TRAILER! – ‘T’ is for Taylor-Mills… ‘T’ is for Turbine

I’LL BE IN MY TRAILER! – ‘T’ is for Taylor-Mills… ‘T’ is for Turbine

Above: Paul Taylor-Mills. Photo: Mark Senior

Our regular series of coffee-break interviews

15 minutes with… Paul Taylor-Mills

Paul Taylor-Mills is Artistic Director of the Turbine Theatre, located in London on the banks of the River Thames in the shadow of the gigantic grade II listed Battersea Power Station.

Nestled in the arches underneath Grosvenor Bridge, the thirty-something from Kidderminster launched the new 200-seat theatre at the back end of 2019 (they do say it’s all about timing).

In partnership with theatre impresario, Bill Kenwright, Taylor-Mills came straight from Victoria where he used to run The Other Palace in Victoria for Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Sardines caught up with the hard-working ex-amateur theatre member just as he was preparing to launch a number of Turbine initiatives, as well as the West End’s relaunched cult hit, Heathers the Musical.

How’s life at Battersea Power Station?
“It’s absolutely bloody wonderful! I feel very lucky and rehearsing in a room again – with real people – feels very, very odd. There’s a weird mixture of absolute fear but, at the same time, exhilarating excitement because we can actually get on with our jobs and do what we used to do.”

Was launching the Turbine Theatre been one of your best ideas to date?
“I wouldn’t go that far, ha ha! I’ve run other buildings before, such as The Other Palace in Victoria, and I always think you’re better set up the second time aren’t you, mainly because you learn how to do things. You learn who are the right people to put around you, and anyway opening any new building is always a challenge. With the Turbine, it was very interesting because we opened with Torch Song which was a huge hit, followed by High Fidelity which was less so. Then, we were just getting into our stride and understanding what the work was we were trying to make, who the audience were – and all of those kinds of things. And then the world stopped. Now we are able to properly continue it is so exciting. We have been active for the last fifteen months doing things online and outside, but we have finally got the opportunity to pick up where we left off.”

‘MT Fest UK’ and ‘Rally Fest’’… one might wonder how you are able to do so much?
“To be honest I’ve had over a year to sit down and plan everything out, haven’t I. I’ve been beavering away and if the last year has taught me anything it’s the opportunity to read and really access what I want to be doing, the kind of work that I want to be making; all of those kind of things. That means making some of the decisions in terms of the content of Rally Fest and MT Fest etc. I’ve been able to use the time – which I don’t normally have – to work with writers on their material, to talk with actors about the kind of work they want to make. I’m a firm believer in looking at the more joyful things that have come out of the last year and, for me, that has certainly been one of them. It’s given me the time to plot rather than doing the usual chasing around and trying to make stuff happen.”

The Other Palace position alone would be enough to satisfy most people, but not you?
“It was great and you learn things from everything you do. But we all have one shot at life don’t we and you need to find that one thing that wakes you up in the morning, particularly in theatre. What is that one thing that really gets you excited, that lights that fire in your belly? For me, it’s a challenge, it’s knowing that you’ve got a show that you believe in – but how do you cast it and market it? If you put the right people around the table then you give yourself the best possible of succeeding.”

Bill Kenwright and Andrew Lloyd Webber have obviously seen YOUR spark of success?
“I hope so. And I’ve been very lucky to have met such influential mentors. I have a huge amount of respect for Andrew, as a creative, I mean he’s probably the most famous living composer in the world. I’ve learned a huge amount about the landscape of musical theatre in this country. Bill has also been there for many, many years and has an incredible level of loyalty to me and respect for me. It’s amazing to know that I can call on him whenever I need to. I feel he’s really played the long game with me, which is one of the things he’s done incredibly well. I wish that every show we’ve worked on had been as successful as Heathers for example. But this is theatre and it’s not really the way it works. When we’ve been working on a show that hasn’t been as jolly as it was with Heathers, Bill has really been there for me.”

