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Crisis, Creativity and Hope

In little more than a week, it’s already become a cliche to say we are living in unprecedented times.

In my last entry on this blog, barely three months ago, I was mourning the defeat of progressive values in the December general election, and looking ahead to five years of opposition, as the UK slid into a post-Brexit malaise of small-minded ethnonationalism.

All that has changed. The coronavirus crisis is a bitter blow to a country already battered by three years of infighting, and the costs and consequences will of course be severe. But there’s also a stark kind of poetry in being thrown headlong into something which forces us to put our recent domestic dramas into some kind of perspective.

It’s my belief that, despite the huge and painful costs of what we are all going through, the very fact of being united in a shared trauma, and being forced to pull together, is what will endure, long after we have buried our loved ones and defeated this virus. Don’t get me wrong, Brexit has still happened, and may yet get worse, in addition to whatever social consequences coronavirus brings. (And the price is already high, just ask any British East Asian).

But biology, illness and mortality do not discriminate. Whatever we end up facing, we will face together, no longer the same country. We will have rediscovered our collective spirit. And in that lies hope.

It’s easy to be despairing. Plenty I know are, and even I’ve had my moments. But despair is not a plan. And it is the job of those of us in the creative industries, most especially the publicly-funded arts (and theatre specifically as its most collective, collaborative form) to find hope in unlikely places, and describe imaginative ways forward. Art creates meaning from suffering.

Let’s start with politics. I was brought up by a single parent mum, a 60s hippy turned social worker. Some of my earliest memories are being taken on CND anti-nuclear marches, to collectivist communes, wacky outdoor performance art festivals, or surreptitiously putting up posters around my school to resist the first wave of state school privatisation (which started in the late 1980s). So it’s no surprise that politics has always been an abiding personal interest.

It’s also the prism through which I view my work and creative output. I believe theatre, and narrative storytelling in particular, is not just an essential part of a democracy, but a way of understanding ourselves – our species, our histories, the forces which have shaped our world – and in so doing creating a space in which to imagine new and different futures.

But even we storytellers would have had trouble imagining all this. It just goes to show how close we are, at any given time, to the possibility of radical, world-shifting change. If I’d been sent a play to read about the events we are living through today, it would have been hard to suspend disbelief. Yet here we are.

Consider, for a moment, the irony of the most hard right Tory government in history becoming the most extreme socialists the UK has ever seen, effectively nationalising the entire British economy. (Its nearest fictional parallel would be Channel 4’s 1988 drama A Very British Coup, which in hindsight is way off the mark!).

The implications of this cannot be understated. There is now a huge question mark over the free market orthodoxy which has governed our lives and shaped our society for decades, namely, that the ideal organising principle of our society should be the wholesale marketisation of every aspect of our lives. Nature appears to have intervened. The free market can’t fix coronavirus – only the state can.

As we are creatures of short lifespans, who live mostly in the present tense, it’s easy to forget that the collective will and action of a people expressed through a state long pre-dates the no-tax, no-state ultra capitalist model of doing the same through market forces. We are being forced to reconsider cutthroat competition with one another as the basis of our social contract. Instead, it is (for the most part) bring replaced by a renewed faith in community, collectivism and cooperation.

Every day brings new developments as we rediscover this age old love of the state as a force for positive social change – from proper funding for the NHS, to state-run railways, to a reprieve for the BBC (a Tory war against it was just gathering pace), to collective organising around education, health, food, culture, and a long overdue recognition that ‘low-skilled workers’ like cleaners, bin collectors, delivery drivers , fruit and veg pickers, and supermarket cashiers are actually essential services which keep our society functioning. Even my street, in a typically atomised London commuter town of busy people mostly ignoring each other, now has a ‘shared library’ in the form of a storage box for swapping kids books and novels.

This is a tectonic shift in our thinking. We will emerge, blinking, into a different world. It’s going to be difficult to go back to how things were.

