Actor, producer, barman, juggler...
by Andrew Wilson
“You’ve got to be able to multi-task!” Pip Honeywell accepts the challenge of making a cappuccino while telling the story of how he and fellow actor EJ Martin created pluck.productions.
If you are a Park Theatre regular, you already know Pip Honeywell as one of the smiling faces behind the bar, whipping up coffees and cocktails. You may also have seen him onstage last year in A Clockwork Orange in the Park200 (I confess that I still can’t shake the image of several beefy men physically abusing him to the sound of a Beethoven symphony.)
These days however, Pip – “Philip” reminds him of parental admonishments – is also carrying two additional roles, as co-producer and assistant stage manager of Alkaline, the play that just finished a successful run in the Park90.
Alkaline is the fifth play his company pluck.productions has staged since he co-founded it with EJ (Emma Jane) Martin in 2014.
“We all know how cruel this business can be.”
pluck. (the period is part of the name, much to the annoyance of my word processor, already grumpy about the lower-case 'p') was created partly because the two weren’t getting the parts they wanted. “We all know how cruel this business can be,” he says. “It’s important to help each other.” That meant looking for plays written by new writers, on the one hand, and giving themselves opportunities to develop their careers as actors.
The strategy worked: ““People saw us in the first productions and it really did kickstart our careers again.” For the past four years, Pip and EJ have juggled their mixed portfolios as actors and producers, with the other jobs necessary “just to keep food in the fridge” as Pip puts it.
Such a juggling act isn’t for everyone, he notes, and cites the attrition rates from the profession using his drama school class as an example: five years after graduation, only 5% are still acting. “There are a lot of people who go into the performing arts who don’t consider how much of a business it is,” he says. “And it needs to be approached as a business, first in order to let you survive and second, to give you the life you think you want.”
Alkaline: a year in the making
The process of bringing Alkaline to Park90 is a good example of the juggling act. They first encountered playwright Stephanie Martin (“Yes,” he laughs, “there are two Miss Martins in my life at the moment”) at one of the new writing nights that pluck. runs, in which writers are invited to present new 15-minute pieces. Both EJ and Pip were impressed with the piece, which Stephanie performed herself, and the three began to talk about future projects. In the meantime, Pip had joined the staff at Park Theatre’s Café Bar, eventually becoming assistant manager, while also acting in A Clockwork Orange. For her part, EJ dayjobbed as an office manager when she wasn't acting.
Stephanie delivered the first draft of Alkaline in July 2017. In September, after several new drafts and an intense week of what Pip calls “R&D and rehearsal”, pluck. presented the script in an “industry reading,” an opportunity for directors, actors, and theatre programmers to hear and comment on new work. “A bit like taking your cattle to market,” he says.
And then more juggling: in October, Pip went to Italy for a five months to act in an English-language version of The Picture of Dorian Gray. It was while in Italy that he heard that Alkaline had been scheduled for July 2018. “EJ and I were over the moon, but there wasn’t a huge amount of time to prepare, and particularly to assemble a creative team. So it was pedal to the metal.”
“There wasn’t a part for me.”
Generally, he and EJ choose scripts for pluck. that they can both act in. But as Alkaline developed, Pip realised that script wasn’t right for him. You need to be aware what’s right for you as a performer, he cautions: “It’s a foolish actor who thinks ‘Oh, I’m a chameleon, I can do anything.’ You can’t!”
But there was a part for EJ (which has earned her an Offie nomination), so once rehearsal started, she “primarily” became an actor and Pip took over production duties. He also became ASM “because we are a young company with not a lot of money. As producer I understand that we need to make savings across the board.”
What does he do as a producer? “I’m constantly checking ticket sales reports – my new obsession!” He lists other activities: preparing for press night, organising invitation lists with the theatre box office, and coordinating pluck.’s PR consultants with Park Theatre’s press and marketing team “so we are all on the same page as to what is going out and when it’s going out and who is being targeted.” He also mentions checking in constantly with the designer, lighting designer, director and other creative team members. “Little and often with everyone,” is the way to do it, he advises. The objective is to identify problems and troubleshoot them quickly “because you never have enough time.”
A kind of shorthand
Where do the problems arise? He thinks for a minute, then mentions the get-in and fitup in the Sunday-to-Tuesday period before the run. “We have a fantastic stage manager who had already done a schedule. But say you run over time and you haven’t made a contingency in your budget to pay for extra time, or pay a duty manager to stay late because your building is running behind.” The trick is to stay on top of the process: ““I’ve it go wrong before, and it can be an absolute nightmare. But so far – touch wood ‑ it’s been fine.”
Does his history with Park Theatre help? He notes that Technical Direct Sacha Queiroz and his deputy Neal are very accommodating with any visiting company, but allows that relationships are important in the theatre. “It helps that they know who I am, and there is already a kind of a shorthand between us.”
It is also important to know when you need specialist help. Because of the sensitive nature of the play (Alkaline deals with the impact on two friends when one of them converts to Islam), Pluck. brought in playwright Iman Qureshi to work with Stephanie Martin on the script. They also consulted closely with Merium Bhuiyan from Park Theatre’s diversity board.
There is a tradition of actor-producers (generally called actor-managers) in UK theatre running back to David Garrick in the 1700s. So given that pluck. was conceived because the partners wanted more and better roles for themselves, what does Pip see himself doing in 2024?
He smiles at the word “conceived” and comments that pluck. has become something bigger than both partners. “It’s the child in our relationship!” he laughs. There are other projects in development but he isn’t ready to say much about them. The future he is focussed on is the near one, when he can take some time off.
Put it another way, then: Will he be glad when he doesn’t have to work at the Café Bar?
Describing himself as incredibly lucky, he mentions the flexibility Park Theatre has offered him and other young actors. Working behind the bar is not his end-game he says, but it has huge advantages: “I’ve never had a day job like this where I’ve been able to have a management position, go away for five months to do a show, and then come back and still have that position.”