An interest in theatre nurtured in her native North East has seen Kate Hewitt land a prestigious award for young directors.
Kate, who grew up in Whitley Bay, is this year’s winner of the JMK Award which commemorates James Menzies-Kitchin, a promising director who died suddenly and unexpectedly in 1996, aged just 28.
The award, worth £25,000, will enable Kate to make her debut as director with a production of a Caryl Churchill play, Far Away, at London’s Young Vic theatre from November 7-29.
“It is really exciting and it feels like the crucial next step for me,” said Kate after receiving her award.
“It is a prestigious award and one I kept hearing about after I graduated. But I didn’t apply for it before because I didn’t feel quite ready.”
Timing is everything in the theatre and Kate, it seems, has perfect timing. Stephen Fewell, chair of the JMK Trust which runs the award, said: “Kate is an exciting and worthy winner of this year’s JMK Award.
“The financial necessities of life can, understandably, lead talented emerging directors down the path of looking after existing theatre productions where their skills are recognised and rewarded.
“However, it can prove tough to leave the world of staff or resident direction and risk that livelihood in the quest to originate your own work.
“All theatre is collaborative and Kate and her team impressed with their creative and original ideas for this modern classic. But it was Kate’s skill with actors that has secured her this year’s JMK Award and, with the support of the Young Vic, the rare opportunity to take that risk.”
Kate is currently resident director on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the big West End musical directed by Sam Mendes. Last year she was part of the creative team behind the show and now, when she’s on duty, the crucial decisions lie with her.
“I do get nervous but I have been told that I usually appear very calm,” she said. “I think that’s the secret. You appear outwardly calm while thinking, Oh, God, they’ve got no idea what’s going on inside!”
Kate did her A levels, including theatre studies, at Gosforth High School. “I was always passionate about drama and did a lot of extra-curricular stuff,” she recalled. “I loved performing but I love theatre in general and was always interested in studying and making it.”
Encouraged by father Peter, formerly chief executive of the Arts Council and boss of Northern Arts in the North East, Kate won a place with the National Youth Theatre which led to a relationship with Kneehigh Theatre which provided her first professional acting roles.
Kate studied for a drama degree at Goldsmiths College in London and then trained in physical theatre at the London International School of Performing Arts.
She has since worked as associate director or assistant director on several productions, including one of Medea which toured to Newcastle’s Northern Stage.
Kate said to win the award she had to present the judges with a clear and detailed plan.
She said: “We’ll apply to the Arts Council for a bit more money but I’m working with a good producer. I haven’t cast anyone yet and I will also have to find a rehearsal room.”
Kate said she chose the Churchill play, first performed in 2000, because she admired the playwright and because it has a central female character seen at different times of her life.
“It hasn’t been done in London since 2000,” she said. This will be the first production directed by a woman.
Kate lives in London, as do sisters Anna and Laura. Mother Joan, a retired teacher, lives in the North East. Kate expected all would get to the Young Vic to witness her directorial debut.