The new patriotism

Almost exactly one year ago, I wrote a post for the Tamasha blog called Best of British: New theatre in the age of Brexit. The piece looked forward to the busy year ahead; with no less than 7 productions or co-productions and 3 digital projects scheduled to launch. At the time, the UK was also due to leave the European Union on 31 March.

One year on and, after a short breather for the Christmas holidays, we’re once more looking forward to the year ahead – with the added excitement that 2020 also marks the start of Tamasha’s 30th anniversary year.

The political backdrop remains as dire as it ever was. The result of the December general election is likely to have serious consequences for arts funding, as it will for the whole future of the UK. The only positive seems to be that at least now we know where we stand.

It’s an odd contradiction to be enjoying such a boom as a company while the social and political context for so many in our country remains so bleak.

Still, our 30th anniversary celebrations will take place regardless, and I hope might give Tamasha’s community of artists and supporters some winter cheer at a difficult time.

In what might become an annual tradition, I wanted to look forward to the year ahead once more, announce a few plans, make an appeal for collaborators in our forthcoming fundraising efforts, and reflect on how the cultural sector should respond to the new political reality in which we find ourselves.

2020 so far has lead seamlessly on from 2019, with our seventh and final show of the year, I Wanna Be Yours by Zia Ahmed, our co-production with Paines Plough, finishing its triumphant run at the Bush Theatre studio on Sat 18 January. It’s a gorgeous jewel of a show, beautifully directed by Anna Himali-Howard with stunning sound, movement and fully integrated BSL. As a contemporary cross-cultural love story, I Wanna Be Yours perfectly showcases Tamasha’s belief that the personal is always political, and small lives emblematic of the society we live in. Do catch it before it ends.

I Wanna Be Yours. Photo: The Other Richard

After I Wanna Be Yours closes, our official first event of 2020 is barely a fortnight later.

Hear Me Now: LoveSexIdentityAmbition is a week-long festival of monologues taken from the book Hear Me Now: Audition Monologues for Actors of Colour, co-created and edited by Titi Dawudu, and published by Oberon.

As well as performances of several of the monologues, each night the audience will be invited to participate in discussions by a dynamic, high-energy host around what stories for women of colour are being told in the theatre, and how many more stories there’s still left to tell.

Hear Me Now. Illustration: EmKayHaytch

The festival represents the first iteration of a longstanding ambition to do more with the extraordinarily fresh, funny and poignant material contained in the Hear Me Now anthology – with plans to commission a second volume and possibly even a full length show. Watch this space… In the meantime, LoveSexIdentityAmbition plays at Theatre 503 from 4th to 8th February. Book your tickets now.

Festivities officially launching our 30th will start in the Spring, with a re-brand – a new logo and website fit for a grown-up company turning 30. Tamasha will be getting a makeover! Keep an eye out.

In the meantime, many of you will be aware of our flagship writer attachment scheme Tamasha Playwrights, now in its sixth year. The group goes from strength to strength, with a strong track record of launching careers. This year, for the first time, we’ve secured some funding to cover the travel costs of regional writers, bursaries to write, and perhaps most significantly to train the group as workshop leaders, then pay them to deliver playwriting workshops in inner city schools – role models for the next generation of new talent.

Tamasha Playwrights Scratch Night 2019.

I’m pleased to say we’ve also been awarded funding for a second group, Tamasha Directors, a monthly group run by the incomparable Sita Thomas in the same artist-led format of bespoke sessions responsive to the group’s needs. We’re hopeful it will go on to similar successes, contributing to and diversifying the talent pool in the same way its sister group has for playwrights.

Sita Thomas

One of the questions any theatre company grapples with is how to preserve and capture the legacy of its past, when theatre itself is so ephemeral as a form. Since I got this job we’ve been looking for a home for the Tamasha archive – three decades of groundbreaking British theatre history. Well, I’m pleased to say that our brilliant Executive Director Valerie Synmoie has secured a partnership with the Bishopsgate Institute to host this valuable record of 30 years of this company’s extraordinary history and shows. Currently gathering dust in storage, it will soon to be made publically available for the first time. The Bishopsgate Institute holds important historical collections about London, the labour movement, free thought, as well as the history of protest and campaigning. And now political theatre too – we’re proud to be working with them.

