Category Archives: Tamasha Developing Artists

From East End Tales to Mano’s: a community theatre success story

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Later this month, on Saturday 28 July, Rightful Place Theatre Company perform the world premiere of Mano’s by Guleraana Mir at Rich Mix. Performed by an all-female community cast of British Bangladeshi women from Tower Hamlets, the play is set in a female-run car mechanics in East London, and has been developed in collaboration with its cast since October last year.

I’ve seen the show and it’s great – smart, funny and subtly subversive – with its multi-generational cast having complete ownership of the story and production. I found its opening night quite moving; the project is particularly close to my heart because, for me at least, the show has roots stretching as far back as 2004. It represents the latest iteration of a long personal history, now embedded at Tamasha, of co-creating new plays with Bengali women and girls linked to Mulberry School for Girls on Commercial Road, E1. It’s a strand of work which it is no exaggeration to say made me the artist I am today, and has left a legacy of theatre-making in the heart of a particularly under-represented community. I’m proud that this work continues to be supported by Tamasha. It also makes for a particularly compelling case study in the power of applied drama in community settings.

Rightful Place is a theatre company based at Mulberry School for Girls with a remit to work with the school’s female alumni and other local women like the mothers of current students. Set up and run by Creative Producer Afsana Begum, herself a Mulberry alumna and employee, Rightful Place was a Tamasha associate company in 2016. Mano’s is their first Arts Council funded show – a big vote of confidence in this unique community company. It’s also testament to what can be achieved with long-term collaborations between professional theatre artists and the diverse communities on their doorstep, when that relationship is entered into as equal creative partners.

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It all started back in 2004 – I’d just had my debut professional production at Soho Theatre and was under commission at Half Moon Young People’s Theatre in Limehouse, developing my first play for teenagers. Half Moon have an immersive process to develop their writers, sending them into local schools to run separate projects with local young people, as a way of getting to know the venue’s target audience. I was sent into Mulberry to run a 10-week after school theatre club, in which I worked with a group of Year 10 girls to develop a series of short, lyrical ensemble plays inspired by local newspaper articles, which became East End Tales. My main play for Half Moon, Locked In, set in an East London pirate station, later performed in the school, and the Deputy Head Jill Tuffee, herself a drama teacher, spotted an opportunity. Mulberry was applying for specialist arts status, an initiative under the last Labour government to offer schools who excel in a certain subject area to apply for an uplift in funding for professionals from that field to work in the school part-time.

Mulberry is an exceptional place. Founded as Tower Hamlets Girls’ School in the 1960s, it has been a fixture of the local community for generations. For most of that time, it has achieved extraordinary academic results in one of the most deprived boroughs in the country, regularly sending its girls to Oxford and Cambridge, and counting among its many alumni the current local MP Rushanara Ali. It’s no accident that Michelle Obama chose the school to launch her girls education charity on her last visit to the UK as First Lady.

Mulberry has achieved all this by putting a commitment to creative arts, and especially drama, at the heart of the curriculum. It isn’t selective, or a faith school or free school, but a state comprehensive whose student intake has tracked the changing face of East London, and is currently 96% Muslim students of Bangladeshi heritage. When I became their first Writer-in-Residence in 2006, the focus on creativity was undergoing a renewed vigour with a new Headteacher, Vanessa Ogden, working alongside the newly-promoted Jill Tuffee, ensuring a commitment to drama and professional arts collaborations from the Senior Leadership Team.

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My brief as Writer-in-Residence was twofold: firstly, to work alongside the school’s Drama and English teachers in timetabled classes to improve results by developing bespoke classes in devising, theatre criticism, textual analysis and to bring in other theatre professional such as actors, directors or other writers involved with shows the students had seen. And secondly, to run a range of extra-curricular projects to stretch and develop the school’s creative practice and raise its profile in this area.

This second objective was particularly open. An after-school Playwriting Club for students was an obvious first choice, but when a staff member stopped me while I was photocopying scripts to ask if I could run the same for teachers, I did that too. (It turns out that teachers make excellent playwrights.)

But the highest profile project came out of my desire to write something new for the students myself. In typical Mulberry fashion Jill Tuffee seized on the idea and suggested we take a show to the Edinburgh Fringe. I costed it up and shortly afterwards a budget was approved – we were going to Edinburgh. That first show, Mehndi Night in 2007, became the first of six shows I wrote for the school, four of which premiered at Edinburgh. The process was fully collaborative, with weekly sessions starting in January and the play emerging over many months of workshops and discussions, with all students treated as creative equals in the process and bespoke parts for everyone who wanted to act.

In 2009 we won a Scotsman Fringe First award for our show The Unravelling, which really put our work on the map. The Scotsman, The Guardian and The Herald were particularly supportive. In 2010 we held our own festival at Southwark Playhouse and my publisher Nick Hern Books published my first four plays in an anthology, The Urban Girl’s Guide To Camping and other plays. A second anthology, The Domino Effect and other plays for teenagers, followed in 2015. Mulberry’s Fringe First plaque still sits in the school’s reception and is probably the proudest moment of my playwriting career. It had been a privilege to be welcomed into the Mulberry community and to give a voice to their young women, against the odds of anyone from their background featuring on Britain’s professional stages. (Incidentally, Mulberry are returning to the Edinburgh Fringe in 2018 for the first time in four years with Cry God for England, Harry and St George! – a new show developed entirely independently of me – which is great!)

There was a wider sea change taking place locally too. When I first started at Mulberry, there was real anxiety about the community’s reaction to their young women performing publically, around which there can be cultural sensitivities. Fourteen years ago, hardly any parents came to see the school’s shows (we would always perform the Edinburgh show locally in the autumn term). But with each show we did, more and more parents turned out to support, year on year. The impact on their daughters was obvious – they’d start in January full of shyness and nerves, but come August could hold a sold-out auditorium in the palm of their hands as they totally owned the stage. This new-found confidence permeated every area of their lives. It was a joy to see.

