A talented Derry student is set to make his directorial debut with Alan Bennett’s play The History Boys at The Playhouse in Derry this month.
Gary Crossan (20) has been acting since childhood; through school musicals, the Millennium Forum Youth Theatre Group and after deciding to go to Queen’s University, Belfast to study Drama and English, QU Players.
However, the former St Columb’s College pupil has now turned his attention to directing, with the upcoming production of The History Boys at The Playhouse.
Set in a fictional Grammar School in 1980s Sheffield, the play follows a group of eight precocious boys, preparing for Oxbridge entrance exams under the guidance of their teachers Hector (Bill Waters), Mrs Lintott (Susan Keown) and the recent Oxford graduate Irwin (Luke O’ Reilly), each with very different teaching styles.
The transition from actor to director is a common occurrence, but rarely at such a young age. Gary explains: “I think you can’t go through your career just being an actor. You should try out all of the different aspects of the theatre, including behind the scenes work.”
Gary describes the directing experience as, “definitely different” adding: “I feel like I’ve taken every director I’ve worked with for granted as I’m only realising now just how much work goes into directing a play. There’s so much organisation and effort which you don’t fully understand the extent of until you actually direct a production yourself. You have to cover every basis in order to make sure the final performance is top notch.”
Gary was involved as an actor in a production of The History Boys two years ago with QU Players in Belfast while in his first year at university, fell in love with the play and he thinks it will be well received with audiences in Derry.
This will be the first of many productions from the Queen’s student. “The thing is, you can’t just do a play on its own - you have to set up a theatre company. You have to do it under a banner so, it’s not just one play. I’m setting up a theatre company called FaceDown BootsUp and I wanted to present this well known play as I think it would be a good show to have as a company’s debut production.”
Crossan, with help from Deputy Stage Manager, Bronagh McFeely contacted local schools and drama teachers and advertised auditions on The Playhouse website and a popular social networking site. He subsequently held open auditions in Derry’s Playhouse, seeing forty auditionees over a two day period.
Gary is a strong believer in natural ability. “I think everybody can act. People have different abilities but everybody can act; everybody can get involved with the theatre.” As as result there’s a wide range of experience in the cast, which Gary describes as “very committed and amazing.”
Before production began, there were difficulties in setting the production in motion - money being a major issue. However, a sponsorship from O2 helped pay for the set and the actors are not receiving a fee. Gary’s plan, though is to put the money made from this production into the theatre company and therefore be able to pay the actors in the future.
“O2 has got behind us because I want to set up a theatre company to do more in the future. I want to think big and do community projects and therefore help people. I’m trying to get more people involved with the arts. That’s the primary factor in what I’m trying to do - get as many people involved who have never had the chance to be involved before.” Another reason behind Gary creating FaceDown BootsUp is to try and keep quality home grown talent in Northern Ireland.
He explains: “I know I can’t provide the whole of Northern Ireland with the experience to become a professional actor, myself but I think that if someone wanted to stay at home for a while because they couldn’t afford to move to England for acting work, maybe they could work with me for a year, get paid for it and gain valuable experience as I have good contacts in Northern Ireland. It could potentially keep Northern Irish actors at home for as long as possible.”
The History Boys will be performed on August 12 and 13 at 8pm. Tickets are £8/£6 and are available at The Playhouse Theatre, Derry box office. Book early to avoid disappointment as it is a great show which will leave you rolling in the aisles - not one to be missed!