Meet the Manchester director raising money to bring Hollywood to the Manchester stage

I LOVE MCR caught up with Manchester writer and director Craig Hepworth to talk about his most ambitious project yet
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Craig Hepworth is a Manchester theatre writer and director.

He has staged everything from Mysterious Skin, a stage adaptation of the BAFTA nominated film EXAM and high camp comedy Die Mommie Die!

He has just launched his most ambitious project yet. He is currently crowdfunding in order to get a stage adaptation of the twisty film thriller Bound to the stage. The film starred Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon and it has become a genuine cult classic.

You have staged EXAM and other plays adapted from films. Why did you choose Bound?

I first watched the film when it came out in 1996, I immediately fell in love with it. It’s not just a superb critically acclaimed film by the legendary Wachowskis, it’s also something I had never seen when it came to representation. As a gay man I connected more to this film about two gay women than ones written for gay men as it explored it in such a naturalistic, sexual and honest way. I adore these women, their strength, their confidence, their brains and their flaws.

Then to add them in to the mix of a hyper masculine world like the one they find themselves in I thought was a stroke of genius. When it comes to queer theatre, especially for lesbian characters, I just don’t think we see people like this.

This isn’t about their sexuality, their struggles as gay women, it’s not a message show (as so many are now) it’s a love/mob story thriller fronted by two kick ass women that just happen to be gay. That to me is the best kind of representation. Also, I’ve just never stopped thinking about this as a play, it lends itself so perfectly and these characters deserve to be back in the spotlight.

How difficult is it to get a small play funded? 

Next to impossible. My company Vertigo Theatre Productions has only managed to survive so long and keep creating because we haven’t taken a wage since starting and all the money the shows make goes right back in to the next shows. The Arts Council fund some, but it’s got less and less thanks to the government cuts . Unless you are wanting funding for something that has some educational slant, social messages etc. then you might as well look elsewhere.

Many people are turning to creative fundraising right now, that can be hit or miss, but unless you have some money in the bank or some rich relatives, it really is the hardest thing. It’s a damn shame, it makes me incredibly sad thinking of the amount of brilliance out there that can’t express it due to financial reasons, it should not be this way when the government make so much money from the arts, I don’t think people realise just how much.

It’s also become much harder after Covid as theatre investors/angels etc. are nervous about new work due to the fact that theatre hasn’t all together rebounded as fast as hoped. This is the first time ever we are having to do crowdfunding, granted, it’ a much bigger show.

What was the last thing you saw in a Manchester theatre that you loved and why?

I have not been to the theatre since the start of 2020, that was Back to the Future. Obviously the pandemic shut the industry down and then after a year and half of that my health took a nasty hit so I’ve been completely focused on getting fit and better and working on Bound, I have been a recluse. Luckily, I am on the mend and happy that my first theatre trip since 2020 will be this Halloween as I’m going to see Let The Right One In at the Royal Exchange Theatre for mine and my partner Karl’s anniversary. I love that theatre so I can’t wait to go and get back to live theatre (I think I watched every play and musical available online to stream during the past 2 years).

What you still love about Manchester?

It’s such an easy answer. The people. It really is just a warm hearted city that will come together whenever it needs. I’ve been to many cities but you just don’t get the same feeling, who knows what it is, that Manchester magic. For me personally as well it feels safe for me as a gay man, it has for so many years. Yes a few bad apples exist everywhere, but by and large, this city is so LGBTQ friendly that it makes me so proud. We also have a great theatre scene, something that never changes.

What would you change about the city and why? 

Two big things that are personal for me. Homelessness, I cannot understand how this is still happening in this city despite so many promises. We get these figures that tell us how many people are sleeping rough, yet every homeless organisation that is out helping these people are saying those figures are not even close to correct. The other thing is theatre related. We have a great fringe festival in this city called The Greater Manchester Fringe Festival, it’s run by some amazing hard working people who put everything they have in to making this a reality every year. They have pretty much no funding and that drives me a little crazy.

The venues that take part pay their taxes, the actors who are paid pay taxes etc. I think a bit of funding to help this festival out would be something I would encourage the council to think about. We are a creative city, a city proud of our amazing artists, musicians, actors etc. that come from here, let’s invest in them.

You are crowdfunding to get Bound onto the stage. What will the money go towards? 

Yes, unlike our previous shows this is a much bigger venture. The Wachowskis themselves have given us permission to do this try out production of Bound after I pitched it to them, so we want to make sure we do a top notch production so we can continue on with the show after it’s seen by Lilly and Lana Wachowski and the studio (hopefully they love it). So the money we are raising is to go towards every aspect of the show. From set, costumes, venue costs and marketing. It is vital money for this production to work. We are also actively seeking investors as well as any other things we can do to the raise the budget.

There are rewards for available for people who contribute, can you tell us about those?

Yeah sure, I feel so excited for this as we have never done it before. We have lots of different donation brackets where you can get exclusive Bound t shirts, hoodies, caps, mugs, window cards, and posters. We also have things like the chance to come in to a rehearsal, tickets for the show and to meet the cast and loads more. More than anything though, you get to become a part of bringing this show to life, and that is pretty special and much, much appreciated.

If someone wants to make this happen but does not have a great deal of cash spare due to the cost of living crisis, do you take small contributions?

Yes, great time to do a fundraiser right? Of course people are struggling right now, watching every penny, and I would not want anybody who could not afford to donate to give us a penny, you have to focus on yourself. If you have a few extra or spare quid though, we would love for you to donate. You can donate as little or as much as you want, every penny is vital, and every contribution no matter the size is equally as important. How could it not be, these people will be our angels.

You have had some famous support, tell us about that? 

It’s been so crazy, I mean just getting Wachowski’s nod to go ahead and do this try out production was insane, I cried….a LOT. I mean these are the genius women behind The MatrixCloud Atlas, V for Vendetta and so many others. I don’t think they realise how much this means to me, to take a chance on somebody (also to their brilliant manager who made it happen).

Then after we announced the show, Jennifer Tilly (Oscar nominated star of BoundChuckyLiar Liar, Bullets Over Broadway) tweeted about our adaptation in a real positive way, and then shared some of our posts. I LOVE HER, I have been such a fan since the early 90s She’s one of my favourite actresses, she’s a legend, so obviously, I cried again. Then the awesome Joe Pantoliano from the movie (also Bad BoysThe Sopranos etc.) wished us all the best and even gave us advice… so of course I cried again. It’s all very overwhelming, but I thank them with everything I have inside of me, it means the world, in fact, this opportunity probably saved me.

Bound feels like a throwback to film noir in many ways. How will you recreate that look for the stage?

The last original play I wrote and staged before the pandemic was called Noir. I love this genre, it’s one of the things that drew me to Bound back in the nineties. The film is very stylish, the Wachowskis made every shot feel like a work of art, so we have to approach things differently on the stage. It is still very much a noir/thriller, but the way we create the sense of that genre will be the key, lighting, atmosphere all have to be perfect. I will be re-watching all my favourite noir movies. We have a closed door workshop of Bound this November at The Contact Theatre and I’m excited to work with the cast to bring their performances in to this dark, sexy and thrilling world.

When do you hope to get this play to Manchester?

Well it was between August and November 2023. We had hoped to do some kind of tie in with Manchester Pride as I think it would be a great match, but we will see if they are interested, either way, it will be late next year. And I can’t wait for Manchester audiences to experience it, because audiences here are always the best.

If you wish to contribute to the Bound crowdfunder and see the support from Jennifer Tilley and others, please visit the Vertigo Theatre Productions website here.

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