Monthly Archives: February 2010

Lotus Beauty (Propeller)

Satinder Chohan’s “Lotus Beauty” in rehearsals, directed by Poonam Brah and designed by Eva Auster and Fahmida Bakht – part of the Propeller project, March 2010.  Photographs by Robert Workman.

Moving things along

Recently, I found myself one evening on the deck at the National Theatre with Felix (my husband and Artistic Director of Nitro). It’s the diversity event of the Cultural Leadership Programme, hosted by Kwame Kwei-Armah (playwright and National Theatre trustee) and Nick Starr (NT executive director) and lots of other (mostly white) high level theatre folk are there.

We are gathered to discuss the ‘problem’ (read lack) of cultural diversity in British theatre. Kwame kicks off the discussion, then the conversation skirts around a bit too politely for my liking. Finally I feel I just have to move things along a bit.

I explain where I’m coming from. “This is a very difficult conversation for me,” I say, “because I’m out here on the front line, and for the last 21 years we have managed to grow and develop an infrastucture at Tamasha. But the reason why we’re still having this conversation (Kwame asks if we’re going backwards, yes I’m afraid we seem to be), the reason this will not get better and we will not be at the top tables, is that all we are talking about here is this word – diversity – divorced from the artistic aesthetic, from the practice.”

It’s rather shameful that we’re in this position in 2010.

People like me (artists) are waiting for people in positions of power to have the courtesy to look through this screen titled Diversity and see the quality of the work being done. Until this is properly recognised – that companies like ours are capable of quality – we’re going to have to keep having this circular conversation. These conversations get tense because we are not being spoken to as equal artists who make work, we are only occasionally let in when there’s a diversity issue.

Anyway, I got the feeling that I woke things up a bit. Happily, I wrote to Nick Starr afterwards inviting him to Propeller and he’s accepted. Which is an excellent start.

Tamasha turns 21

Welcome to my new blog.  Now that Tamasha is turning 21 (more of that later) it seemed like a good time to start a sort-of-diary and get some of the issues buzzing around inside my head, outside.

A flavour of some of the topics you’ll be finding here in coming months include: the place of Asian-led theatre in super-diverse Britain; collaborations across artforms; learning and teaching intracultural theatre practice internationally; and battling ‘mainstream’ theatre on the D (iversity) word.   There will also be plenty of ad hoc reviews, juicy snippets from theatreland, rehearsal notes and anything else  I’d like to share, laugh at, vent about, etc!

So to explain about Tamasha’s 21st – it was almost 21 years ago now that Sudha (Bhuchar) and I co-founded Tamasha and we’re very glad we’re still here producing new work, touring, and working with young writers, designer and directors.  So in the coming year, alongside our usual kind of performance and practice we’ll also be running a series of events, interventions and what-have-you to mark this birthday. And it’s a chance to take stock.

Seems we’re not the only ones – I see that INIVA (institute of international visual art) is 15 years old and asking some big questions in their new exhibition Progress Reports. It came up in a team meeting last week about our anniversary. Britain and particularly London is a very different landscape now, then when Tamasha and Iniva were born. When they started people still thought predominantly in terms of Black and Asian artists and audience when they spoke about diversity. Now with the turbo-boost of the globalisation, super-diversity is the new reality and this exhibition is asking how it can reflect that, stay relevant and keep pace – does ‘new internationalism’ cut it?

Our play Lyrical MC reflects this change most clearly of our recent work. Six languages are spoken by the London schoolchildren of myriad nationalities on stage. We constantly have to operate and think about, through and beyond identity. As Guardian journalist Gary Younge said so well recently at a talk about Obama and US politics, ‘Identity is a great place to start, a bad place to finish.’ We all agreed that sums up where we’re at now pretty well.

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