Our first full production of 2020 is soon to be announced, but I can reveal will be a debut play by a regional writer who first came to our attention via Graeae’s pioneering Write to Play scheme. The show will be a co-production with Graeae and the Bush, opening in July…. Watch this space for more.

Throughout 2019, we’ve been in a pilot year for Tamasha Digital, testing out various formats for creating online work, including arts and culture discussion show Tell Dem, an interactive smartphone adventure around Brick Lane, We Are Shadows, created with the local Bangladeshi community and with our friends at Coney, and Decolonising History, five audio dramas for SOAS University of London.

It was a pilot year well spent, because Tamasha is fast becoming the go-to independent production company for cultural and historical organisations looking to commission audio podcast dramas.

The first half of this year sees us returning to collaborate with the National Archives. We’ll be working once again with researcher, historian and lecturer Iqbal Singh on two more specially commissioned audio dramas, this time looking at early 20th century migration to British port cities, by Arab and Indian sailors settling there. Let superstar writers Satinder Chohan and Hassan Abdulrazzak transport you to another era, and how it shaped our country today.

Iqbal’s already come up with a title for us – Once British, Always British – a direct quote from a letter in the Archives by an Arab hostel owner to the India Office, protesting how ostensibly ‘British’ citizens from elsewhere in the Empire were being treated once they settled here. (I like how it sounds cheekily Brexit-y until you read a bit closer….)

The second half of 2020 will see our first digital project for schools, The Power of Persuasion, a series of dramatized podcasts about staying safe online, a spin-off from Nyla Levy’s extraordinary hit show Does My Bomb Look Big In This? which sold out Soho Theatre last year. This year we’ll be putting that learning into practice in a tangible way, using our storytelling expertise to address a gap in provision around educating young people about the ways in which they can be targeted by groomers online, in an effort to inoculate them against it. But crucially, doing so in a fun, interactive, character-led format with all the wit and irreverence of Nyla’s original play.

Does My Bomb Look Big In This? Photo: Bettina Adela

Alongside all of this, we’ll be leveraging some of the digital work already generated during our pilot year – particularly the audio dramas from our Decolonising History project at SOAS – with some further ‘gathered listening’ events in London and beyond, including potentially for private commission.

Our Brick Lane walking tour We Are Shadows remains live, for anyone to play at any time. We’ll be using the opportunity of having this permanent presence to curate timed tours with specific groups – journalists, students, tourists, teachers – showcasing how arts and culture can get under the skin of a rapidly changing area, and preserve the voices of the communities most affected.

We Are Shadows: Brick Lane. Photo: Bettina Adela

And these are just the confirmed events. We’ve ambitions to raise money for much, much more – including a 30th anniversary scratch night of new commissions, celebrating the company’s achievements, a brand new digital storytelling project taking place entirely on WhatsApp, and numerous other projects for 2020 and beyond.

Fundraising is a constant challenge, of course, and our anniversary a unique opportunity to grow our community of supporters, directly contributing to our long-term financial sustainability.

Our plan, throughout this year, is to offer up a range of Tamasha projects for groups of sponsors of all levels to cluster around – inviting individuals to contribute directly to the project which most inspires them, becoming its champions, in exchange for exclusive access to the creative team and their process.

After making donations of their own, we’ll ask sponsors to advocate for others in their networks to do the same – harnessing the power and structure of social media to forge emotional connections with donors who remain attached to and updated about the project which they care most about, right up until opening night.

If this sounds a bit labour-intensive, that’s because it is. We’re going to need some help – and are asking all our supporters to drop us a line if you’re up for getting involved.