I predict that this new world will include a resurgence of enthusiasm for public institutions, including the arts. The theatre industry might have been temporarily forced to fall silent, but it’s striking that in times of crisis, we nevertheless fall back on creativity and culture – whether it’s Netflix binges, streaming theatre, online live gigs and listening parties, or taking the opportunity of more free time to write, draw, learn an instrument or another language. Even home schooling our kids is making us more creative. Many cultural organisations are falling over themselves to share fantastic content free of charge. Although not a sustainable model, its short term generosity is responding to a huge demand as we consume music, art, stories – most especially stories – to comfort ourselves and find meaning (that word again) at a frightening time.

Of course, this is against a background of great individual hardships. My heart goes out to those in overcrowded households, care homes, prisons, the disabled, the homeless, the elderly, NHS staff and young people due to sit their exams this summer, to name just a few. These are also the groups we’re going to have to work out how to look after better, once all this is over. Coronavirus is showing up political decisions for what they truly are, pulling away the fig leaf that some things are simply not possible or affordable. Just look how quickly rough sleepers can be housed once the government really put their minds to it.

Closer to home, at Tamasha, we are in touch with many early-career artists whose livelihoods have been pulled out from under them, or who are suddenly having to care for older relatives.

One in particular, a current member of the Tamasha Playwrights group, Shaan Sahota, is a junior doctor in Southall. Although a gynaecological specialist, she has been posted to frontline coronavirus intensive care. Shaan writes:

“My work life has changed quite dramatically since we last spoke – I was ‘redeployed’ to corona critical care last week, all my annual leave has been delayed for the foreseeable, the legal limits on my hours have been lifted by my union and my work rota has changed a lot … Hospitals are a really sad place to be right now, and we aren’t used to the kind of decisions and deaths we are seeing. And it’s one thing to be brave for yourself, but I know we are all afraid we might be putting our families at risk.”

Shaan Sahota

Naturally, her first draft for us is going to have to wait. I can’t help wondering what it will be like after what she is experiencing now.

Another of our writers, Satinder Chohan, author of 2017’s Made In India has different challenges:

“You’ve got childcare and I’ve got high risk elderly parent care! That weird parent-child role reversal that kicks in during one’s later years…now banning them from going out, rather than vice versa. It’s hard to keep my Dad locked in, calm and my Mum’s borderline dementia means we have to keep explaining why she can no longer go to the Gurdwara…Everything a bit uphill at the mo but slowly pushing through, trying to reconfigure, like everyone.”

However, she ends on a positive note:

“With all that’s going on, I think you’re right there’s a real opportunity for a much changed world. While everything has been so absolutely messed up on a political level, I honestly think Earth/mother nature has had enough of us. It’s really enforcing a break we wouldn’t give it, slowing us down, forcing us indoors to retreat, reflect, reset, take care of our bodies, our selves, each other and of course, to take care of the most vulnerable among us.”

Satinder Chohan

We may not be able to control these catastrophic events, but we can control our reaction to them.

One silver lining is surely the chance to catch up on fantastic work you might have missed due to the relentless pace of modern life. As the biggest single employer of dramatic writers in the country, BBC Radio 4 has a new drama out every single day, with each available on iPlayer for 30 days. That’s in addition to a slew of exciting online-only content for new platform BBC Sounds, which I’d been wishing for ages i had the time to explore.

Indie companies are following suit. One of our longtime collaborators Holy Mountain, is releasing audio drama content from their back catalogue every day for the foreseeable future, including some radio plays by yours truly.

As a touring company, Tamasha is less reliant than venues on box office and bar income, so we are relatively lucky. But if our venue partners go bust all around us that is of course bad news.

The Arts Council have been fantastic, announcing within days of the shutdown a £160 million rescue package for companies in danger of going under, and including a strand for non-NPOs and ‘creative practitioners’. This includes writers, translators, producers, editors, educators, directors, designers, choreographers, composers and visual artists working in the publicly funded culture sector.

Individuals can apply for one-off grants of up to £2,500. Check out the details of how to apply announced this week, or download the full eligibility criteria here.

At Tamasha, the office team are working remotely, but we are still here and luckily were mostly preparing for a year of R&D on a couple of new projects, much of which can continue during the lockdown. Sadly, our 30th anniversary celebrations have had to be put on hold.

But one project in particular can still take place online – our first open call for an Introduction to Publishing course run in collaboration with our friends at Hachette. Think you’ve got a novel in you? Now is the time to pitch us! We will read applications and recruit the group as normal, with sessions pencilled for the autumn, all being well. Applications are open now, with a 5th May deadline.