There were wider personal effects too. In returning to school year after year I was able to keep track of students who had been to Edinburgh with us in previous years. They all said what a profound effect it had had, the confidence it had given them in life and work, and what a unique experience it had been for young people who had rarely left Tower Hamlets, and which they would remember for the rest of their lives, empowering them in job interviews and other challenging situations, irrespective of whether or not they went into an arts career. By now the parents were fully on board too, with a coach-load coming to Southwark Playhouse in 2010, to Soho Theatre in 2011, and some even making the trip to Edinburgh with us in 2014. But perhaps most excitingly, construction work had started on the school’s very own theatre on-site – a state-of-the-art 150-seat studio, ensuring the means of production were now fully within the community’s control (and which was where I saw Mano’s last month).

But back in 2010 things were not so rosy. One of my measures of success for what I had started at Mulberry was whether it had a life beyond my involvement. I had always been clear that ultimately I wanted the work to become locally-owned and led, for Mulberry Theatre Company to be able to self-represent, run fully by local Bengali women. Back then, that seemed like a pipe dream. A general election that year saw the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition government come to power, and one of the first things they did was scrap the Specialist Schools scheme which paid for my salary. Mulberry and I had to become more creative about how we were going to work together.

It was around this time that Tamasha, under then-Artistic Directors Sudha Bhuchar and Kristine Landon-Smith, were advertising for Associate Artists through the Tamasha Developing Artists (TDA) programme. When I rang up the office and asked what they wanted these Associate Artists to do, Tamasha rather brilliantly said “Suggest something”. So I suggested a pilot playwrights-in-schools training scheme, opening Mulberry up to a new generation of diverse emerging writers sourced via an open call to the TDA network. We were swamped with applications – it turns out playwrights are crying out to do this work. After an initial pilot phase, the project eventually became Schoolwrights, which for a while was Tamasha’s flagship education programme: TDA writers would co-create new short plays in Mulberry and four other schools, and stage these performances at Rich Mix and Soho Theatre.

Shortly afterwards, Kristine Landon-Smith stepped down, and before going, rang me up to invite me to apply for her job. No-one was more surprised than me when I actually got it – but my appointment opened up a whole new phase in the relationship between Mulberry School and the professional theatre industry. I wasn’t on my own any more but had the infrastructure of an Arts Council funded touring company with an extraordinary track record of championing British Asian artists and stories at the grass roots. All of a sudden, things were looking up.

What’s more, Mulberry had been nurturing a new champion. Afsana Begum had started as Administrative Assistant in the school in 2008, and been a crucial Company Manager behind the scenes on our 2008 and 2009 Edinburgh trips, as well as on the 2010 Southwark Playhouse festival. A brilliant all-rounder, Afsana acts, directs, writes and designs sets and costumes as well as creative producing. A local resident and alumna of the school, she had been quietly absorbing everything she needed to know about theatre production to take the school’s work into a new and exciting phase.

When Afsana set up Rightful Place, it was initially in her own time as a focus for herself and her peers locally to take part in workshops and create work informally, to keep their creativity alive while engaged in parenting or non-arts jobs since leaving school. When Tamasha started an Associate Company attachment scheme in 2016, Rightful Place was one of the first we reached out to. Over a year, we made staff time and expertise available to advise Afsana on her company’s development, brokering industry introductions, structuring her ideas into achievable projects and making her first Arts Council funding application.

Alongside this, I had set up Tamasha Playwrights, a consolidation of my years spent teaching on Playwriting Masters degrees into a writer-led collective and engine room for new ideas and diverse writer training at the heart of Tamasha. Tamasha Playwrights has gone from strength to strength, with Asif Khan, Yolanda Mercy, Iman Qureshi, Matilda Ibini, Amy Ng, Rabiah Hussain and Guleraana Mir among its alumni. The group was a natural first port of call to find a writer when Afsana secured her first Arts Council grant to commission a new play.

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And so it was that Mano’s was born. It’s a proper family affair, written by a Tamasha Playwright, with direction from another Tamasha artist Mina Barber, support from our office staff and our landlords Rich Mix, and even some former Mulberry students who have been to Edinburgh among its cast and crew. Guleraana and Mina have done us proud, and are carrying a very important torch for me personally.

This is why I was a bit emotional at their opening last month. Rightful Place producing Mano’s is the achievement of a long-held ambition, a sign that professional theatre practice is becoming locally owned and led by the women of Tower Hamlets. It’s an extraordinary evolution for the parents of students to be creating their own work, and for their daughters to be coming to see them, rather than the other way around.

So if you are free on Saturday 28 July, do come along and support them. In a way, this show has been 14 years in the making, and I couldn’t be prouder of them. But I have a suspicion that Rightful Place theatre company might be influencing the professional theatre scene for a lot longer than that.

Fin Kennedy
Artistic Director, Tamasha

Mano’s by Guleraana Mir, directed by Mina Barber and produced by Afsana Begum for Rightful Place Theatre Company performs at Rich Mix on Sat 28 July, 6.45pm. More info and tickets here

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Writing The Future – Tamasha Playwrights

Four years ago, when I was appointed Artistic Director of Tamasha there were two things I was clear about. I will never write a Tamasha full production. The company simply isn’t there to support writers like me. And second, I am not a director and never will be. These two things essentially underpinned my pitch for the job.

Because I’ll never write the plays for Tamasha, we’ll always need to commission new writers. Because I don’t direct, we’ll always need external directors. My role is much more behind-the-scenes, as a dramaturg and creative producer, working to put others centre stage – much as I did when I first came to Tamasha’s notice for my work over several years as writer-in-residence at Mulberry School for Girls, where I specialised in co-creating new plays with British-Bangladeshi girls in Tower Hamlets; and subsequently via Schoolwrights for Tamasha. My job is to put the structures in place for others to shine.

The Unravelling (Schoolwrights) Picture from Tamasha

Production from Schoolwrights

It was against this background that the idea for Tamasha Playwrights took shape. I’d taught for many years on playwriting Masters degrees at Goldsmiths, Central Saint Martins and elsewhere, and it seemed an easy thing to be able to offer in-house at Tamasha. In the first instance, it wouldn’t even need any external funding. All it would take is my time and the office after work, which was empty from 6pm. The TDA mailing list contained a large number of diverse emerging playwrights, all hungry for opportunities, mostly broke, hardly any with formal training, and all seeing Tamasha as a safe and welcoming entry point into a profession and industry which can sometimes feel alienating and a closed shop.

