Lockdown has refocused our attention on the importance of the arts and theatre, and the uncertainty of its survival going forward as society begins to adapt during this first wave of the pandemic. This has become a time of innovation for many in the arts, with growth, a change in direction, an opportunity to try new things and even time to pause and heal. The sector is grappling with its future, fighting to survive in a time where many would not recommend taking the a leap into the abyss to venture down a new path.
Over the last year I have had numerous conversations on how I can contribute to the arts and culture sector. I have had an interest in theatre, as a spectator, for as long as I can remember. I have friends who have never been to the theatre, which is as much about class as it is about race. I often question why and have come to realise that we rarely have the opportunity to see our stories being performed. Theatre continues to be a white middle class endeavour, with little or no diversity. The sector rarely represents the communities it is surrounded by, on stage or as directors, writers, producers and senior leaders. The boards and trustees are not a reflection of the growing diverse world we live in.
I have been grappling with finding my creative voice and a chance conversation over coffee flung me onto the RTYDS Introduction to Directing course. I have never felt I was a creative and suddenly I was surrounded by a fantastic cohort of creatives, writers, producers and directors. I felt privileged to be learning from two exceptional directors Sameena Hussain and Jay Crutchley, both RTYDS 18-Month Residency Directors.
Often feeling like a fish out of water, this was my first experience into the universe of theatre. I was guided through a process of reading scripts, researching, devising and working collaboratively with creatives, as well as learning about the director’s role as a facilitator, the power of play, community theatre and the rehearsal room. Learning and growth happens outside of the comfort zone and I often felt out of my depth whilst embracing the opportunity to learn.
As we progressed on this journey into theatre making, I began to realise that I had already acquired a number of key transferable skills as a multipotentialite, be that as a facilitator, researcher, project manager with the years of experience working on community engagement, diversity, coproduction, strategy development, inclusion, cohesion and my passion for social innovation and change. The TedTalk by Jay on ‘can theatre change the world?’ resonates with me on many levels, particularly my activism in creating a fairer, equal and just society: https://youtu.be/PZPz4YNvZIo
Lockdown has meant that the course was delivered entirely virtually. Theatre is a live experience and the course would have been delivered very differently had we been in a space together. However, Sameena and Jay masterfully crafted a programme, each week creating a safe and compassionate space for our learning. They allowed us to delve into key areas, giving us the opportunity to gain a deeper insight, adapting to our individual needs and utilising the breadth of knowledge of all the participants. The learning continued between sessions, exploring the content more practically in smaller groups and pairs.
Coming from outside of the sector, each week was an avalanche of information as I grappled with new concepts. Now, I feel empowered, exhilarated, inspired and eager to learn more as I realise that I would like to dedicate more time to theatre. I look forward to one day coming together as a cohort and meeting in person.
I have been reflecting on the theatre I would like to make, interweaving my desire to reframe the narrative, tackle social division and racism in Britain today. Drawing on my interests in interfaith, fostering good relations, diversity, history, spirituality, sociology, faith, conflict resolution, peace building and Northern Ireland, I have a growing folder of ideas. My next step is to gain further experience and hopefully gain an opportunity to work alongside a director to learn the craft. The course was an opportunity for a padawan to learn from the Jedi Masters and I feel ready to take my next leap into the unknown!
One area I feel confident that I can be the change and apply my new gained knowledge is in becoming a trustee of a theatre, navigating the strategic challenges the sector will be facing after lockdown and learning to embrace diversity wholeheartedly.
Introduction to Directing has given me the inspiration and opportunity to begin writing my first play. It has allowed me to overcome my inner voice of doubt, ride through the imposter syndrome and gain the confidence to apply for R&D funding to help me on my journey and develop my ideas further. I look forward to finding my tribe, nurturing my skills and growing into becoming a creative that provokes, disrupts and plants the seeds of the change society needs. I’m grateful for the opportunity, and I look forward to navigating my next steps during this uncertain time, feeling my way out of the darkness!