Jude Kelly: Why I still love 'The Wizard of Oz'

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The Independent Culture

Born in Liverpool in 1954, Jude Kelly has spent the past 13 years forging the reputation of the West Yorkshire Playhouse, but is stepping down as artistic director this year. She's a member of the Independent Television Commission, is a regular spokesperson for the arts and in 1997 was awarded the OBE for her services to the theatre.

Many major British theatres are changing their leaders this year. Does it point to some kind of sea change in UK theatre?

I think it is coincidence. The people who are leaving have a lot of drive and energy, otherwise they wouldn't have achieved what they have. Also, inevitably, we're all seeking out new challenges. If you have created something from scratch, like West Yorkshire Playhouse, innovation is part of the credo. I think all creative people should put themselves into new risk situations, rather than becoming institutions themselves.

You are developing an arts studio, writing a book and plan to write two screenplays after you leave the Playhouse. No plans to take it easy then?

One of the great things about the arts are their limitless possibilities. I want to take some ideas that I have had for a number of years and move them forward. I am not giving up theatre but I'm extending into other areas too. The space I am developing is called METAL.

You are currently directing The Wizard of Oz. Is that a childhood favourite of yours?

I really fell in love with it when I was a teenager. I grew up on High Noon, The Wizard of Oz and Singin' in the Rain (all at Christmas) and they have become embedded in my emotions, but I didn't realise this until I was older.

What's been your proudest moment at WYP?

I still think directing Nigeria's great playwright Wole Soyinka in his play Beatification of Area Boy with an enormous cast of British and Nigerian actors was one of our great achievements. It was also one of the most painful. It was performed when Ken Saro-Wiwa and his colleagues were hanged and the impact on audiences of seeing that play was extraordinary.

Your goal has always been to make the arts available to everybody. Do you feel this country has got better or worse in that respect?

I think the arts are taken more seriously and are recognised as having a greater role to play in the life of a healthy society. Politicians and funding bodies have got the hang of the notions of access and community creativity. However, it is fighting an education system which has become less liberal and imaginative, and a tabloid attitude that only focuses on celebrity.

Your Singin' in the Rain has been a huge hit. What do you think the appeal is?

Turning hit films into stage shows is not about nostalgia. If it continues to have a resonance, we want to see it reinvented over and over again.

After years of supporting regional theatre, why have you decided to set up a new company in London?

I've never simply supported regional theatre. I have tried to make the argument that the creative life of the country should be a matter of importance to everyone. It doesn't do us any good to put all our emphasis on the capital city. We wouldn't accept that in health or education and I don't see why we should accept it in the arts either. However, I have found a new space that is really exciting and happens to be in London.

PS: If other artists want to know more about what I'm planning, or to share ideas, just email me, jude@metalculture.com.

'The Wizard of Oz': West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds (0113 213 7700), to 13 April. WYP's 'Singin' in the Rain' is currently touring the country