Tamasha has historically always had this function, as a stepping stone into the mainstream for diverse new talent. Many of those involved in our shows are at the early stages of their careers, and the roll call of those who have gone on to become household names is impressive and growing, from Ayub Khan-Din and Jimi Mistry, to Parminder Nagra and Nina Wadia, Sunetra Sarker, Chris Bisson and Nabil Elouahabi. More recently, rising fast behind them are Krupa Pattani, Kiran Sonia Sarwar, Ishy Din, Emteaz Hussain, Diyan Zora, Pooja Ghai, Arun Ghosh, Prema Mehta and Satinder Chohan. Others who’ve taken part in Tamasha workshops and other training opportunities include Nadia Fall and Madani Younis, now Artistic Directors of major London theatres, as well as prominent artists such as Suba Das, Pravesh Kumar, Samir Bhamra, Rachna Jahdev and Dominic Hingorani. Tamasha has a long and proud history of changing the face of the professional British theatre landscape.

Having had to survive as a freelance playwright myself for almost 15 years, I knew just how tough it was – and I was in the relatively privileged position of being white, male, middle class, university educated and experienced about the pitching, fundraising and commissioning processes. I had personally struggled, at one point even considering giving up writing altogether. For every one of me, how many others must have fallen by the wayside, and their diverse stories fallen with them

At the time, in 2014, I was fresh from the unexpected success of a grass roots political campaign, In Battalions, which challenged the government about the effects of its funding cuts to the Arts Council on new plays and playwrights, especially those from under-represented backgrounds. I was only too aware of the amount of opportunities for entry level writers which were closing down. Yet, of all the theatre artists, playwrights are surely the lifeblood of the industry. They’re also critical to diversity – everything starts with the writer and their vision. They decide whose lives to a put a frame around in the first place, which has a direct impact on what ends up on the nation’s stages.

In conversation with Tamasha colleagues, and in particular outgoing Artistic Director Sudha Bhuchar, we conceived of an approach to training diverse emerging playwrights in the best tradition of Tamasha’s support for new theatre artists, with core staffing costs that could be covered in-house. What we came up with was really quite simple – so simple that I have sometimes wondered why more theatres don’t offer it.

Tamasha Playwrights 2017-18 Picture

Tamasha Playwrights 2017-18

Tamasha Playwrights is a year-long attachment programme of weekly evening sessions in our office, in the model of a writer-led collective, with open applications and free to attend. All writers need to do is send us a CV, letter of application and one full-length play as a writing sample, though it doesn’t have to have been produced. (The submissions window is every September, sign up for the TDA mailing list to be notified.)

Tamasha Playwrights is not a taught course. In our model, every session is by majority request from the participants. In every first session we ask “What do you need? What is holding you back?” and use the answers to plan our year together. In practice, this can mean practical writing workshops on any aspect of the craft, from dramatic structure, to character and dialogue, or stagecraft techniques around using location, managing stage time, writing non-naturalistically or writing for radio. There’s an expectation that this learning will be put into practice, with each writer writing a wholly new play; we set deadlines, offer feedback on drafts and run a ‘group dramaturgy’ process of 30-minute slots where individual writers get the benefit of the whole group discussing and analysing their play.

We also offer more holistic training, about how to maintain a freelance career. One always-popular session is on how to apply to the Arts Council’s Grants for the Arts scheme (now the National Lottery Project Grants). We also offer training in self-producing, on how to structure a budget for a show and how to manage a small-scale production of your own – the artist as producer. Then there’s the sessions about earning a living between commissions, free training in teaching playwriting in schools and youth theatres, and co-creating work with young people as a writer-in-residence.

There’s also the opportunity for group members to suggest projects to us, and lead on their development with our support, such as looking over a funding application, providing a supportive quote, and office space, marketing or dramaturgy as support-in-kind. We try to offer each and every Tamasha Playwright at least one substantial opportunity during their time with us, whether it’s showcasing some work at a scratch night, taking part in one of our own projects like Hear Me Now, delivering some schools workshops, or working with us on partner-led projects like Loyalty and Dissent with the National Archives or Barbican Box.

At the end of their time with us, writers join ‘the Tamafia’, a secret group of agents and sleeper cells out there in the industry who we might call on at any time to conduct a mission for us. Just like the real mafia you can never truly leave… In all seriousness, we do stay in touch with everyone and as news of our group spreads year on year we find ourselves acting more and more like a writer’s agency, championing our graduates to other companies, forwarding opportunities and call-outs, or being approached by other companies looking to diversify their collaborators. The different year groups also stay in touch with one another long after their time with us and, among other things, become an active network of supportive readers of one another’s plays.

Apart from all the practical things above, there is one other principle behind our group, perhaps the most important one. It is something I have been at times quite painfully aware of during my time as a freelance writer. It is the need to be able to call somewhere Home. To have a company and community of artists and peers who, although they may not be a main source of employment or income, are an artistic community and lodestar, a place of succour and shelter from the chill winds and from the cold hard reality of surviving in the arts marketplace. A place where your creativity can be nourished, your craft developed and your voice heard.

The reason for running Tamasha Playwrights is more circumspect than merely looking for plays we can produce. It’s about investing in a stable of diverse artists we can draw on for a variety of projects, matching them to different strands of our work where we can, particularly community and young people’s projects, and championing them within the industry. We also sometimes get approached by schools or other organisations looking for writers who better reflect the make-up of our nation than those who tend to get the higher profile breaks. Inner city schools want role models for their students; The Migration Museum wanted writers with migration experiences in their immediate family; The National Archives wanted writers able to engage on a personal level with untold diverse histories buried deep in the government records. Tamasha Playwrights is fast becoming the go-to group for a wide range of organisations undertaking creative arts projects with a diverse flavour.

