Tag Archives: Tamasha Developing Artists

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.


“In a post-Brexit world, it could be argued that the country has become less tolerant of minorities – would this be reflected in the stands at football stadiums?”

Adam Kotwal, winner of the first ever Lancaster Playwriting Prize and Tamasha Playwright (2018/19) tells us why he wrote Brownballed – one of five plays scratching later this month at Curve Theatre, Leicester.

Brownballed‘s origins came from a short Copa90 documentary by Adam McKola called Why do British Asian’s Never Make It Pro? There were some startling facts that as a football fan I have never really thought about, such as, there are over 3700 professional footballers in the UK, currently only 12 come from South Asian heritage and only two of them play in the premier league; Neil Taylor of Aston Villa and Hamza Choudhary of Leicester City. Coupled with the fact that a player of South Asian heritage has never capped for the English National Team gave me a reason to research further to understand this phenomenon, or lack of.

After speaking to Dr Stefan Lawrence of Newman University, he discussed the idea that the barriers one would assume that cause this failure in making it as a professional, such as culture and family, are not the barriers people perceive to be and are overstated. His research led to me to the work of Professor Scott Fleming and his seminal work Home and Away, where research found sport participation in South Asian schoolchildren was influenced by personal racisms in daily experiences, and Dr Dan Kilverton’s more recent work, British Asian’s, Exclusions and the Football Industry, which looks at how race has been a factor of exclusion in football.

The writing process was multi phased – initial work looked to debunk the idea that the game is made up of seemingly meritocratic institutions. This is in large part a myth and a number of factors could be thought of as contributing factors as to why players make it professional and more importantly, in this case, why they don’t.

After a period of review, I thought about what if a player from South Asian heritage did make it, to the point of being on the cusp of superstardom? How would they deal with it and interestingly how would the world around them deal with it? You only have to look at the tabloids to see how the media can treat our Black footballers, would our South Asian footballers be treated the same? In a post-Brexit world, it could be argued that the country has become less tolerant of minorities – would this be reflected in the stands at football stadiums? The proliferation of social media has meant that the fan and the athlete have no barriers, meaning that a small, but growing part of the internet community is now gamifying this as a way to direct criticism. Is this likely to affect the mental health of the athlete?

In a game where the athletes are prized commodities, playing for clubs who are valued higher than the GDP of a small country and watched by billions around the world, is being a footballer actually even worth it?

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Brownballed by Adam Kotwal 

Part of The Playwrights 2019 (A Tamasha Scratch Night)

A Teenage British Asian Footballer, on the verge of greatness suddenly questions the moral ambiguity of the fame, wealth and glory that lie ahead.

Directed by Beth Kapila

Featuring: Hareet Deol, Annice Boparai and Alan Suri.

Book tickets here.


“Both fascinated and alarmed by Britain’s collective historical amnesia, I had to be involved in a project that sought to ‘decolonise history’.”

Journalist turned playwright and writer of Tamasha’s Made in India (2017), Satinder Chohan was one of five playwrights who took up residence in the History department of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).
Satinder’s audio drama, Scar Tissue, is inspired by what she found, having attended classes and engaged with the students and teachers. Here, Satinder shares the experiences of her ten-day SOAS residency.  

Playwright, Satinder Chohan

Back in the ancient period of my University of London student days, I regularly used to retreat to Senate House to study, then occasionally hang out at SOAS, whilst sneaking in some Frantz Fanon, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and Paul Gilroy as I swotted up on the Western literary canon as an English Lit student. Decades and hazy student memories later, I returned as a writer for Decolonising History, a project for SOAS by Tamasha Digital.

Five writers from diverse backgrounds were in residence at SOAS, sitting in on BA history classes of their choosing for ten days over two months to inspire ideas for five short audio dramas, seeking to interrogate the teaching of history in British schools and universities and to write untold stories from a non Western perspective.

Even in those ancient student days (and still now), I would get into heated arguments about Britishness and British history, for not supporting the English at football or cricket, for recoiling from the loaded Union Jack and Rule Britannia.

I have never felt comfortable being British in a Britain that frequently whitewashes the darker aspects of its imperial history.

Through my family and immigrant community, I learnt about the contributions of my grandfather and his generation to the British war effort, my immigrant parents’ contributions to the rebuilding of post-war Britain, about Partition and the horrors of profiteering British exploits throughout its Empire, but rarely saw these taught at school or discussed and even acknowledged in the nation at large. Both fascinated and alarmed by Britain’s collective historical amnesia, I had to be involved in a project that sought to ‘decolonise history’.

