Dan Allum may not be a name which immediately springs to mind when you think of the latest big blockbuster movie, but that may be about to change. Last year Dan was ensconced in a posh London hotel and being ferried to and from Pinewood Studios every day. He had been given the part of a Gypsy in the new Hollywood blockbuster Wolf Man which comes out in November 2009. Produced by Universal Studios with a $100m budget which has already overrun-the film stars Benicio del Toro and Anthony Hopkins. And of course Dan Allum also appears. So what set Dan Allum apart from all the other Hollywood wannabes? The fact he is a full blooded Romany Gypsy may have had something to with it.
When he is not making blockbuster movies, Dan is busy scriptwriting and is in talks with the highly acclaimed theatre director Indhu Rubasingham about putting on one of his plays at the Royal Court Theatre next year. But Dan is not a typical theatrical luvvie – he has worked hard to get where he is today. Dan created and wrote all 12 episodes of a new radio drama series that was broadcast on six local BBC stations in the East of England in 2008. A second and third series are planned for 2009 and 2010. Any of these achievements would be astonishing for someone with a double First from Oxbridge. But Dan had very little schooling and only taught himself to read and write in his late teens.
Dan spent three years at drama school in London in the 90s and went on to work for a media company. He spent some time as a motivational speaker for multinational companies such as Microsoft and Shell whilst continuing to direct his own plays and write scripts before finally deciding to set up the Cambridge based Romany Theatre Company with some serious backing from the Arts Council and Big Lottery.
His theatre company is a whole lot more than its name suggests because it also provides professional supported training programmes for young Romany people in the performing arts. ‘There are very few Gypsy performers in Britain and it’s important to create role models to show younger Romany Gypsies that they can achieve in the arts’ he explains. Some of his protégées have gone on to work at the Royal Court Theatre, and Endemol who make TV programmes for the BBC and Channel 4.
Dan’s big break came last year when as Director of the Romany Theatre Company, he signed a contract with the BBC to produce a 36 part radio series over three years called Atching Tan. The phrase means ‘where fires are lit’ in Romany and the series explores the conflicts among Romany Gypsies and non Traveller communities. ‘We want to create rich, powerful and inspirational theatre and radio productions which reflect our people’s centuries-old struggle for equality. We want to try and challenge negative views of Romany people and the lives we lead’ he explains. The first series has been very successful and he begins writing the second series, which is due to go out in October, very shortly.
This is no rags to riches story-Dan is still every bit a Romany Gypsy. ‘I will never forget when I was younger, every time we pitched up into a new town, people would know we were Gypsies and signs would soon go up in the local pubs ‘No Gypsies Served Here’. That sort of mentality just breeds hatred and division and it was one of the driving forces behind my vision for this theatre company. I believe that through drama, it’s possible to build bridges between the two communities’ he says.