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James Raggatt: The Bigger Picture

It was an absolute pleasure to talk with one of the TheatreiNQ trainees who started it all, none other than James Raggatt. While never an official "bridgee" himself, James was one of the first young actors to be trained under TheatreiNQ, helping to inspire the Bridge Project’s inception. He first acted with the company in their inaugural production, Richard III in 2010. After moving to Sydney and studying at NIDA, James would return to Townsville in 2016 to act in TheatreiNQ’s HAMLET, and again in 2020 for The Blood of Kings.

Pictured - James Raggatt in THE BLOOD OF KINGS (2020)

While living in Sydney, James found success for himself in the theatre as not only an actor, but a writer and director as well. He most recently directed and acted in Stacks On Theatre’s production of Alan Bennet's The Wind in the Willows, in which he worked with a number of TheatreiNQ Bridge Project alumni. He had the following to say about the experience:

“[It was] a profound joy. We all come with the same ethos about theatre having learned from and worked with Terri, Brendan and the whole team in Townsville for so many years, so we have a synergy and shared language which guides our work together. We’re also great friends, and this makes the work even more enjoyable to make.”

Pictured - The Wind in the Willows first read - presented by Stacks On Theatre

The Wind in the Willows marked James’ fifth stint as a director or assistant director. His previous directorial works also include Youth and Destination (2018). This is one of several plays he has written himself, but is thus far the only one yet to see the stage. While James finds enrichment through all stages of theatre creation, writing is a particular challenge to him.

“I find writing difficult. It is hard work, mainly because I write with a director’s mind and just want to see it come to life in front of me”

So what inspired James to explore the greater world of theatre creation beyond performing?

“I have always been fascinated and obsessed with the entire process of making theatre, not just with being in it… Directing and writing gives you the opportunity to step back from the play and appreciate the work in a way acting doesn’t afford you. As an actor you're always bound within it, which is its own joy, but I love being able to work with the bigger picture as well.  My favourite part of the theatre process is, and has always been, the technical week before dress runs begin. It’s the time when you get to see the whole picture start to come together.”

Of all the works James has so far directed, the recent The Wind in the Willows holds a special place in his heart.

“I was director and actor in the same play. This is nuts and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. I can’t wait to do it again. I chose this play because it had ideas and themes I genuinely loved and believed in. This taught me to always, without exception, make that the reason to put something on.”

Pictured - Michael Doris & James Raggatt - Promotional photo by Harlee Timms for The Wind in the Willows.

What James took away from directing this play was a lesson intrinsic to what has become core to his philosophy of theatre. Upon graduating from NIDA, James was awarded a BBM travel scholarship to immerse himself in the theatre of the UK, where he found this philosophy truly cemented.

“I think I saw about 50 plays in 8 weeks. It was intense! It taught me how diverse staging can be; how many different ways there are to use space and light and sound. Some of the plays I saw had me thinking about their contents for years - some to this day. I think it made me want to make plays that challenged people to think about big themes of human questioning. There are many ways to do this, but what I want to avoid always is theatre which only means to entertain.”

Pictured - James Raggatt at the Notional Theatre, England whilst on BBM travel scholarship (2016)

When James first emerged as a jobbing artist in Sydney, he found that the environment was not necessarily conducive to the type of art he wanted to create. "Upon graduating from institutions such as NIDA, the pressure is to make a sustainable career of the arts for yourself. The result is that you prioritise means to integrate yourself with pre-established big theatre companies before your own personal artistic values, which leads to homogeneity and ultimately, “dead theatre”.

Then the pandemic hit. With many past Bridgees locked down and out of work, Bridge Project mentor Terri Brabon took the opportunity to reconnect them through a special virtual series of “Sessions” (further Bridge Project training). From there, the Bridge Alumni of Sydney banded together, and thus, Stacks On Theatre was born. It was only when James got back in touch with why he wanted to create theatre in the first place that things in Sydney started to change for him. He would then find an environment in which he could particularly thrive with the birth of the new theatre company.

“You become obsessed with ‘the industry’ as it is unaffectionately called, and start to pander to the common denominator of styles and storytelling. Since the inception of Stacks On, we have a collective of theatre artists who are on the same page in this respect. This has changed things hugely. Theatre is a team endeavour, and now we have each other, so Sydney has become much more conducive all of a sudden. Over time I am learning to let go of ambitions and to return to the heart of theatrical storytelling which fed me when I was starting out. It has to be something you believe matters for some special reason."

Pictured - James Raggatt - in rehearsal

James is now exactly where he needs to be, creating only the art that fits within his own big picture. When asked if he had a dream job or place to work, he simply had this to say:

“You’ll have to forgive me but, I’ve learned not to think in such terms. It doesn’t lead to contentedness, and it doesn’t lead to good creativity. I would be right where I am now, doing exactly as I am now.”

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