At SOAS, I took classes and lectures around Partition, including ‘Introduction to the History of South Asia’, ‘Histories of Partition: India and Pakistan 1947’ and ‘Colonialism and Nationalism’. Years ago, I read Urvashi Butalia’s The Other Side of Silence, a ground-breaking, visceral work that uses oral histories to tell the untold stories of Partition survivors, the smaller, invisible players whose experiences were largely silenced in the grander political game-playing history of Partition. Sitting in on brilliant lecturer Eleanor Newbigin’s classes, I began building on that book, learning about the subcontinental holocaust of Partition in more detail, through both its big and small players.

Rural Sikhs in a long oxcart train headed towards India. 1947. Margaret Bourke-White. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Oxcart-train1947.jpg

As a 21st century university student, I was immediately overwhelmed by the sheer volume of material available through Moodle! No more just taking notes with pen and paper, lugging piles of library books home. Now, instantly downloadable articles and books, video lectures, class group chats, access to archives to decolonise history at one’s fingertips. I chatted with Eleanor outside class too about Partition, Empire and Britain’s imperial legacy. I spoke to mostly female SOAS students on those courses about history as a subject and its importance and role in their own lives. Impressive and inspiring, all were balancing their studies with a desire to take their historical knowledge and work into the world, to help other women, whether pushing for more female-conscious legislation, working with abused women in their local communities, travelling to Palestine or making ethnographic films focusing on women in Pakistan.

Even though I have always been hugely political, I wasn’t very politically active at college, so it was so affirming to see such a high level of political awareness among almost all the students I encountered. Through the copious reading and stimulating conversations, I began to think about an idea and wanted to write a Partition drama from a contemporary female student perspective. Listening to Partition archives, I also thought about the urgent need to record the memories of the last of the Partition survivors, silenced too long by colonial history. I felt the drama should involve a recently deceased grandmother who leaves behind oral recordings of her life including the revelation of a terrible Partition secret. Oral recordings seemed apt for an aural medium!

As I wrote Scar Tissue, I thought a lot about history and memory (its fragility and reliability) – about the experiences we choose to remember and those we choose to bury, in both family and nation.

Colonised narratives exist and persist in families and a wider world, so that the coloniser’s dominant view overrides other ones. When colonisers bury crimes of the past, historical amnesia develops. So I wanted the audio drama to explore how one family member wants to instigate small ‘decolonising’ changes against the inherited, harmful, forgotten narratives of the past. Yet conflict arises when the rest of the family want to maintain a prevailing colonial narrative that upholds the status quo. While some want to confront and decolonise history to heal an often darker past, reveal other truths and bring a new balance to an inequitable order, others want to deny, cover up, ignore or fabricate new narratives about past events. Crimes and wrongdoings have happened within families and nations and while we can’t change them, we don’t have to turn away from ugly, violent history out of ignorance, shame, guilt or denial. Perhaps we should try to confront those events as boldly and truthfully as possible to heal the past and learn something for the future, rather than repeat colonial narratives and crimes ad nauseam, to only benefit and hear the voices of the few.

Two Muslim men (in a rural refugee train headed towards Pakistan) carrying an old woman in a makeshift Doli or palanquin. 1947. Margaret Bourke-White. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Two-men-carrying-woman1947.jpg

Decolonising History has been a vital, exciting project to be involved in, using audio drama and academia to provoke greater debate and awareness around the need for a more inclusive culturally diverse history in academic circles and public discourse. In a globally connected age, in which students are challenging Western-centric and Eurocentric world views and structures, curriculums and canons, pulling down colonial statues and relics, SOAS and Tamasha are at the very heart of a project that questions centuries long Western colonial dominance in and beyond ivory towers. Our project is a tiny contribution to all this – an attempt at a more honest, grown-up debate, so that we can learn more about who we all are and how we relate to one another, to our past and our future in 21st century Britain. This is especially so in a Brexit Britain, overshadowed by Britain’s ‘glorious’ past in an amnesiac nation that has never dealt with its loss of empire – raising pressing questions for us all about how history should live today.

Illustration by Erin Aniker

Satinder’s audio drama, Scar Tissue, is premiering at SOAS on 8 October. Book your tickets to the gathered listening event and for a chance to speak to Satinder and the four other writers. Part of Decolonising History – a Tamasha Digital Project for SOAS.