Intro to Publishing

Our Tamasha Digital pilot year last year was timely. Our online content for your listening pleasure now includes Decolonising History, Tell Dem, Loyalty and Dissent, and the original Taxi Tales audio monologues. We’re also looking into securing the relevant permissions for another webcast of our two livestreamed shows Made In India and Approaching Empty.

Decolonising History

Our regular groups Tamasha Playwrights and Tamasha Directors have moved online, prompting us to consider what else we could do remotely. For example, workshops for those who can’t get to our office base in East London, or developing more Hear Me Now audition monologues by pairing up actors and writers to develop new characters online. Watch this space and check the company’s social media for future initiatives.

We are of course a small player in a much larger cultural landscape. It’s been heartening to see such a groundswell of imaginative online creativity – and not just in theatre. A previously profit-driven model has been temporarily abandoned in favour of a community-spirited giveaway, with numerous apps, games, learning resources and other membership schemes being offered for free.

True, none of this particularly helps individual artists looking to create new work, or replace lost commissions. This is why, behind the scenes, we are trying to marshal our sector to start a round of commissioning. It’s harder than it sounds when finances across the sector are in freefall, with companies nervous about committing to new spending without knowing what the future holds. But in principle at least, now is a great time to commission new work which can be developed solo – playwriting in particular, and we hope to have some more news on that front soon.

I’d like to end with a book recommendation of my own. In fact, I have just bought a copy for each member of the Tamasha team. Just before coronavirus hit, I was reading Hope In The Dark by Rebecca Solnit.

I started reading it feeling a bit despairing about the general election and Brexit, and the book’s relentless optimism was quite infectious. Solnit’s whole theory is that because the future is always unknown, and unknowable, therein lies hope. She’s brilliant at picking examples from recent history where unexpectedly positive side effects came out of distressing social upheavals. I remember thinking ‘Well that’s all well and good but what are the chances of a great social upheaval in Brexit Britain to overturn our current hard-right political hegemony?” Then coronavirus did exactly that, and the book seems more relevant than ever. It’s only a few quid on Kindle, and if you’re in any doubt you can read the introduction online for free here.

In her foreword, written to accompany the second edition, Solnit looks back at her original text, written in 2003, and the changes since. She writes:

“If there is one thing we can draw from where we are now and where we were then, it is that the unimaginable is ordinary … We don’t know what is going to happen, or how, or when, and that very uncertainty is the space of hope.”

Hang in there. We’ll get through this together. Once the collective suffering is over, the collective change begins.

Fin Kennedy, Artistic Director


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.


Fin Kennedy’s Speech at Tamasha’s 25th Birthday @ Rich Mix, 30th October 2015

Hello and welcome.

That rather sweary audio playing as you came in was some writing by none other than the legendarily sweary Ishy Din (who else) from a new site specific community project, Taxi Tales which Tamasha has been piloting with Ishy this year. Real minicab drivers performing monologues in their vehicles. The full audio is available on our website and we hope to be rolling it out bigger and better next year.

So, Tamasha theatre company is 25 years old. You may cheer.

They say at 25 you can no longer blame your parents for anything; you start to grow up. You might go out a little less, stay in a little more, take work a little more seriously, and of course start to go to lots of weddings. You might even be thinking about settling down yourself.

Kristine Landon-Smith and Sudha Bhuchar 1992

Tamasha co-founders Sudha Bhuchar and Kristine Landon-Smith.

It’s true that this year, 2015, Tamasha did take a big leap, leaving its parents Kristine and Sudha behind and embarking on a new and, so far at least, exciting new relationship… with me.

But can a theatre company’s life stages really be so easily compared to a person’s? I thought it would be fun to find out.

You could say Tamasha was born in India – 1989’s debut play is set there. Untouchable, adapted by Kris and Sudha from the novel by Mulk Raj Anand, hit hard at the treatment of India’s lowest classes. Set over one day in the life of 17-year old latrine cleaner Bakha, it laid bare his daily struggle for survival amid the hypocrisies of the high caste Hindus. Here, Tamasha is full of the rage of youth at the injustices of the world.

