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Interview: Actress and Director Audrey Rumsby Discusses Her Film Barry and Joan

Barry and Joan is a quirky and delightful documentary that takes the viewer on a journey through the lives of Barry and Joan Grantham, a British couple who met in 1948 and have created a rich history as performing artists and creators on stage screen ever since.

Bringing Joan and Barry’s story to audiences is actress/director Audrey Rumsby, who has performed and directed over 70 full-length stage productions in London, New York, Los Angeles, Boulder, and San Francisco. At 18 she attended the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art as one of the youngest students ever accepted into their post-graduate program. Upon graduating, she cultivated her career as an actor in theatre productions across the US and UK, and gradually was asked to direct and choreograph. Notable appearances include a role as lead musician and dancer for the London 2012 Olympics Team Welcoming Ceremonies and directing work for Theatreworks and Colorado and Arabian Shakespeare Festival.

In 2015, she made a pitch to create her first feature film, a documentary about her beloved mentors, Barry and Joan Grantham. Some people open their eyes to theatre and music in astounding ways. For director Audrey Rumsby, her first encounter with Barry and Joan changed everything, which she was gracious enough to talk about in this interview.

Jason: So just to start out, can tell me about how you grew up?

Audrey Rumsby: I’m half English, half American and that plays a big role in my upbringing. My dad is 100% English and my mom’s from California. I grew up in San Jose and Silicon Valley. I was blessed we got to go to the UK quite often to visit my dad’s family. And through that, I got to see some of the best theatres that have ever been to, such as the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Jason: What brought you to your specific career path?

Audrey Rumsby: I got into the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art in the UK. I was 18 when they let me in. I was the youngest person they’d ever allowed into that course. I went out into the world and became a professional actor as soon as I graduated. It was extremely difficult though getting cast. So because of that, I decided to try my hand at directing instead. And I found out that I was quite good at directing and choreography. I thought I could direct plays for various professional companies and I did very well at that.

Jason: What most interesting story has happened to you in the course of your career?

Audrey Rumsby: I was invited to become a member of the National Youth Theatre in 2012. They were putting on the welcoming ceremonies for the 2012 London Olympics. So they had this huge, multi-million dollar budget, and they were told, ‘okay, create something like a Cirque du Soleil show that all the athletes are going to get to see when they arrive at the Olympic Park.’ And there were going to be 100 performances and mega gorgeous costumes and all of this crazy cool stuff. And they cast me in that show. I was one of the 100 people who got cast. I got to the rehearsal, and I thought, ‘you know, I don’t like this, I don’t feel like this is right for me. I’m not being used to my full potential.’ I thought you know what, I could add something to what they’re doing. It was in Elizabeth’s themed rendition of Queen songs like “Bicycle Race,” Don’t Stop Me Now.” it just so happens at the time had purchased a small heart of a very unusual Celtic style harp you can strap on to you and play as you’re moving and walking around. And I had brought this with me, and I only had it for maybe two months and I knew how to play it. I don’t know what came over me but I walked over there and said to the musical director, a well-known guy, I think I could add to what you’re doing, I have a small harp, it’s going to look amazing with your other musicians and the instruments that you have. And I can improvise. And I literally did not know what I was talking about at this moment. I just, I had the idea. I thought this could be awesome. I ended up getting to meet tons of athletes. I made so many new friends. And I got to meet Matt Smith of Doctor Who. He came over and talk to me because of my harp and stuff like that. So anyway, that’s one of my, my wildest stories about my career.

Jason: Can we shift now your film Barry and Joan? So why did you feel that this was your story to tell? What was your personal connection to the two subjects?

Audrey Rumsby: I have a simple answer to that. I felt like it was my story to tell because I felt like someone had to do it. And I was concerned that no one would. When I met Barry and Joan and started working with them, I was focused on acting at the time and just becoming a better performer. And I found them to be just incredible people and inspiring on a level that you just don’t come across in everyday life. It’s so rare when you meet someone when you’re in their space, and you realize this person is unique and special. And I just knew that from being around them. I also knew that the public did not recognize them. I knew BBC would not come knocking on their door. So I had this sort of panic moment of like, Oh, my God, if I don’t do this or if I don’t figure out a way to tell their story, they’re going to pass away. No one will be able to learn from them in the future. That would be a tragedy. So that’s how it came to me.

Jason: What was their reaction when you told them you wanted to want to do this?

Audrey Rumsby: It was going to be a much smaller project. The initial intention was to bring a small group of American performers over to London for one week and shoot them learning from Barry and Joan, these musical acts and comedy routines, things like that. And then we put on a small live show, shoot all of that with some interviews, take it home and make something simple out of it. So that’s what I pitched to them. When I received funding. And when they said yes, that was a much simpler vision. They were really flattered. They were like, wow, nobody has talked about making a movie about us before. So this is cool. So yeah, ever everyone was on board for that. And then as the process grew, we thought we really have a story to tell here and we should do a thorough job of it. That then resulted in more discussion and more explanation to them. You know why we need to come back and why we want to shoot more. Overall, there were ups and downs in my relationship with them throughout. But overall, it’s been I wouldn’t say easy, but it’s been a wonderful relationship with them throughout the whole thing.

