In Conversation with Deborah Rees

In Cast's 10th Birthday year we catch up with Director Deborah Rees about what's been going on and plans for the future.

How does it feel to get to a decade?

It definitely feels like a milestone and I suppose now we’re 10, we feel more established, but to counteract that, we’re also deliberately describing ourselves as 10 years young.  We are vibrant, we’ve got lots planned, and importantly we still have that energy that has carried us through our first 10 years. We’re determined to make an impact and be a force for making a positive difference in our communities.  The team here is incredible, I pay tribute to them  – they care so much about the work that Cast does.

Has it been a challenge?

Not surprisingly, the biggest challenge has been that nearly a fifth of that time (in the last 10 years) we had to close or restrict our activity because of the pandemic.  That said, we still offered activities to our audiences and we took the opportunity to experiment with commissioning new digital work (which is being showcased this year at Cast). 

What are some of the highlights?

Last August was the culmination of 2 years work with a production of The Doncastrian Chalk Circle on our main stage.   We had just under 100 community performers on stage for this mammoth show, produced in partnership with the National Theatre Public Acts. It was life changing for many as witnessed by the stories we have subsequently heard about the impact of being involved.  I also love the wide range of work that we do – indoor/outdoor, professional/community, small scale/large scale. I think we’re always doing something unique and unexpected and that keeps us buoyant.

How important is Cast to Doncaster?

I think we are an important part of the cultural infrastructure and are having an impact on growing our artistic communities and engagement with the arts.  I think we also played a role in helping Doncaster achieve city status, alongside our other brilliant arts partners. Investment in culture in a place has a long term impact – as well as providing a place to go and things to do, it contributes to the economy, improves mental health and physical health, increases educational achievement and gives pride of place.  Without Doncaster demonstrating that it takes culture seriously, I think it would have been a much harder task to have become a city.

It's difficult for all theatres at the minute - are there any particular challenges for Cast?

Like other theatres we’re facing rising mounting costs and a cost-of-living crisis and are having to tighten our belts.  However, countering that, we also have strong audience figures at the moment.  I think that says there’s something significant about the important part that theatres play in providing a space for people to come together to experience things communally and to escape some of the unremitting doom and gloom that’s ever present on the news. 

What would you like to see in the next 10 years for Cast?

Of course, I’d like to see us continue to reach more audiences and communities and to offer increased opportunities to get involved – that’s our mission.   I’d like us to try things we’ve not done before, work with new partners, experiment and do the unexpected.  We already have a few plans in the pipeline that will come to fruition in 2024 and 2025…

Oh, and I’d really like there not to be another pandemic!