Untouchable

Untouchable. Actor: Sudha Bhuchar, Photographer: Jenny Potter

In 1991 Tamasha moved house, into a new block of flats where House of the Sun is set, where we meet Sindhi refugees fleeing partition. A second generation has since grown up, hypnotised by the bright lights of Bombay, rebelling against a generation desperate to hold onto the old ways. A restless, adolescent Tamasha is starting to look to the future.

House of the Sun

House of the Sun. Actor: Surendra Kochar, Photographer: Alistair Muir

In Women of the Dust in 1992 we see a more overtly politicised company exposing exploitation of illiterate village women on Delhi’s construction sites – and the male bosses who keep them oppressed. This one toured India itself – Tamasha was spreading her wings.

Women of the Dust

Women of the Dust. Actors: Shobu Kapoor, Sudha Bhuchar, Nina Wadia, Jamila Massey; Photographer: Sue Wilson

1994 and Tamasha has got married – or at least turned her attention to marriage. A Shaft of Sunlight explored the conflicts that exist in a mixed Hindu-Muslim marriage, against the explosive backdrop of the same fault line within Indian politics.

A Shaft of Sunlight

A Shaft of Sunlight. Actors: Mina Anwar, Charubala Chokshi; Photographer: Jenny Potter

1995 and Tamasha has migrated – to Birmingham, of course – to have babies, or not. Ruth Carter’s play A Yearning took as its subject a childless young bride from India, who soon discovers the community that was once nurturing becomes increasingly stifling.

A Yearning

A Yearning. Actor: Zohra Segal, Photographer: Jenny Potter

Children did finally arrive – seven of them in fact, and from a mixed marriage – in 1995’s smash hit East Is East. Nazir, Abdul, Tariq, Maneer, Saleem, Meenah, and Sajid and their parents George and Ella Khan became seared on the nation’s memory, and Tamasha the proud parent basking in the success of her riotous brood.

East is East

East is East. Actors: Chris Bisson, Jimi Mistry; Photographer: Robert Day

1997 saw a sea change in the company’s profile, with A Tainted Dawn invited to open the Edinburgh International Festival, with music by Nitin Sawhney. Tamasha was all grown-up, and revelling in her success.

1998 saw a return to her Indian homeland with the riot of colour and song that was Fourteen Songs, Two Weddings and a Funeral – winner of the Barclays Theatre Award for Best New Musical. Tamasha the young adult was celebrating life.

Fourteen Songs, Two Weddings and a Funeral

Fourteen Songs, Two Weddings and a Funeral. Actors: Meneka Das, Parminder Nagra, Pravesh Kumar, Sameena Zehra, Raza Jaffrey, Shiv Grewal; Photographers: Charlie Carter

Hard work and the slog of making a living took over in 1999, with Balti Kings, a faithful recreation of the ruthless kitchens of Birmingham’s curry houses where price wars rage and fortunes are won or lost on the back of the nation’s most popular food. This was Tamasha the businessman, surviving in the cold hard marketplace of Britain’s inner city subcultures.

Balti Kings

Balti Kings. Actors: Nabil Elouahabi, Indira Joshi, Kriss Dosanjh, Ameet Chana; Photographer: Jenny Potter

2001 took a darker turn, with Tamasha’s first affair – and a murderous one at that. Ghostdancing by Deepak Verma saw an adulterous couple commit an act that would haunt them forever.

From 2002 onwards we see an interesting new focus on comedy, Tamasha discovering her funny bone. Ryman and the Sheikh, Strictly Dandia, AlI I Want Is a British Passport and The Trouble With Asian Men took on – respectively – the absurdity of Asian TV channels, inter-communal rivalry in North London dance competitions, satirising Mohammed Al-Fayed and hysterical confessional interviews with a variety of modern Asian males.

Ryman and the Sheikh

Ryamn and the Sheikh. Actors: Rehan Sheikh, Chris Ryman; Photographer: Joel Chester Fildes

But serious political commentary was never far away and A Fine Balance in 2006 and Child of the Divide in 2007 once again took on the chaos and danger of a newly-modern India living in the shadow of partition.

