He started his tenure at the Theatre Royal last summer on a mission to take theatre into the community and overcame the challenges of the pandemic to do just that with a successful outdoor production of A Christmas Carol. We catch up with Owen Calvert-Lyons and find out what makes him tick.
Describe yourself in one sentence.
A playwright once described me as ‘a bringer of smiles’ and I quite like that.
What drew you to your career?
As a child, I loved being immersed in stories, really imagining I was a part of the adventure.
Who/what inspired you?
My parents. They took me to the Midlands Arts Centre to see puppet shows and read me books and stories. They really understood the power of storytelling.
What is the favourite part of your work and why?
I love working with actors in the rehearsal room. Finding creative ways of expressing complex ideas generates a special kind of electricity.
What is the least favourite part of your work and why?
Scheduling. I sometimes spend so much of my day staring at a calendar that I don’t know what day it is.
If you weren’t doing what you are now, what else would you have liked to do?
I love working with theatre designers, they are extraordinarily skilled people. I would love to be able to do what they do, to transform an idea into a picture which works in three dimensions.
What do you feel is your greatest achievement?
Managing to stage A Christmas Carol in the midst of a pandemic is definitely up there with my biggest achievements so far.
What has been your biggest challenge so far?
It is always the most challenging projects which I am drawn to. I have made productions in a multi-storey car park, in an urban wheat field and in a Moghul palace. But my biggest challenge was probably Across The Dark Water which took place inside Portchester Castle. We had to haul the entire set (including 500 litres of water) up three flights of stairs in the pitch black as there was no electricity on site.
How do you gauge success?
Audience responses are really important to me. They are the people we stage the plays for. There is nothing more uplifting than reading a letter from an audience member who has had such a meaningful experience that they have wanted to get in touch to share it.
What’s next for you?
I’m about to start making Around the World in Eighty Days as the show which will reopen Theatre Royal this spring. It’s a brilliantly funny version with a cast of just three actors playing all the parts.
What do you do in your free time?
I love to cook. The various lockdowns of the past year have given me plenty of time to try out new recipes.
Are you a fan of any sports team?
Being from Birmingham, I’m an Aston Villa fan, which has been a fairly painful experience in recent years, but we are enjoying a purple patch right now.
If you could have lunch with one famous person who would it be?
Barack Obama. I don’t think we have seen a world leader like him before, but I hope that we will again.
What is at the top of your bucket list?
I would love to travel to Japan. I had tickets to the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo but obviously that was cancelled. I hope I can get there in the not too distant future.
2020 was a very different year, and it’s still ongoing in 2021, what have been the positives and negatives for you?
It has been an extraordinary year for me. I started a new job, moved to Suffolk and staged a major production, all in the space of six months. It has been far from plain sailing, but given the awful year so many other people have experienced, I feel very lucky.
And one for fun: If you were a fruit, what would you be and why?
A raspberry – they are the perfect combination of sweet and sour.