For me personally, more than anything, it’s about investing in a new generation of playwrights capable of taking on the big issues of the day, through the prism of their own diversity – though also capable of writing beyond their own lived experience if they wish to.

It’s about setting up a pipeline for these writers to go out into the industry and beyond, and tell stories and make theatre which looks a bit more like the world around us. It’s about playwrights playing a critical social and democratic function, as one of the main and most important artists in a society, because they curate a space where that society can truly reflect on itself, in all its diverse, messy and contradictory glory – where audiences from all walks of life can meet, walk a mile in one another’s shoes, stop, think, feel and hopefully understand one another a little more than they did when they stepped into that auditorium. In a world where we seem more atomised into warring tribes than ever before, this is surely more important than ever.

Four years in, and our initial hunch about the need for and success of our model of writer-led writer training is starting to be confirmed. In the past 12 months, a flurry of Tamasha Playwrights have had significant breaks within the industry – and it’s really thrilling to see.

Acceptance by Amy Ng

Currently, Acceptance by Amy Ng, her debut professional production, is running its full length run at Hampstead Theatre. It’s a story about a gifted Chinese music student who makes a life-changing allegation at an American university. Amy is also under commission at the RSC and Belgrade Coventry. This summer, Rabiah Hussain’s Spun opens for its full run at the Arcola, her second full commission after a monologue for Theatre Absolute in Coventry. Spun charts the relationship of two young, female British-Pakistani best friends and the personal and professional fallout of the 7/7 London bombings. Last year, Asif Khan had a hugely successful tour of his play Combustion, about the effects of a child abuse scandal on the Muslim men working in a garage in a northern British town. Asif also secured a place on the BBC Comedy Lab and has just been announced as one of the recipients of a £10,000 Channel 4 Playwrights’ Scheme bursary to spend a year on attachment at Watford Palace. Guleraana Mir is producing a tour of her own play Coconut after a successful Grants for the Arts application; Coconut is a comedy about a Muslim woman and white British man who converts to marry her. Guleraana is also under commission at Rightful Place, a new theatre company set up as a vehicle for alumni of Mulberry School (and a former Tamasha Associate Company). Others have made the shortlists for some major awards, including Mel Pennant for the 2017 Alfred Fagon award for her play A Black Fella Walks Into A Bar… a tense two-hander between two mothers, one of whose son is accused of murdering the other in a hate crime. Also this year, Iman Qureshi was shortlisted for the Tony Craze award for The Funeral Director, about a Muslim funeral business taken to court for turning away a gay couple, and the impact on the owner’s own marriage. Prior to that Iman delivered a searingly innovative youth theatre play, Side Effects for East London company and Tamasha Associate Company, Purple Moon Drama, about a drug trial which gives black and Asian young people visions of their ancestors’ past lives. Yet more have got live commissions such as Ayesha Siddiqi at Derby Theatre for Asylum, about a British-Pakistani family who take in a Syrian refugee; Ross Willis and Mahad Ali at Theatre 503, both for plays they first developed on our programme, and Matilda Ibini a residency at the National Theatre. Yolanda Mercy, also a performer, is currently on an international British Council funded tour of Nigeria with her solo coming-of-age show Quarter Life Crisis, a hit at the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe, which started life under different auspices in our group. A radio version has just been announced as one of the inaugural drama commissions by BBC Radio 1Extra. Many others have been taken on by leading literary agents and we await news of their future successes… All these and more feel like British theatre’s new wave, and this country’s stories of the future.

Despite all this, Tamasha Playwrights remains an initiative delivered with no external funding, offered using Tamasha’s core resources of my time and our empty office. In one sense, this means the group’s future is protected; as we have found, we can always offer it using only the infrastructure we already have. But we have found some limitations. Because the group has no cash budget, we can’t offer travel costs which makes attendance expensive for those living far from our office base in East London. As a national touring company, we have a commitment to nurturing new talent from across the UK, and a genuine need to find and champion regional voices. We have had group members take part from as far afield as Bristol and Manchester, travelling at their own expense every week, such is the value to them of what we’re offering. We’re hoping we might find a funder to help us cover the costs of this, so we can have more writers from further afield who don’t have to foot this bill at a formative stage of their careers.

We’d like to showcase the group’s work more, ideally with a week-long festival of full length readings. The one scratch night we can currently stretch to can really only accommodate 4 or 5 short pieces – choosing which ones get on is always tricky.

We’d like a budget to commission more work, including in innovative new formats such as audio dramas for online podcast, something we have a longstanding ambition to achieve via nascent new strand Tamasha Digital.

We’d like to set up an agency of ‘diverse writers for hire’ – aimed at schools and youth theatres in the first instance, but perhaps developing into a little business which might generate some income for the group through commission.

We’d like to found a Tamasha Playwrights North at a regional venue, to export the model, training and paying graduating members to lead on setting up and running regional branches so that not everything has to take place in our London office.

In time, we’d like to look at replicating the model with other disciplines, such as Tamasha Directors, Tamasha Designers, or Tamasha Stage Managers (we already have a new Producer scheme, including our Sustained Theatre Regional Associate Producers programme – Ignite).

But all that is for the future. We’ll get there, even in the current tough fundraising environment we’re confident that Tamasha Playwrights’ ongoing success speaks for itself and will continue to attract attention (though if you are interested or know any potential sponsors, please do get in touch).

In the meantime, we’ll keep on keeping on. The opportunities will keep multiplying, and we’ll continue to work behind the scenes to put the next generation of diverse playwrights centre stage.

Apart from anything else, Tuesday nights in the Tamasha office are the highlight of my week.


Refuel – Seeding the importance of self-expression in young people – Blog by Cheryl Ndione

Refuel - A Tamasha Schools Project

Pupils and teacher Kate Hibbert rehearse their Refuel piece ‘The Lady

The Refuel project was introduced to me as I had been working with Tamasha Artistic Director, Fin Kennedy, on two separate youth theatre projects earlier in the year. Refuel seemed like the perfect continuation of a blossoming working relationship as it seemed like a great opportunity to create something brand new from nothing, a prospect that is always exciting, and also a huge responsibility in that we were to represent Tamasha as creative ambassadors.