We’ll need some champions to align themselves with one or more of the projects for which we want to secure sponsorship, and donate a bit of time to help promote them, perhaps shooting a short video, speaking at some of our events or meeting with potential donors in low key socials at the Tamasha office, to describe in tangible terms your relationship with the company, the effect it has had on your life, work and career and – hopefully – inspiring them to help us continue that work. And as with any good partnership, we want also want to hear from you, what you think might be the best way to engage with those you know, and think might support our work.

Tamasha has always been not just a theatre company, but a movement.

On which note, I can’t finish without acknowledging the political climate in which we’re attempting to achieve all of this.

The result of the December general election will have as yet unknown but undoubtedly serious consequences for arts funding, as it will for the whole future of the UK. It sadly also ensures that the values that most of us hold dear will be in opposition for the foreseeable future.

Progressives have – for now – lost the political battle. We will need to draw on each other for support more than ever. Just a glance at social media is enough to see what has been unleashed; the increased levels of open hostility towards minority groups from a newly-emboldened far right.

At Tamasha this is personal. ‘Minority groups’ means our friends, family, colleagues and collaborators. We want you to know that we stand with you. Tamasha is one of your key hubs for the push back against this.

If there’s one glimmer of hope, it’s that progressives have always had the upper hand in the cultural arena. What we do, and how and where we do it, has the power to shape hearts and minds at the grass roots. It’s a fact that almost all progressive political achievements – from universal suffrage, to the welfare state, to same-sex marriage – started life as cultural movements, changes in the hearts and minds of the population, sparked by outrage at injustice.

Pushing back against the prevailing perception of Britain as a small-minded island of imperial fantasists is no different.

Because there is another Britain, waiting in the wings. In fact it’s never really gone away.

It’s the Britain of protest and political struggle. Of tolerance, social justice, and the willingness to fight for what is right. It’s the Britain of the suffragettes and the Chartists, of the NHS and Notting Hill Carnival; of the Iraq War march, trades unions, and the People’s Vote movement.

It’s the Britain of Stormzy and Banksy, of Shami Chakrabarti and Mary Beard, of Kindertransport and Glastonbury.

Closer to home, it’s the Britain of Kwame and Lynette and debbie and Roy and Roy and Bryony and Tanika and Inua and Indhu and Ishy and Matthew and Michael and Dawn and Amanda and Suba and Sudha and Kris and Jatinder – we have the power.

While our allies in politics begin the years-long struggle to regain a seat at the top table, those of us on the ground are primed and ready to go.

Our sector knows how to do Opposition. It’s all we’ve ever known.

This is the new patriotism in Brexit Britain – arts and culture as the conscience of the nation, refusing to let our country go to the wall, and certainly not without a fight.

In his own similar list of the British progressive tradition, rapper and historian Akala included the little known “John Brown Women’s Society from Sheffield, who refused to make manacles for factories which supported slavery, but because they were poor, and women to boot, their names have vanished into history.”

Our work, our storytelling expertise, is a tool – a weapon, even – to put this other Britain centre stage, to ensure that history does not overlook the ordinary people with whom political change always starts. In doing so, we multiply their power.

As the Brexit debacle calcifies into a hard new reality, this nation is going to have to have some difficult conversations with itself. But conversations are what we do.

Make no mistake, this is now a generational struggle. Difficult times are ahead. One of Tamasha’s board members, Anshu Srivastava, an architect, likes to say that Tamasha is at once a port, and a harbour – somewhere to shelter from the storm outside, but also to recuperate and recharge, to get back out there and continue the fight.

Change will be slow, and incremental, one heart at a time. But we – the storytellers – can be at the vanguard.

I hope you’ll join us in 2020, giving what you can – time, money or both – to sow the seeds of a more progressive Britain.

It starts with the stories we tell. It starts with Tamasha.

Fin Kennedy 

 

If you would like to volunteer some time to help Tamasha fundraise during their 30th anniversary year, please drop us a line to register your interest.


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