Best of British: new theatre in the age of Brexit

While 2019 might be the year of political uncertainty, one thing is for sure: Tamasha is firing on all cylinders. Our Artistic Director looks ahead to what’s in store for the company, if not the country…

2019 might have started with crisis and uncertainty at the political level, but it is a bumper year for Tamasha. It’s an odd feeling for the country to be in such dire straits while our company is booming, but if you can peel your eyes away from the political coverage, here is a good news story for a change.

Tamasha is small, we usually only produce one show per year. While we tour that show as far and wide as we can, usually for around 3 months, it’s still one show. Our current standstill funding settlement with Arts Council England, a cut in real terms, prevents us producing any more than this.

The scale of our producing arm is in contrast to our talent development arm, Tamasha Developing Artists (TDA), currently a thriving community of 2,000 (and counting) emerging artists from all walks of life. One of the perennial conundrums at Tamasha is how to cater for so many at the starts or midway points of their careers, all hungry for opportunities, when the professional employment on our own shows is necessarily limited by the scale and frequency of what we can afford to produce in any given year.

I try to be honest with our TDA artists about this. For example, at the start of each annual cohort of the Tamasha Playwrights group I am upfront about this imbalance, and that the chance of us being able to produce any one of their scripts is necessarily low. Not impossible – it does happen – but we try to manage their expectations.

Because of this, part of our training of new theatre artists includes the business of theatre, and especially how to raise their own funds to put themselves in the creative driving seat, rather than waiting for opportunities to be bestowed upon them from larger organisations. It’s an attempt to turn on its head the traditional commissioning model of theatre producing, which renders artists essentially passive. Tamasha asks instead: how can we support you to support yourselves?

Nevertheless, I’ve had an ambition for Tamasha to produce more ever since I was appointed five years ago. This is easier said than done on standstill funding, with touring costs increasing, and a climate of risk aversion around new plays. However, somehow, this year, we are producing not one but seven new shows. Seven! Plus a raft of innovative online projects via new strand Tamasha Digital. I still have to pinch myself sometimes. How have we done this?

Three ways: smart partnerships, strategic funding and by supporting independent artists. It’s taken several years for this detailed, patient work behind the scenes to really pay off, but this year it finally will.

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Nicholas Khan as Raf and Karan Gill as Shazad in Approaching Empty. Photo by Helen Murray.

Last month, we opened our latest national tour, Approaching Empty by Ishy Din, a smart, funny and ultimately tragic story about two old friends running a minicab firm, but which doubles as a subtle allegory for our times, especially the UK’s ‘left behind’ former industrial heartlands which were so gutted by Thatcherism in the 1980s. Ishy’s thesis is that this is arguably where the Brexit vote has its roots. The play has been delighting London audiences at the newly-refurbished Kiln Theatre, ahead of a three–week ‘homecoming’ run at Live Theatre Newcastle, and a national tour until mid-April. While we’ve loved the response down here, we can’t wait to get on a train and see how the play is received by northern audiences, who in a way it is written for. Ishy is firmly establishing himself as the voice of his community, and is maturing into a seriously sophisticated writer of national importance.

Ordinarily, we’d be looking ahead to the end of this tour in April and starting pre-production for 2020’s show….but 2019 is no ordinary year. There are six other shows before the year is out!

Four of them are part of IGNITE, an Associate Producer training programme funded by the Arts Council’s Sustained Theatre strategic fund, which Tamasha spearheaded, in partnership with 7 regional theatres (Belgrade, Derby, Dukes, Mercury, Luton Hat Factory, Contact and Rich Mix), aimed at diversifying the offstage workforce of British theatre. This fund was commendably an open brief to submit initiatives, shaped and led by the smaller, diverse companies who do so much behind the scenes to nurture and launch new artists of colour, and the creative teams which support their visions.

IGNITE was conceived on the back of much discussion as a company. We concluded that if we’re serious about diversifying what ends up on the nation’s stages, then as a sector we need to put more effort into two main areas: playwrights and producers. Playwrights, because they decide whose lives are worth putting on stage in the first place. And producers make it happen.

There are various initiatives for playwrights, not least our own Tamasha Playwrights group, graduates of which have gone onto great things, including most recently accounting for two of the three writers, Rabiah Hussain and Ross Willis, just announced as the inaugural recipients of a £10,000 Royal Court Theatre / Kudos TV residency. And this year, we’re grateful to receive support from the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation and Garfield Weston Foundation, which means we’re able to provide regional bursaries for Tamasha Playwrights as well.