I was asked to read the play Approaching Empty by Ishy Din to contextualise the project. I was going to be working with a writer whose work I already enjoyed. We would have 6 sessions to experiment with ideas to create a brand new 20-minute script with a group of year 8 students from Swanlea School in East London. Already, the structured openness of the project meant we had to jump in with no expectations and see what happened. Instinctively, the writer and I knew that the way to elicit the best work out of a group of young people would be to really allow them to feel that their ideas were at the fore of the creation process.

Having the project funded by AMAL, an organisation interested in celebrating Muslim culture support us to deliver this work at a majority Muslim school, facilitated by myself and a Muslim writer, meant that diversity and authenticity were already inherent, and this meant I could get on with my work to make a play that was well pitched and relevant for school-aged pupils; without race or religion overtly having to frame the proceedings.

Most participants had either little or no experience of practical drama work. It was not easy to galvanise sceptical minds and unconvinced bodies into full and keen participation but the more I worked with the group, the more I realised what an honour it was to be part of what I’d had an inclination would be an important journey for all of us.

Working with Asif Khan as the project writer was incredibly smooth sailing. We met ahead of the first session and had a long rambling conversation about lots of unrelated things and then briefly caveated the meeting with loose plans for the first session. We both agreed that we trusted each other implicitly to do our jobs, but that there was room for fluidly and off-piste exercises depending on where the session was going. Eureka moment came when meticulous planning met the energy of play. This meant no pressure and lots of space for discovery. Hot seating initial character ideas saw some of the students reveal hidden traits that provided great inspiration for characters later embellished in the script.

Our first session was tough. Swanlea School has a very small drama department and very large class sizes. The students were apprehensive to say the very least. They were also a little embarrassed when I let them know that we would be starting each of our sessions together with a physical warm up.

Luckily, we had the full support of Kate Hibbert, the drama teacher at Swanlea, which meant I felt free to push the students way outside of their comfort zone, and I insisted that we wholeheartedly embraced the spirit of drama activity. The students were physically and vocally reserved so my task was clear from the outset; to get these students to wilfully explore and express themselves. With this as my focus, Asif was given the space to piece together the vast tapestry of ideas that were generated and natural attributes the group were able to share through exercises and discussions.

Refuel's the Lady by Tamasha

Students at Swanlea School rehearsing Refuel piece’ The Lady’

Over the course of the 6 sessions we saw growth within each and every one of the students. By the time Asif had created his first draft, we had their full energetic investment. We saw improved ability to vocally project and articulate creative ideas, and also a willingness to contribute when unprompted. One participant in particular started off completely inaudible. She was extremely softly spoken, and as English was a second language, she was often reluctant to speak up even when asked direct questions. During the final read-through of the script, this same participant insisted on a larger speaking role, so much so that we had to do a last minute recast to make sure she was happy.

The best thing about the project was that having Asif as the writer meant that the work was culturally relevant, which made the group feel truly at the centre of the work and got them excited about sharing a perceptive that they fully understood.

The main given that we had to work with was around the set. The play had to be set in a cab office as the text will play directly on top of the set of Approaching Empty, a touring theatre production by Tamasha.

Synopsis: The young people are at the cab office as they have been allowed by one of their fathers to use the space for a few hours so that they can hold their own Eid party. People start to arrive but the party is then interrupted by an unwelcome guest. As the plot thickens, we are in introduced to a ghost – the title character, The Lady.

A project like this is so important as it seeds in the importance of self-expression from a young age. It really felt like a powerful catalyst on the participants’ journeys to learning how to relate to themselves and finding ways to relate to each other and the world around them. It was wonderful seeing how validated and capable they felt after each session. Attendance gradually improved and the energy in the room was palpably engaged. It is important that self-expression is nurtured and it is also important that culturally relevant work is supported, as this gives the students a sense of belonging and provides a space for them to take agency over their own public representation. For me as a Director, I find the work truly inspiring as we all had to work from the unknown and take a leap of faith together, and in so doing, have created something that I think is of immense value.

Find out more and book to see all Refuel performances here.

Cheryl Ndione


The origins and legacy of REFUEL – A Tamasha Schools’ Playwriting Project by Iman Qureshi

Lyrical MC - Tamasha and Rewrite

Image taken from Lyrical MC – photo by Robert Workman

In the weeks following a number of terrorist attacks carried out crudely in the name of Islam, Fin Kennedy, artistic director at Tamasha Theatre, offered the Muslim writers on the Tamasha Playwrights group a space to come together and talk about being a Muslim writer in such a fraught political context.

So one cold January morning myself and three other Muslim playwrights met at Tamasha’s offices in Bethnal Green, and over cupcakes and coffee discussed how it felt to grapple with such issues in our work.

I felt stifled as a writer. If I were to write something, I felt I had a responsibility to answer for such horrors carried out in the name of my religion. But the problem was, I was as in the dark as anyone else about the drivers of such violence. My Islam was not the Islam of Salah Abdeslam, Khurram Butt, or Yahyah Farroukh.

I wanted to write other stories. Stories about Muslims that did not deal with so-called ‘Islamic extremism’ or terrorism, but rather about Muslims whose dating lives are disasters, who hate their jobs, who love trips to ikea, and like feeding stray cats. You know, regular human beings who are fully rounded, three dimensional characters.

And I wasn’t alone in feeling this. There was a general frustration amongst us Muslim writers about how we were constantly represented as Muslims. We only ever seemed to see certain types of Muslims beamed out at us from our screens, stages and news pages. And these ‘types’ rarely corresponded with the Muslims we knew personally – our friends, family, colleagues or acquaintances.

And so, Tamasha theatre decided to make a difference, by supporting us as writers to explore other aspects of Muslim identity in our work. And so, Refuel was born.

Refuel - A Tamasha Schools Project

Rehearsals for Refuel

Designed to support Tamasha’s forthcoming touring production Approaching Empty by Ishy Din, Refuel  paired four Muslim writers with an experienced director each and sent us into four Muslim majority schools across London to develop and write four fresh plays to accompany the main piece. The premise was simple – it must be set in a minicab office. Beyond that, sky was the limit.