Child of the Divide

A Child of the Divide. Actor: Divian Ladwa, Photographer: Nic Kirley

From 2008 onwards we thrillingly start to see some of Tamasha’s real-world children coming through – the first fruits of the company’s pioneering Tamasha Developing Artists programme. Lyrical MC put London’s school students centre stage while Sweet Cider became the debut production by Emteaz Hussain, who so brilliantly puts East Midlands young people centre stage, both then and in her follow-up this year, the extraordinary Blood. Em is a brilliant embodiement of Tamasha’s commitment to new talent and shows a company with a big heart, eager to share its success by nurturing a new generation.

Lyrical MC

Lyrical MC. Actors: Busola Aderemi, Sarah Akinsanmi, Nana Owusu-Agyare; Photographer: Robert Workman

From this point on, Tamasha becomes very much a family home, with two generations living side by side, the ‘parents’ who can produce slick and timely adaptations  like 2009’s Wuthering Heights or 2010’s The House of Bilquis Bibi, alongside energetic new offspring like Nimmi Harasgama and her one-woman show Auntie Netta’s Holiday for Asylum; the soon-to-be legendary writer of Snookered, Ishy Din, and the brilliant young actors, assistant directors and designers, all graduates of the TDA programme, taking centre stage in the most recent shows such as The Arrival, My Name Is… and Blood.

So what have we learned from putting this unusually accomplished 25-year old on the psychiatrist’s couch? If you were to meet Tamasha, out there in the foyer, what would she be like?

Well, I think you’d find a softly spoken 25-year old, modest about her achievements, and eager to put those of her children into the limelight instead. You’d find a political heart, angry at the injustices of the world, but with a sophisticated set of skills to get her points across – intellectual analysis, humour, empathy, irony, wearing her heart on her sleeve but with the quick wit of a first-rate mind – and not afraid to turn that analysis onto her own community and hold them to account.

A young woman capable of straddling cultures with the ease of those with mixed heritage; a feminist, a fighter, with no time for chauvinism, hypocrisy or the abuse of power.

She would be a lover of language, and literature, of high art and low; fascinated by people, cultures, dialects and seeking out those overlooked by everyone else.

But most of all I think you’d find someone motivated by love, and by hope. Love for the world, its people, the mad, teeming, glorious mess that is humanity – and an unshakeable hope that we can, should and will do better, if only we were to understand one another more fully, and that theatre is the crucible where we meet to do just that.

It would be an unusually complex, accomplished and wordly 25-year old, if only you could meet her. But the good news is, you can. She is here tonight. She is each and every one of you, of us, her constituent parts.

So I’d like you to join me in raising your glass, and wishing Happy Birthday to the Tamasha on your left, the Tamasha on your right, the Tamashas in front and behind you.

We are all 25 tonight.

Happy birthday, Tamasha.

x


Actors’ Masterclass with Iqbal Khan

Last week we held a two day Acting Masterclass, led by Iqbal, on approaching complex language in plays, ranging from Shakespeare to Contemporary Texts. He looked at how actors can find this complex voice in texts which tackle big ideas.

‘What a thoroughly enjoyable, engaging and inspiring two days. Iqbal has an infectious passion for language and a way of letting everyone access the text with ease, with a focus on conveying the true meaning of a thought or idea. As someone who thought I’d never crack verse speaking, I now feel liberated and confident to explore the words on a page and not only to find understanding but also to express the ideas in a speech in a way that doesn’t alienate an audience but let’s them in. I feel that this will hugely impact my on stage delivery and can’t wait to put my new skills to work. Bravo!’
Vineeta Rishi

‘Iqbal is fantastic: out of all the workshops I’ve done, working with him has been by far the most enjoyable, challenging, and helpful. His talent, acumen, and teaching ability is exceptional: I can think of few ways to better hone my craft.’
Shamir Dawood

‘Working with Iqbal was exactly what I needed; he created a very honest atmosphere from the get-go and asked each one of us to tell him what our fears were when working with complex text. And that led to me feeling more comfortable with exploration of the text. Iqbal challenges you to not be lazy with text as an actor, he works in an extremely detailed manner and breaks down the text with you, but then allows you to run with it yourself. It was a wonderful boost for me as an actor and I feel so much more confident now going into an audition with a complex speech ready to perform.’
Dhiren Gadhia

