theo adams casts us under his spell with his latest theatrical performance
Theo Adams first started performing when he was 9 years old. By 14, he'd dropped out of school and had begun carving himself out a career as one of London's most exciting young performers, and a true luminary on the club kid circuit. However it wasn't until 2008, when he was asked to perform at the Tate Britain as part of Matthew Stone's !WOWOW! collective that he caught his big break. Tasked with the challenge of filling up one of the Tate's gigantic rooms, he promptly founded the Theo Adams Company on the spot. Since then he's put on a whole range of spectacular performances, spanning the realms of music, magic, art, fashion, film, theatre, and dance. Fast-forward to today, and Theo has returned to Tate Britain, where it all began, for a one-off performance as part of the museum's Late at Tate programme. Once again he brought with him his troupe of marvellous performers, including Theo's extraordinary dance choreographer, Masumi Saito, musical director, Jordan Hunt, who is basically a modern equivalent to Mozart - a genius - and a whole host of new and exciting faces. Adding the finishing touches were Ed Marler and Matthew Josephs who dressed and styled the troupe respectively, and the beautiful Isamaya Ffrench who was in charge of make-up. Fresh from his performance we caught up with the man himself, the magical, the marvellous Mr. Theo Adams.
You first started performing at 9 years old; did you know then that that's all you wanted to do for the rest of your life?
Ever since then I had no interest in school, which is why I left at 15. I started going to clubs and stuff when I was 14 and performing. People kept giving me more work and it kept getting more exciting. I just thought, this is something I could make a career out of. It was something that I knew I could do, and I could do it well. There was nothing else I wanted to do. It made me feel really great and other people seemed to enjoy it.
Was there anyone whose career you admired at the time or wanted to emulate? Did you have any mentors?
When I first started going out to clubs I had Scottee who was running clubs. He was the first person who asked me to perform in his club. Then I had Matthew Stone who introduced me to all the !WOWOW! people, so I started performing with all of them. Our first performance as a company was at the Tate as part of a !WOWOW! takeover. That was a step up for me, it was the first time I went out of a club environment and into a gallery.
So how did you form the Theo Adams Company?
Well Matthew asked me to do something as part of their Late at Tate takeover, and I was like, "well how am I supposed to fill one of these rooms?" so I decided to get some other performers involved. So we put up a thing at the Royal Ballet School and got all these dancers from there and directed a performance. I had know idea what I was doing at the time, I was 16 or something. At the time it didn't seem daunting. That's when I realised that I liked having a group with me.
How does it feel to be back at the Tate?
It feels very weird and very different. The last time we were here we booked the back room at the BoomBox for three hours to come up with a performance. There was broken glass everywhere. We had no idea what we were doing. We just turned up on the day and did a performance. This time around it feels a lot more like a production, but that's because I've learnt so much. Every time you perform you learn something different. I now know how to direct people. 90% of directing is about casting, finding those people who are right for each role. I think that's one of my strongest skills.
How do you cast each role?
Well no one is playing a character, they're playing elevated versions of themselves. It's about finding that person, putting them in that space, and letting them be their most free, at the same allowing them to fit with everyone else. It's kind of like a jigsaw puzzle. We've only ever held auditions once and it was a big disaster. Everyone who works with us I've met them usually on a night out or at shows. I won't ask people right away, I will get to know them. It's all about character. I'm lucky that all of these people happen to be incredibly talented as well.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
I think the one thing that makes me of this generation is the interest. I can go on YouTube and click on one thing, and then you'll get that bar of things that are similar. I have this encyclopaedic knowledge of different divas from Spain or Turkey. It's really varied. There's no one specific thing that I love. It's all about putting different things together, to make something new.
How would you describe your creative process?
So the first thing is the music. I'll work with my musical director Jordan and we'll work on a soundtrack. For the Tate performance, it stated with props, these really cliché cabaret red chairs. I wanted one for another video and then I found a place in Oxford that sold like 36 for £4 so we bought loads. I don't see each performance and a separate thing, they're a continuation of each other. They're all multi-layered and about things.
How do you think you've evolved over the years?
In terms of aesthetic I've honed it in. For this show I've worked with Matthew Josephs and Ed Marler. I like strong powerful femininity. In terms of colour it's always the propaganda colours: red, white, black. They're the most powerful colours that will grab you straight away.
Moving forwards, what's next for the company?
After Tate we have to go straight into production for this project we're working on with Veuve Clicquot and FKA Twigs, which will be really exciting. We're doing one of the rooms for the Widow Series. We're also working on a film series, which we're writing an original soundtrack for. That will come out at the end of this year or beginning of next. And then the idea is that we want to do a full proper production at a theatre space rather than a gallery space.
Text Tish Weinstock
Photography Anabel Navarro Llorens