Through a series of drama exercises, improvisation, character work, hot seating, real world interviews and discussions, and short writing tasks, I worked with the year 8 girls of Mulberry Girls School in Tower Hamlets to develop some concrete ideas for a play.

Each week we built on top of what we had created together the previous week. The characters we created in the first week, we had to place in a minicab office the second week with some dramatic interactions with other characters. The third week saw those dramatic scenes escalate into a more complex plot. Slowly, the forces of the play came together.

What was most thrilling for me as a writer was seeing the 11 year old girls go from wanting to write stories about Harry and Joe and Chloe and Kate, to becoming excited about writing stories about Khadija or Haleema. This switch from simply recreating the white majority they see on their TV screens at home, to actually representing their own lives and cultures and experiences in their ideas was really satisfying and I hope one of the lasting legacies of a project like this.

And this was where the real magic was – they’re humour, their sass, their depth really shone brightest when they began to mine their own experiences, or the banter they have with their own friends and family.

Our play gradually developed into an intergenerational story about three girls and their grandmother. It’s a story of aging, of not quite getting on with older generations, and of cultural gulfs that must be bridged within families which have migrants from different generations. It’s a story that is at once universal, but also intrinsically rooted in the Bengali culture. Everyone can relate to not giving their grandparents enough time, but yet not everyone’s grandmother is called Nani, eats brain cutlets, or tells stories of her village in Bangladesh.

The project has helped me as an emerging writer in many ways. Firstly, the opportunity to work with a brilliant and experienced director, Endy McKay in the classroom has taught me a huge amount about generating stories and ideas through performance. It’s also equipped me with a repertoire of ridiculously fun drama games which I hope I’ll have the opportunity to use soon.  Moreover, the support I had from Fin and Tamasha was completely invaluable and has meant that I’m now confidence enough and equipped with the skills to work on projects like this again. The production credit will hopefully put me in a good position to receive another similar commission in future.

But finally, working with young people in a collaborative and creative way is extremely liberating, because their imaginations are boundless. It was a pleasure to be let into their world for six short weeks, to hear their ideas, their jokes and their lingo. I think I learnt more from them than they ever could have from me, and based on our time together, I’ve got several stories percolating in the back of my mind. Perhaps they’ll pour out in the next play I write.

Find out more and book to see all Refuel performances here.


‘My Journey’ by Made In India Assistant Director Corey Campbell

Ulrika Krishnamurti as Aditi in Made in India - Credit Robert Day

Ulrika Krishnamurti as Aditi in Made In India – Photo by Robert Day

My road here, from growing up in Alum Rock to becoming a Tamasha Developing Artist, has been a long one. Like many from my area it began with me misbehaving and getting into trouble with the police. The first people to offer me a chance were West Midlands Mediation, a non-profit organisation from Birmingham, they found me and asked ‘what do you want to do?’ They told me that my behaviour was down to the fact that I didn’t know how to express myself. At the time I thought it was arty-farty nonsense, but what they were offering sounded better than prison so I decided to give it a go. Initially I got into music, I was taught to rap and MC and it gave me a full sense of release. That led to me taking part in the E4 School of Performing Arts show, but they didn’t have any music slots left and the only spaces were for actors. I thought that actors were all extroverts and, as someone with serious learning difficulties and social anxieties, it wasn’t a career I’d ever considered, but I just had to go for it.

During that time I got into trouble again. It was serious, with the prospect of a long sentence, but here’s where my story gets interesting. Through working with West Midlands Mediation I had met David Vann, the person who went on to become my guardian angel. David, someone who to me was strange looking with pierced nipples and crossed legs, turned up again at this potentially disastrous point in my life. He said, ‘you carry on down this road and we can see it’s about to lead you to a lifetime inside a square box. You’ve only got one option left, you’re going to come with me and I am going to sort you out. They’re not going to hear from you again and you’re not going to hear from them again.’

I was only 17 and thought that if David wanted to be my Good Samaritan I’d just run with it. It turned out that he was the head of the part-time courses at the Birmingham School of Acting. The first thing he did was put me on a course during the summer holiday, so that I couldn’t get into trouble. He helped me relearn to read, get my GCSEs and GNVQs, he paid for the courses and then when I was 20 he also helped get me into drama school. Once again it was David who filled in the forms and put in a good word for me. When I started at drama school I was a terrible actor, the worst there. Some of the other guys had been doing it their whole lives. So I dedicated my time there to becoming the best. David’s passion had always been Shakespeare and I fell in love with it too. Particular highlights were performing Coriolanus at The Globe as part of the Sam Wanamaker Festival and an adaption of the Tempest at the Matedero in Spain.

Made In India-Rehearsal-68-SMALL

Made In India rehearsal at The Belgrade Coventry

The most memorable moment of all though came during my very last show at drama school. I was playing the part of Mack the Knife in The Threepenny Opera at The Crescent Theatre. At the very same time my Uncle had just been released from prison and he came straight to see me perform. As with all my family, he didn’t understand theatre etiquette so when the show finished he stormed up on stage, through the curtain and straight into the back stage area. We were both in bits, I was so pleased to see him and he was so proud of what I’d accomplished. It’s one of my strongest memories as it shows how what I’ve done has affected my whole family.

David died in October 2014 and it tore a massive whole in my heart. Since I was a boy I’ve been used to death, murders, cancers, all of that and it never fazed me at all. But this destroyed me. His passing made me determined to make my own theatre company, Strictly Arts. I remembered everything that David Vann had done for me and thought that I needed to be able to give the same kind of opportunity to other people. I have to be able to do that to honour the man who picked me up from nowhere and changed my whole life. He supported me through this very violent journey that I was taking, until I could finally be free.