For producers there is virtually nothing. To some extent this is understandable; it’s hard to teach producing as theory. Unlike playwriting, unless you have some actual money to spend you can’t really do it. The traditional way to become a producer is to borrow from the Bank of Mum and Dad to take a show to the Edinburgh Fringe. That necessarily imposes a filter.

Our pitch to the Arts Council’s Sustained fund was that Tamasha is going to take the place of those rich parents and raise the funds for a new generation without those means. We reached out to a consortium of seven venue partners, and together raised enough for four full-time producers to be embedded at four regional venues, with production funds attached.

Fast forward three years and a critical mass of new work around the country is the thrilling result, all hitting our stages in 2019.

At the Dukes Theatre Lancaster, Anna Nguyen is producing the world premiere of Glory by Nick Ahad – a seriously funny and timely new play set in the world of old school wrestling which, while no longer on prime time TV is, contrary to popular belief, alive and well and a thriving subculture in numerous parts of the country, especially the north-west. Set in a scruffy gym which has seen better days, Glory brings together four men at the end of the line who find solace and a newfound identity in a sport which traditionally overlooked and at worst actively caricatured non-white performers.

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Promo shot of Glory

Like Approaching Empty, Glory’s gritty world serves as a subtle state-of-the-nation allegory, though unlike Ishy Din, Nick Ahad finds reasons to be optimistic in his vision of Britain sloughing off the baggage of a racialized past to pass on the baton to a vibrant new generation who will make the sport – and by implication, the nation – their own. Catch it 21 February to 2 March at the Dukes, then on its own national tour to 13 April. (The Glory team might even be able to wave at the Approaching Empty team as they pass each other on the motorway….)

At Belgrade Coventry, longstanding collaborators of Tamasha, Lian Wilkinson has been leading on Under The Umbrella by Amy Ng, another new play, this time looking east to China, and closer to home to the Chinese student population, who are a large presence in Coventry. Under The Umbrella puts the spotlight on the phenomenon of ‘marriage markets’ – where parents of still-single children in their late 20s browse each other’s offspring’s CVs in order to find a marriage match before time runs out on a ‘leftover’ son or daughter. Set in Coventry and Guangzhou, this compelling new play by the acclaimed writer of Acceptance at Hampstead Theatre explores tradition, trauma and triumph in the art of finding love. Catch it from 2-16 March at the Belgrade before touring to 30 March.

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Promo shot of Under the Umbrella

At Derby Theatre, IGNITE producer Rafia Hussain has led on a raft of writer development initiatives while deepening the venue’s relationship with one writer in particular, Atiha Sen Gupta, with a timely revival of her 2009 debut What Fatima Did, giving the play its regional premiere. Fatima Merchant is feisty and strong-willed. At 17, she drinks, smokes and parties. On the eve of her 18th birthday, without word or warning or explanation, she adopts the hijab. Suddenly, to her friends and family she is no longer the Fatima they thought they knew. What Fatima Did is a funny and thought-provoking exploration of attitudes to identity, freedom and multiculturalism in contemporary Britain. The play has lost none of its relevance ten years on, and it’s great to see a new play having a continued afterlife. Catch it from 27 Feb-2 March at Derby Theatre.

What Fatima Did image

Promo shot of What Fatima Did…

Finally, at Mercury Colchester, producer Dilek Latif has taken on a mid-scale show with commercial potential – a long overdue revival of the Fats Waller 1920s-set jazz musical Ain’t Misbehavin’. Join extraordinary performers on a journey through an amazing period of American musical history, the Harlem Renaissance – an era where musicians were free to experiment with new styles and joints were jumping with dancers, singers and instrumentalists jamming to a new beat known as swing. The Great Depression didn’t stop them then and neither will Brexit now… Catch this feelgood musical at the Mercury from 15-30 March followed by a London run at Southwark Playhouse 19 April-1 June.

AIN'T MISBEHAVIN Web

Promo shot of Ain’t Misbehavin’

But there’s more…

After a busy spring we go straight into an early summer tour of a show by one of the independent artists we support throughout the year. Nyla Levy is an actor and writer, who you might recognise from recent roles in Diary Of A Hounslow Girl or Child of the Divide. Her first play, Does My Bomb Look Big In This? draws its inspiration from the Bethnal Green schoolgirls who left for Syria to join ISIS in 2016. During a development phase last year which Tamasha supported, Nyla conducted extensive research with young people in Luton and Tower Hamlets, and interviews with numerous experts including Tasnime Akunjee, the lawyer who represented the Bethnal Green girls and their families. The result is a fast-paced, nuanced and surprisingly funny new play about the psychological impact of alienation from modern Britain, which renders some young Muslim girls especially vulnerable to online grooming. Does My Bomb Look Big In This? is a witty drama that exposes the fragmented nature of our society and how far we are from the myth of multicultural harmony. Tour dates are still being finalised but will include a rural touring week in north Yorkshire and a three-week run at Soho Theatre in early summer….