Heathers and In The Heights are obviously two musicals you must be very proud of. Is spotting the right show a gift?
“Perhaps, but I think it’s quite subjective isn’t it. It’s like your opinion of a musical; I always compare it to a chocolate box at Christmas. There are so many kinds of musicals that other people love that, for me, just don’t resonate. Different people respond to different work, and talent works the same. I’m interested in developing new audiences and so I’m always thinking about what I could do to engage younger people for instance. In fifty years’ time we still want to have people going to the theatre.”

Have you been involved in the filming of In The Heights at all?
“I haven’t, although I have been sending them all the love and respect in the world. I’ve seen all of the trailers of course and they’ve really moved me. When I produced In the Heights the world was pre-Hamilton of course… I think it was probably just a distant idea back then. The world has changed since those days and, I have to say I’m still friendly with Lin [Manuel Miranda] who is an incredible man – without whom I don’t think I’d have the career that I have. When we did In The Heights I was a wee boy looking to find my fortune as it were. So I’m very grateful to him for giving me that opportunity because it put me on the map and have people take notice of me. It was an incredible show to have been a part of.

“Going back to Lin, he’s hugely inspiring to everyone who meets him and he’s got this unfaltering passion, and to see his progress to world domination, whether it be film or theatre, is amazing. He keeps his feet on the ground, he’s hugely humble and, speaking of social media, Lin uses those platforms for good. It’s a great opportunity to use a great example of the digital world we now find ourselves in – and that’s been very important to all of us over the last fifteen months.”

The ability to befriend the industry is a powerful talent to have in this age of social media, yes?
“Yes, and I think I’m probably part of that generation that you can market using social media. It was only really with In The Heights that I found out that social media could be used in that way, the same way that we might use print, newspaper adverts and billboards. So it’s quite important that people see me as somebody who’s quite open. I really have a love-hate relationship with social media, but there is definitely an intangible value to what it can bring. It can of course also be very noisy and, in many ways, really hurtful and hard. So I feel that to use social media in my work I have to maintain that healthy relationship with it. It needs to be used alongside your work though rather than like a personal diary. We’re in an age where everything is shared and I can speak very honestly about the value of it.

“With Heathers, for instance, there’s an online community that stays connected through social media and buys tickets to my shows simply because it’s been seen on social media.”

I read somewhere that you used to be heavily involved in amateur theatre before becoming professional?
“Yes! And these are some of my favourite memories. Actually, the reason I’m so proud to talk about it – as someone who was brought up by a single mum, so we never had any money – is that when you’re broke, the only access to the arts and theatre can be via amateur dramatics. For me, growing up was really hard at times and amateur dramatics was my absolute escape that, in many ways, taught me my craft and what it was like to walk into a rehearsal room. It ignited my passion for the theatre. And I think that other kids who are out there now, perhaps even in Kidderminster where I’m from, may also be in the position that without amateur theatre I certainly wouldn’t be where I am now.

“It’s so important that we never underestimate the power of amateur theatre and how meeting the right person at the right time could make something happen. The difference between living your dream or dreaming of living, experiences that amateur theatre can give you are so, so valuable.

“Mum could never have afforded for me to go to a private stage school, and am-dram allowed me to do that. For those kids also from a working class background and who don’t have a disposable income it is a lifeline.”

It’s apparent that your programming leans very much towards diversity and LGBTQ+?
“I do kind of think it’s what I’m kind of doing with the musicals work in lots of ways. Again, being a boy from a small town, if you’re gay and coming to terms with who you are as a person, it’s very easy to be frightened to face up to your own space and be yourself. I was in a very unique environment where my mum encouraged me to be me and I just think as I’ve got older I’ve had some incredible experiences thanks to the generosity of the people who I’ve met.

“I can actually give more opportunities to under-represented voices to bring them into the spotlight a bit more. I’m going to try and open conversations that, at times, are difficult. In doing Rally Fest at The Turbine in the spring, I’ve been giving work to trans artists, gay men, lesbian artists and every single conversation I have with these people, I’m learning, and I think it’s crucial to allow for these opportunities to happen so we can all learn. Then we can enter into a safe space where we’re allowed to ask questions, make mistakes… but with an underlying respect and sensitivity. I think I’m in a very privileged position where I’m able to do something like that; that’s really why I came up with the idea of Rally Fest. I think I have to do that.”