Strictly Arts is now a springboard company at the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry and I’m a creative associate there. The Belgrade took us on in 2015 and then in 2016 Tamasha agreed a co-producing partnership with The Belgrade Theatre Coventry for Made In India. As part of the TDA programme, Tamasha seek funding to offer a bursary to an emerging artist to become an Assistant Director for each of their national touring productions. The director Katie Posner and the Tamasha team were looking for an assistant and hadn’t been able to find anyone suitable. I came along, we got on really well and we successfully applied to the Regional Young Directors Scheme’s 3-month placement to become the Assistant Director. It’s another instance where my life in theatre has been a big stroke of luck, everything has just flipped into place, one thing after the other.

The full cast of Made in India - Credit Robert Day (2)

The full cast of Made In India – Photo by Robert Day

Being involved with Made In India has been very good for me. It’s an all-female cast, which isn’t something I’m used to, and that brings a very different dynamic. The characters are very strong and the actors also have strong opinions on the subject matter. My theatre company specialises in physical theatre and we therefore spend a lot of time being very boisterous, throwing each other around and testing our limits, whereas Made In India is much more text based. The read-through’s make for an interesting comparison. I’ve been an assistant a few times before but it can be a difficult role because you never know where you stand. Some directors really want you to be verbal and upfront, whereas others want you to be behind them to reinforce what they’re saying.

Working with Katie has been a great experience, especially seeing how subtle and organic she is as a director. Actors want to do what is right for their character but that doesn’t always fit with the way the director wants things to go. I’ve been in positions as an actor where a director has told me ‘listen, what you’re doing is crap, you’re going to have to change it,’ and that can destroy some people. Katie is very subtle in the way that she works actors round to seeing the process as she wants them to see it and helping them take decisions which suit the play, without ever telling them that’s the decision she wants them to make. She’s also fantastic at networking. Because I have these social anxieties, one of the things I fall down on is networking, and Katie has been talking to me about how to approach people in order to get what I need as both an artistic director and an actor.

One of the main reasons I wanted to be part of Tamasha’s Developing Artists programme was because Strictly Arts is now beginning to commission playwrights to write plays on our behalf and I’d never seen that process before. It was so helpful to be with the Made In India cast and the company, and have the writer Satinder Chohan in the room, discussing things tactfully and coming to such a great conclusion in the end.

Ulrika Krishnamurti as Aditi and Gina Isaac as Eva in Made in India - Credit Robert Day

Ulrika Krishnamurti as Aditi and Gina Isaac as Eva in Made In India – Photo by Robert Day

As part of my role I’ve been “seeing in” the shows in Edinburgh and Lancaster. It’s all about making sure the actors are comfortable and that the lighting is the way was during the opening run at The Belgrade, and making any necessary changes. Every space is different; some are naturally darker or have newer lights which are just ready to beam as the wattage is flying through them. Because the set uses a lot of screens it’s also about working with the actors on the transitions, helping them because the space has changed. At this point I’m not really interested in giving actors notes because the show is theirs and they’re doing a great job. I’m just making sure that the staging is working and the audience is getting the best possible show.

I’m also helping create a curtain raiser for the CREATE rural tour in April. It will be a 15-minute piece that people will see before the main Made In India show and I’ll be working with young people from the North East. I love working with young actors, especially those, like myself, who haven’t always known that this is the career they want. I didn’t know that this was something I actually wanted to do until I was put in the firing line to do it. One of the things that I try to standby is that I live, I learn, I progress and then I pass it on. I’ve lived, I’ve seen a whole lot of badness, then I learnt (thanks to David), I progressed in life and now it’s time to pass it on. Of course I want to keep learning too, but my whole existence is because of that one opportunity that he gave to me and if I can do the same for anybody else then I will.

Syreeta Kumar as Dr Gupta and Gina Isaac as Eva in Made in India - Credit Robert Day

Syreeta Kumar as Dr Gupta and Gina Isaac as Eva in Made In India – Photo by Robert Day

It’s great to be able to bring this show to rural places, and parts of the country that wouldn’t normally get to see it. It will be amazing to go and present this show to them and understand what they think or feel about the themes. Made In India is for anybody, woman or man, in particular anyone who has gone through surrogacy, the IVF process or has lost children; it affects people universally. The surrogacy industry in India is very unique, I didn’t know anything about it before, I had no clue that it even existed. It’s a massive industry for India, they’re making ridiculous amounts of money and many poor young women see it as their only lifeline and many are completely put through the mill. I still don’t know where I stand on it, it’s a really tough story.

I owe the RTYDS, Tamasha and The Belgrade a big thank you for all of their support. Not just for awarding the bursary but for seeing the potential in what I do and am trying to achieve. The fact that they have enabled me to work on Made In India means that they’ve seen some level of potential in me and that has given me a big lift. Everyone at Tamasha, especially Satinder and Katie, have given me such an invaluable experience. We need all the support that we can get in this life and I’m so grateful to everyone who has helped me. The biggest thank you, as always, is to David Vann.


Tamasha Playwrights Intensive Play Writing Week

Tamasha Playwrights is a writer-led collective founded in October 2014 by Artistic Director Fin Kennedy and formed of 8 emerging playwrights from a diverse range of backgrounds.

Refreshed yearly, the aims of Tamasha Playwrights ranges from offering long-term career development to providing showcase opportunities to promote the writers and their work to the professional theatre industry.

This year, for the first time, both cohorts of the playwrights groups will be taking part in an intensive play writing week. Between Monday and Friday at the Tricycle Theatre, the week features quiet writing time as well as 5 leading playwrights and theatre makers as visiting tutors, alongside one-to-one advice sessions with  Dawn King and Tamasha Artistic Director Fin Kennedy. Omar Elerian of the Bush Theatre will also direct a company of actors in workshop readings of the writers’ work.

In the spirit of Tamasha Playwrights as a writer-led collective everything is scheduled by demand from the group themselves.

The schedule for the week:

Monday 8th February
10.30am-1pm  – Quiet writing time and one-to-ones with Fin Kennedy
2pm-5pm – Devising workshop with Complicite director and performer Clive Mendus

Tuesday
10am-1pm – Dawn King workshop and Q & A
2-6pm – Quiet writing time and one-to-ones with Dawn King

Wednesday
10am-1pm – Tanika Gupta workshop and Q & A
2-4.30pm – Quiet writing time and one-to-ones with Fin Kennedy
4.30-6pm – Dennis Kelly Q & A

Thursday
10am-1pm – Roy Williams workshop and Q & A
2-6pm – Quiet writing time and one-to-ones with Fin Kennedy

Friday
10am-6pm – Workshop readings of 10-15min script extracts with director Omar Elerian and 4 x actors.

