SW VOICES: GIGI GIANNELLA

In this month’s instalment of Sadler’s Wells Voices, we shine a light on Duty House Manager Gigi Giannella. Gigi joined us back in 1999 working in Housekeeping. He later moved to Front of House and became Duty House Manager for the Lilian Baylis Studio.

Alongside this, Gigi dedicates his time and stellar photography skills capturing the many faces and lives of our Front of House team – curated in a heart-warming collection entitled the ‘Usher Project’. We asked about his experience working in Front of House and took a closer look into his creative ventures at Sadler’s Wells and the inspiration behind them.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?

I moved to London from Italy in 1999, with the aim of learning the language. To support myself, I started working at Sadler’s Wells – first in the Housekeeping department, then with the Front of House team. This gave me the opportunity to get interested in contemporary dance. At the same time, I was studying photography, so I naturally started combining dance in my photography practice. This led to me getting commissioned to document numerous community dance projects and various companies, including a number of projects for the Learning and Engagement team and National Youth Dance Company.

Tell us about the “Usher Project”. What it is, and what was the inspiration behind it?

Having worked as a Front of House Assistant and Deputy House Manager for quite some time, I have always found the diverse mixture of people that I worked with fascinating. Most of the ushers have different kinds of lives, different jobs and many skills that are unknown to most. It felt like, once the usher uniform is worn, you lose your ‘identity’. I thought that this project would be a good way to celebrate the different energies that are part of the makeup of Sadler’s Wells.

Jasmine Khalia, ‘Usher Project’. Image: Gigi Giannella

At the same time, I have enjoyed engaging with audiences, especially patrons that felt like Sadler’s Wells was almost a second home for them. Many patrons had grown to know me (and some of my long-term colleagues) in this environment. They enjoyed being welcomed by recognisable faces for sure, but at the same time I always felt it was very surface level, as they didn’t really know who the ushers were.

Amy Bentley Klein, ‘Usher Project’. Image: Gigi Giannella

Often I would bump into the same people around town or at other venues and they seemed surprised to see me out of the Sadler’s Wells context. There is a view that we work full-time for the theatre, but in reality, holding even a few part-time jobs nowadays is very common, especially in the arts sector.

Joel O’Donoghue. ‘Usher Project’. Image: Gigi Giannella

Were there any surprises or valuable insights that this project brought about?

I really enjoyed working on this project as I approached it with an open mind, not believing it to be just my project, but a collaboration between myself and the subjects.

Jane Chan, ‘Usher Project’. Image: Gigi Giannella

My only brief to the guys was that we were going to shoot inside or around the theatre (the only area I didn’t want to shoot was the stage and I made that clear to everyone) and that everyone should choose the part of the building they preferred most. It was interesting to see how everyone has a different location where they like to work.

Jairo Zaldua, ‘Usher Project’. Image: Gigi Giannella

Another important factor was for everyone to bring something that represented themselves or their day-to-day life and with this, I tried telling their stories. Collaborating together was a nice way to work on this project. In a way, it is like how a choreographer works with their dancers – a dialogue where everyone puts forward their skills and knowledge to achieve a final result.

Takeshi Matsumoto, ‘Usher Project’. Image: Gigi Giannella

What are you currently working on/ what is next for you?

I would try to explore this project further, whether it’s with other departments at Sadler’s Wells, or even trying to expand it to other theatres. I have a few things in my mind, but it’s still early days. I am working out an idea about runners and running (another passion I have) and I am slowly getting around how to approach it.

Ewa Lamond, ‘Usher Project’. Image: Gigi Giannella

What advice would you give to other aspiring photographers or, more broadly, to people looking to make their way into the creative industries?

Mainly that it’s not an easy industry, but it can give you great rewards. It’s a great place to test your capabilities and to experience lots of various things and meet a different spectrum of people.

Lorea Burge Badiola, ‘Usher Project’. Image: Gigi Giannella

More of Gigi’s work can be found via his website and Instagram.