‘Iqbal Khan’s Masterclass, was nothing short of extraordinary. Iqbal introduced a new way of approaching complex text, spending time on each of us, addressing our personal needs. He created a safe environment for us to not only be creative, but also ask frank questions about text, the industry and life as an actor. Personally, I learnt much which I can incorporate into my work, whether it be working on a play or prepping for an audition. Also, it was good to be introduced to new vocal exercises, which, although were challenging, if I should continue to practice, will help me no end.’
Bhella Candenti

‘A thoroughly helpful, encouraging and inspiring 2 days. Iqbal spent detailed time with every participant, working with them individually. We were given a useable toolkit to open up and share complicated ideas and language. There was a strong focus on sharing – with the audience and with your co-actor in a scene. We explored different emphasis within sentences/verse lines to find the clearest way to share an idea. This was an excerise to encourage understanding.

The most exciting work came through when the idea was being discovered in the moment, with the audience – putting yourself in an honest, vulnerable and therefore, exciting position and allowing the audience to discover and understand the text with you. Equally, we were encouraged to trust the language as well as focusing on being understood and in this way, organic, genuine emotion emerged. This helped us avoid generalised washes of anger, sadness etc. We put characters to the test: what do they want from this conversation, play that and see what happens, using the language as your tool to get it. Listen and pick up on words your partner has just said – how do they further the argument or test the relationship? The most unique and unexpected things could then happen because we were connected, open and our imaginations were free. For me, one of the most important discoveries was that anxiety can shut down your voice and shut down your imagination and you become an actor that the audience starts to worry about and not really listen to. When anxiety is out of the way, you have gotten out of your own way and you can then be the actor you really are.’
Suzanne Ahmet

‘The two day Acting Masterclass Workshop with Iqbal khan left me buzzing. I since have been unable to remove my nose from the spines of classic texts. The workshop was exactly what I needed – a boost of confidence to show me I already have the ability to attack and play with Shakespeare, Ibsen etc but also Iqbal seems to inject this passion into you that makes you, quite simply, excited to attack and play with these classic texts, or even all texts. It was just fantastic, I learnt so much and Iqbal was just wonderful to work with.’
Naomi Stafford

‘Iqbal’s masterclass was truly inspiring. He stripped away the mix of pretension and anxiety that can come with classical texts and gave us a range of tools with which to tackle the complex language. He worked with us as individuals as well as in groups and this one-to-one work was detailed, evocative and game changing. It was also very useful to watch others transform their work under his, frankly, magical touch! He tore down presumptuous and florid performing and taught us how to communicate a meaning with sincerity. It was absolutely brilliant, I’d go again’
Kerry Gooderson

‘The two days with Iqbal were pretty amazing. We worked on monologues and scenes from classical texts. I really enjoyed Iqbal’s approach to the work – to find the truth and the thoughts in the text. The text is the key. We explored a few different ways of tackling scenes, basically coming up with different ways of living it. It’s inspiring working with someone like Iqbal, who strives to bring out the best in everyone- knowing that actors work well when they’re comfortable. His style is organic and without pomp. The work is the work. Overall, the two days were incredibly enjoyable and fulfilling- what you normally expect from a Tamasha workshop.’
Ali Zaidi

‘As always the master class on Text with Iqbal was brilliant and hugely fun. Having worked with him previously I was  keen to ensure I had the chance again and it was well worth it of course. His skill and patience in conveying the subtleties of language from an actors perspective is precise and relevant to each actor’s needs. His depth of knowledge is vast and it was good to explore both classic and contemporary text. His charm and humour put you at ease instantly. A great two days. Thank you Tamasha!’
Llila Vis

‘The 2 day workshop with Iqbal Khan was an interesting insight into the use of heightened language and rhetoric in classical text. The work carried out was detailed and catered to each individual performer clearly highlighting our strengths and weakness’. A worthwhile refresher if you’ve been away from classical texts.’
Kiran Sonia Sawar


Fin Kennedy’s Westminster Media Forum Speech June 2014

The In Battalions report, published by Tamasha co-Artistic Director and playwright Fin Kennedy and researcher Helen Campbell Pickford in 2013, received widespread coverage and formed a significant part of the recent debate about arts funding cuts, in particular around theatres’ capacity to take risks on developing new plays and playwrights in an age of austerity. Below is a transcript of Fin Kennedy’s Westminster Media Forum speech on how we assess the cost versus the value of the arts, in order for the sector to better make its case to politicians and the public.