For more information on Tamasha Playwrights click here.

 


Call Out for Female Residents of Tower Hamlets from Mulberry Alumni Theatre

Are you a former Mulberry student or a female resident of Tower Hamlets?

 Become an acting-member of a all-female theatre group

No previous experience required, just commitment and willingness to give it a go!

An exciting opportunity for former Mulberry School students and women residing in Tower Hamlets to come together, be creative and explore the world of theatre. Whether you would simply like to take up a hobby, grow in confidence, develop your interpersonal skills and make new friends; Mulberry ATC is a fantastic resource.

The Mulberry Alumni Theatre Company (Mulberry ATC) was established in January 2014 and is driven and led by Mulberry Alumni. The company is currently seeking new acting members to join the group and take part in staging a production.

Members will work with a Theatre Director every Tuesday (6pm to 9pm) from 1st March 2016 sessions to rehearse the production for 12 weeks for two evening performances on Thursday 26th and Friday 27th May 2016 at the Mulberry & Bigland Green Centre (MBGC) theatre.

Members will be required to attend taster workshops in February (dates and times listed below), weekly rehearsals every Tuesday from 1st March 2016 from 6pm to 9pm, including some extra evening rehearsals during the performance week.

Taster workshops:

To become an acting member Email abegum1@mulberry.towerhamlets.sch.uk and come along to a taster workshop at the Mulberry & Bigland Green Centre (MBGC) Theatre on the dates and times listed below;

  • Thurs 11th Feb* 6pm to 9pm
  • Wed 17th Feb* (half term) 6pm to 9pm
  • Wed 24th Feb* 6pm to 9pm

At Mulberry ATC, we stand for diversity, creativity and personal growth. Our members develop a range of skills and performance experiences which will enable them to bring energy to their work, develop interpersonal skills, and enhance trust in their own creative thinking. Members will;

  • Participate productively in shared group experienceParticipate productively in shared group experienceParticipate productively in shared group experienceBuild on their confidence/ public speaking skills.
  • Participate creatively and productively in a shared group experience.
  • Learn, and explore techniques used by professional actors.
  • Develop performance skills.
  • Work with professional theatre practitioners/ artists.
  • Take part in various drama workshops.
  • Have access to subsidised tickets to watch theatre productions at least 4 times a year.
  • Make new friends in a positive, dynamic and fun environment.

Rehearsal dates (Tuesdays)

Dates:              1st March – 17th May 2016 (12 weeks)

Time:               6pm to 9pm

Location:        Mulberry & Bigland Green Centre (MBGC) Theatre

  • 01st, 8th, 15th, 22nd & *29th March
  • *05th, 12th, 19th, & 26th April
  • 03rd, 10th & 17th, May

*Easter Half term (2 weeks)

Production week – from Sat 21st May 2016

  • Sat 21st May: 11am to 6pm           (full day rehearsal)
  • Tues 24th: 6pm to 9pm                (Technical rehearsal)
  • Wed 25th: 6pm to 9pm                 (Dress rehearsal)
  • Thurs 26th: 6pm to 9pm              (performance 1 to begin at 7pm)
  • Fri 27th: 6pm to 9pm                   (performance 2 to begin at 7pm)

To become a member/ for further information please contact;

Afsana Begum: Artistic Producer

Phone: 07469 790 410

Email: abegum1@mulberry.towerhamlets.sch.uk

 

Non-acting roles

We welcome members who would like to take on non-acting roles whether in costume/ set design, marketing or front of house during the performance night. Please enquire about any particular non-acting roles you would like to be involved in.

 

Location

Mulberry & Bigland Green Centre Theatre

Cannon St Rd,

London

E1 2LG

 

Map and directions to the MBGC

The Mulberry & Bigland Green Centre is located on Bigland Street, behind Mulberry School for Girls between Cannon Street Road and Watney Market. The MBGC is approximately 5 minutes’ walk from Shadwell DLR and Over-ground stations and approximately 15 minutes’ walk from Whitechapel Tube station.

Directions to MBGC from Shadwell DLR:

Exit down the stairs and turn right out of the DLR Station on to Watney Street. After approximately 50 metres turn left on to Bigland Street. Follow the road around and continue walking for about three minutes past Bigland Green Primary School until you reach the MBGC gate on your right. The centre is set back from the road.

 

Directions to MBGC from London Over ground/ Shadwell Tube:

Exit the station on to Cable Street and turn left.  Take the next left on to Watney Street, past the DLR Station and then follow the directions above.

Extra rehearsal times during Easter Half Term (to be agreed with director & group)

  • Wed 30th March
  • Wed 6th April

 

About Mulberry ATC

An all-female theatre company established in January 2014 driven and led by Mulberry Alumni. The company aims to bridge the important gap between education and the wider professional theatre industry for BAME women, representing a new generation of female theatre makers from the local community of Tower Hamlets.

Its remit is to offer a creative space at the Mulberry & Bigland Green Centre (MBGC) for BAME women in the local community of Tower Hamlets, who enjoy drama, to collaboratively make new and original performances. The group meet weekly to take part in workshops, rehearse for two annual showcase, and work with professional theatre practitioners.

Workshops with leading female Theatre Directors                                                               

Josie Rourke; Artistic Director of Donmar Warehouse     

Date:               Thursday 4th Feb 2016

Location:        Donmar Warehouse

Time:               4.45pm (prompt start)

 

Take part in a workshop with Josie Rourke from 5pm to 7pm before you watch her latest production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses at 7.30pm for only £10!

 

Phyllida Lloyd

Date, time & Location to be confirmed        

 

Vicky Featherstone; Artistic Director of The Royal Court Theatre

Date, time & Location to be confirmed

           

Melly Still

Date, time & Location to be confirmed

 

 

 

 


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