Jason: What kinds of projects attract you as an actress and as a filmmaker? Are they different? Or do you look for similar things?

Audrey Rumsby: I would say I have a through line with all the work that I do. And that is that it must be physical. Every single thing I’ve done, whether it’s radio plays, has a sense of being dynamic. And there’s movement involved in them. I have my actors move all the time; I make sure everything is physical, and I ground everything in the body. I’m a trained dancer and physical theatre practitioner. When I direct, I love getting to bring actors into that space and help them be in their bodies more and express in ways that they’re not used to being directed. Especially in the Bay Area, it’s not that common to have directors or leading actors with a European background. And my background is very European when it comes to directing, especially. I love comedy. I’ve got a big funny bone. And I love to help others be funny, too. That’s a great joy of mine. That isn’t to say I don’t enjoy a good Dickensian tragedy. I do. I love horror and tragedy. But my favorite stuff to work on is his comedy and happy stories.

Audrey Rumsby and Barry Grantham, act together
Audrey Rumsby and Barry Grantham in Barry and Joan

Jason: What are some of the more interesting or exciting projects you might work on now?

Audrey Rumsby: One thing that has happened is that I found out I’m a very good executive producer, which is not something I would ever have imagined. I love the work. And I love being able to oversee great processes and make sure the vision stays intact. So with that, I’ve been asked to join three new projects as an executive producer. And I won’t go into too much detail, but I’ll tell you a little about each of these. So the first one is my script, which I’ve been working on with a wonderful co-writer named Elio Mardini. And he and I have created this script for a feature musical called A Girl Named Arthur. And I won’t go into too much detail about it because we’re in pitching it right now. But if you were to imagine movies like Singin’ in the Rain or Moulin Rouge, that sort of vivid dance musical type piece, but with a leading woman instead of a man.

in addition to that, I’ve been asked to come on board as executive producer for a wonderful project called the Choreography of Comedy. And this is a project created by my dear friend and mentor at the Walt Disney Company, actually, in her name’s Betsy Baytos. She’s a genius been working as a Disney character animator for a very long time and is now creating a lot of her own work. So this film, a preview for it was featured by the Motion Picture Academy about two years ago. And the next steps now are to edit it into a full-length documentary. And it features interviews with people like Red Skelton and Michael Jackson. Basically, anyone who has been alive over the last 20 years or so who have still been with us, who has specialized in physical comedy or eccentric movement.

Jason: Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path? Whether it says, an actress or filmmaker who might feel daunted by the prospect?

Audrey Rumsby: I’ve been working as a consultant for other young companies and people who are starting creative careers and companies. I’ve been doing a lot of consulting on this very topic, and besides that, I’m releasing an online course for artists who are trying to make good money in their careers, because it’s hard. One of my biggest pieces of advice is to be flexible with your vision for yourself. Because one thing that I love to reflect on about my own life and how I’ve ended up where I am right now is the conventional wisdom would have made me quit years ago, and I would have done something different. Because what happened to me is when I graduated, they trained me to play leading ladies and I was a good actress, but I had a hell of a time getting cast. And that’s something that so many people run up against. Same with directors, writers, producers. It is hard when you’re relying and depending on getting picked by someone else. And so my first major piece of advice is just because no one else is picking you do not mean that you’ve chosen the wrong career. And I feel like people quit every day. I know so many actors, so much talent who left the industry just because they had trouble getting an agent or couldn’t get cast. And so my answer to that is to look at yourself as a multifunctional creator, as an artist, not just as an actor, not just as a director, not just as a choreographer, but thinking about flexibility with your vision for yourself. If you have an appetite for hard work, you’re going to do fine. If you don’t have an appetite for hard work, then it’s not going to work. But if you do, then you’ll make it through whatever comes your way, you’ll figure it out. And then when the inevitable obstacles show up you’re prepared.

Jason: Wonderful. How can people follow you online?

Audrey Rumsby: I was very blessed with having a very unusual name. if you type my name into Google you’ll find me all over the place. I have a website that details my projects and we’re adding new stuff consistently to that. I also have a great website for Barry and Joan if readers are interested in learning more about the film and seeing where it’s going to be screened. I’m on Facebook and Instagram and TikTok. I’m all over the place.

Written by Jason Sheppard

Entertainment reporter living at the end of very cold Canada. Proud owner of a diploma in journalism and just about every CD by John Williams ever released. Favorite directors are Spielberg, Scorsese, Kubrick, Tarantino, Fellini, Lynch and Fincher. Twin Peaks, Sopranos and Six Feet Under are the greatest TV dramas ever crafted and I love 90s sitcoms such as Spin City, Sports Night, Newsradio, Seinfeld and even that one with Deadpool working in the pizza place. Click linkies below to follow me.

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