Lee Proud choreographed the new 20th Anniversary production of RENT which is currently touring the UK, making a stop at the St. James Theatre in London over December. His other credits include The Producers (UK tour), The Smallest Show on Earth (UK tour), Billy Elliot (Victoria Palace), Allegro (Southwark Playhouse) and Grand Hotel (Southwark Playhouse).
You’ve choreographed for many different types of spaces, which ones have been the most challenging?
I think most spaces offer some challenges, but there was one show I did two years ago Off- Broadway and there was only one entrance/exit on stage right as stage left was just a brick wall! It was hideous!!! I had to attempt to create patterns and illusions with the choreography which didn't look like everyone constantly marching off to one side after every number. It was awful!! People also often say to me that it must be hard choreographing in small spaces but I love the challenges and problem solving this involves. I also love the idea of the audience literally feeling the breeze on their face as a performer dances past. Traverse I like as it always offers an interesting perspective which you can keep moving and changing so no one misses out on the story telling.
Do you prefer anyone of those?
I don't have a particular preference, I always try to play to the strengths of the space and rehearse things well so the actors feel comfortable.
How is it making the move from doing a lot of fringe theatre to working on a major UK tour, like RENT?
There's not a lot of difference in the creative process but there are huge differences in resources, budgets and manpower! I enjoy both. I do one or two fringe shows a year and luckily the ones I choose to do, seem to get lots of attention. I do a lot of work internationally and this year I've created choreography for huge theatres in Japan and in Europe.
RENT is currently touring the UK, what drew you to this project?
RENT is a show I first worked on with Bruce Guthrie at Royal Welsh College in Cardiff three years ago. It became a very respected and talked about production. I think we created something which really complimented the energy of the show without losing any of the heart. Bruce was determined we'd do the show again and he's worked very hard to bring this show to life again. I of course jumped at the chance to recreate it again with this wonderful new cast and team.
What’s different about this production compared to the other ones that have been on over the years?
Well I think the show had to represent the heart of the original but for a modern audience, and as a choreographer I particularly wanted to place dance more at the heart of the show, and hopefully make it more interesting physically. The cast we have are amazing triple threats and they love performing the show which really comes across to the audience, that's hugely important, the pride they have in the show is key.
Billy Elliot played a huge part in your career, how is it now working with Layton
As soon as Bruce mentioned us doing RENT again, I immediately suggested Layton for Angel. I just couldn't think of a better person for that role. I saw Today 4 U as one of the 'big hitting' numbers and incorporating Laytons incredible ability was a chance not to be missed. Luckily for us this was a dream role for Layton. It feels like he is family to me as I've known him since he was 12. We had great fun putting his number together and there are a lot of references in there from 'Paris is Burning' to 'Madonna' alongside some amazing theatrics which you'll have to come and see to find out!
Much like a lot of the Billy’s, you started your career quite early! At 13 you were in Bugsy Malone at Her Majesty’s Theatre, How was it coaching the young performers after you’d been there yourself?
It was very interesting, as a child performer I remember looking up to all these amazing people creating the show thinking they had the answers to all of the questions in the theatrical universe!!! It was a huge responsibility and honour to maintain the high standards expected of the children on Billy Elliot. They were honestly inspiring on a daily basis.
How did you make the move from being a performer to a choreographer?
I never dreamt in a million years I'd become a full time choreographer, my first skill is singing!! I was a theatre performer at first, then I co-wrote/produced and recorded music with my band (we had a number three hit in the country charts and we even opened for David Bowie on his world tour). Then I fell back into theatre in the original cast of Billy Elliot.
On reflection, have their been any shows you’ve worked on that have really changed you as a professional?
Probably Billy Elliot. It led me onto this trajectory in my career, it felt like I was at University on that show, learning from the very best. Every new project is a huge learning curve, I'm constantly changing as an artist. I still get absolutely terrified before I start a new production although I never show it. Every experience you have in life informs your point of reference and that's a constantly changing, moving thing.
What would be your dream show to choreograph and why?
Ooh! There's loads of shows I'd love to do. I love tap. I love the 20's and 30's. Having said that though, contemporary shows like RENT and Spring Awakening have been on my wish list and I did that with NYMT at Curve this year which was wonderful.
RENT is now touring the country, do you have any other projects going on?
I'm doing the new German speaking production of GHOST which opens in Austria in March. I've got a few other shows and a workshop lined up for next year but I can't announce anything yet. I've also just choreographed the new Shelagh Stephenson play 'Harriet Martineau Dreams of Dancing' which is currently running at Live Theatre in Newcastle.