Interview | Joseph Houston | The Exonerated

The Exonerated Hope Mill Theatre

Hope Mill Theatre’s 2nd in-house play directed by the theatre’s co-founder and artistic director Joseph Houston is set to open its doors this week. The Exonerated takes inspiration from the true crime documentary genre and will blend live theatre with filmed footage to create a unique, fully integrated multimedia experience.

Written in 2002 by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen The Exonerated uses material from interviews, letters, transcripts, case files and the public record tells the true stories of six wrongfully-convicted survivors of death row in their own words.

The innovative production which moves between first-person monologues, courtrooms and prisons promises audiences a uniquely different theatrical experience.

We caught up with director Joseph Houston to hear a little more about what audiences can expect from this bold production.

The Exonerated in rehearsal 3. Director Joseph Houston Hope Mill Theatre

Tell us about The Exonerated, and how you first became familiar with the piece?

Over a year ago I was recommended by a friend to read The Exonerated. This particular friend, for as long as I have known them, has always been an advocate and supporter of abolishing the death sentence in the U.S. When I first read it, I was immediately captivated and moved by these real life stories. At the same time I was also watching some popular true crime documentaries and felt that there was a new and exciting way of reimagining the piece for Hope Mill Theatre.

What about it made you think it would be perfect for a fresh adaptation at Hope Mill?

This will be the Northern Premiere of The Exonerated, which in itself is extremely exciting for the city. To date we haven’t had anything of this scale which merges both film and live theatre in such an integrated way – so it’s very exciting for us to be bringing something new to our audiences. Due to the nature of incorporating the true crime documentary style we are also hoping to attract new audiences to the venue who aren’t necessarily theatregoers.

Are you fan of the ‘true crime’ genre that’s currently very popular on TV streaming services? What made you think it could be the inspiration for a new piece of theatre?

I am a huge fan of true crime documentaries. Firstly, I find them completely fascinating and so far removed from anything that our culture and country is familiar with. There is so much that inspires me and moves me to share these incredible stories of Injustice and wrong-doing. I think the most important thing is that these are human stories of perseverance and human strength and resilience. I feel that with the popularity of these sorts of documentaries there was an opportunity to merge this with live theatre.

As a director, what are you most looking forward to re bringing The Exonerated to the stage in Manchester?

I am really looking forward to bringing a whole new theatrical experience to Manchester audiences. The staging of this piece means that audiences who like true crime but don’t necessarily go to theatre can also enjoy the play. Audiences will also get to hear these passionate real stories come to life.

And what might be the challenges?

I have never worked with film before and also with actors on film – so this will be a new challenge for me. It will also be very challenging merging live theatrical flashbacks with filmed footage and making sure that these important stories are still portrayed with care and thought. I am working with Grant Archer – a fabulous filmographer – so i have a great team around me.

Tell us about the cast who will be bringing these stories to life?

“I am so thrilled with the amazingly diverse cast we have found for The Exonerated. Many of our filmed actors have incredible experience and I know they will really capture the documentary style filming as well as make these heart-wrenching stories very real. We have also managed to assemble an exciting group of actors who will play live in the production and multi-role many different characters to help bring these stories to life.”

Hope Mill has become renowned for its critically-acclaimed musicals. How different is putting on a straight play?

To date we have been producing musicals in-house and this will be our second in-house play. Musicals are much bigger beasts and there are a lot more factors and elements involved in putting it all together- so it is nice to focus mainly on the story and narrative of the piece without having to worry about mics, bands, choreography etc. However, this will still be a visual spectacle and the production values are just the same as one of our large musicals.

Can you tell us a bit more about what audiences to The Exonerated might be able to expect?

This is 6 real life stories, from 6 people who spent time living on death row for crimes they did not commit. These are heartbreaking stories told in a completely unique way. I want audiences to feel that they are in the comfort of their own homes simply watching their T.V but with all of the drama and intensity of live theatre.

The Exonerated (1)

The Exonerated, directed by Joseph Houston, runs at Hope Mill Theatre from Thursday 6 June to Sunday 16 June 2019. Tickets, from £10, available here.


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