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Does My Bomb Look Big In This?

Last up is a full production of a play we co-produced with Paines Plough last year in a stripped down R&D version, I Wanna Be Yours, the debut play by slam poet champion Zia Ahmed. After an ecstatic response from rural audiences last year, Zia has been putting the finishing touches to his quietly masterful two-hander about a Pakistani Londoner and a white girl from Yorkshire who fall in love and try to make things work against the odds. It’s one of the most subtle and sophisticated mappings of internal emotional worlds I’ve been involved with, by turns hilarious and heartbreaking, with some gorgeous touches of magical realism from a thrilling new voice in British theatre. We can’t wait to show it off to a wider audience on Paines Plough’s small scale touring circuit in the autumn.

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I Wanna Be Yours

So that’s our plucky brood of seven – look out for them at a theatre near you.

But believe it or not, these are just our theatre productions. 2019 will also see the launch of Tamasha Digital, piloting a new strand of online-only work. Planned projects include a new theatre industry magazine show, Tell Dem, presented by rising star and founder of the Black Ticket Project Tobi Kyeremateng, featuring a panel of guests from across art forms discussing shows, news and trends within the UK theatre scene from the perspective of artists of colour.

We’re also piloting an experimental new audio walking tour, in which inner city communities are supported to give visitors to their area a personalised – and occasionally fantastical – walking tour experience to get them off the beaten track. First up is The Bengali Guide To Brick Lane in which we will revisit our old friends at Mulberry School and work with creative producer and former Tamasha Associate Company Afsana Begum to work up a trial episode. If we can crack the format, it could pave the way for other communities in other areas – The Pakistani Guide to Luton or The Punjabi Guide to Southall, anyone? After trialling it on our doorstep in London we could also start to look further afield to the places we tour.

As if this wasn’t enough, we’re also piloting a new viral video project via Whatsapp, testing out whether or not existing social media platforms can be harnessed to tell dramatic narratives.

We have five new audio dramas in development created by five Tamasha Playwrights graduates doing a residency in the History department of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).

There’s also a partnership with HighTide coming up, involving an exciting new project from actress Taj Atwal, and a schools project Re-Fuel in which young people perform their own short plays on top of the Approaching Empty set.

Finally, hot on the heels of the success of 2018’s Hear Me Now compilation with Oberon, we have a new publication from Methuen, Migration Plays, making available for the first time some new plays for young people developed in collaboration with our friends at the Migration Museum.

Plus of course there’s our usual year-round roster of masterclasses and scratch nights...

Why have we gone all out across all our platforms in this way? Partly, the right partners, funding pots and opportunities have come along at the right time. But there is more to it than this. Tamasha has always had an important function over and above just our own touring productions – we are also a stepping stone into the industry for new talent. The roll call of names who have had their first break via Tamasha is impressive and growing with every passing year – Parminder Nagra, Jimi Mistry, Ayub Khan-Din, Chris Bisson, Raza Jaffrey, Sunetra Sarkar, Krupa Pattani, Ishy Din, Pooja Ghai, Iman Qureshi, Ross Willis, Rabiah Hussain, Danusia Samal… the list goes on. Tamasha isn’t just a theatre company, it’s a pipeline for the whole theatre industry. Yes, we do a lot of training, but in our experience the best way to train artists is to employ them, and produce their work.

We can’t do this on our own of course, and we owe big shout outs to our valued collaborators across the UK, as well as the dedicated Tamasha office team who work so hard to deliver all this behind the scenes.

As national political events continue to cast a shadow, and with the future less predictable than ever, it’s only by working collaboratively in this way that, as a sector, we can continue to keep the door open for the next generation, and to make drama which truly reflects the society in which we live.

Whatever else 2019 holds, it will be a good year for Tamasha, and a good year for the next generation in British theatre. We hope that you can join us to celebrate these achievements, and the values which underpin them, whatever rocky times lie ahead.


Fin Kennedy, Artistic Director – Tamasha


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.


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