“I’ve been asked to speak today because last year I wrote a report entitled In Battalions, about the effect of cuts to the Arts Council on the British theatre industry’s capacity to develop new plays. The results made for grim reading. The report is available online so I won’t repeat its findings here. Instead I would like to address a philosophical point which I feel often gets overlooked in this debate, and that is about the difference between the cost of the arts to the public purse and the value the arts generate for public life.

There is a prevailing ideology you come across when this debate comes up. Phillip Pullman calls it ‘free market fundamentalism’. I prefer the softer term ‘market value’, because it is not a wholly illogical or unreasonable position. But it essentially states that if any play cannot attract enough paying theatregoers to cover its costs then it should be allowed to go to the wall. Let the market decide.

I’m in my first year of a new job – as Co-Artistic Director of a small-scale touring theatre company, Tamasha – and I’d like to offer a few reflections on this.

Small scale theatre tends to confound the market value principle, and here’s why.

A 90 minute new play with 3-5 actors will always play in what we call a studio or black box theatre – small auditoria of around 150 seats. So far, so cheap you might think.

But if you’re going to do things properly – which is what being a professional artist is all about – then costs begin long before show opens. Commissioning a playwright and developing the script is the first step – and can often take place years ahead of first night.

Once the show is cast there are the actors and other professionals such as the director, designer, company manager and stage manager. Then there are material costs, back office costs, producing costs, admin support, publicity – and if the show is required to tour, travel, accommodation and per diems.

All this means that even a modest four-hander play, with three weeks’ rehearsal, a three week run in London and four weeks’ touring can easily cost upwards of £100,000. Given what one can charge for shows of this scale – and even if the show does roaring business (a big if) it will make back on box office perhaps half what it cost – at best.

Small scale theatre is essentially economically unviable. It cannot exist without some kind of subsidy.

But the question we should be asking of such shows is not ‘Did it make money?’ but ‘Did it create value?’ – a far more amorphous concept, and one at which our sector is notoriously bad at successfully making its case.

I’d like to demonstrate the difference between cost and value with a brief example from my own company’s recent output.

My Name is… is a three-hander verbatim play written by my colleague Sudha Bhuchar. The play has just closed in London and Glasgow, where it received a clutch of rave reviews and in Scotland standing ovations. The play tells the real-life story of Molly Campbell, a mixed race Scottish-Pakistani girl who, in 2006, was reported as having been kidnapped by her father and forcibly taken to Pakistan. The truth turned out to be a lot more complicated.

My Name is… tells this family’s story in its own words. It has been a huge success, with audiences in tears, TV and radio interest, and a national tour booked for September and October. Even so, it will not make more money than it cost.

The value in a show like this is manifold. It tells the truth behind a story located along an important cultural fault line which exists in our society. It gives visibility to often-misunderstood or vilified minority groups. It creates understanding in audiences of other cultures with which many share their cities.

Performing in the show has been a stepping stone for all three of its actors, for one it was her professional debut and another has been nominated for an award.

The show was accompanied by workshops in inner city schools, exploring what it means to have a dual heritage in 21st century Britain.

In Scotland, Asian audience members urged me to remount the show for a longer Scottish tour because of the social and cultural community understanding such a show can create.

This makes it sound worthy – it wasn’t. It was funny and warm and heartfelt and human – and desperately sad.

But perhaps most movingly, the real Molly Campbell and her mother came to see it. They loved it. They came back – several times. They brought extended family. After the third time they had seen it, Molly herself said, “It was like going back in time and looking at us all … I got to see my mum and dad falling in love … I was just a little girl who was stuck but not knowing she was stuck and having to choose. I was scared in the beginning that people would blame me for what happened but watching myself being so innocent it’s finally hit me that I don’t have to carry that guilt anymore.”

If there is a price you can put on that, I have no idea what it might be.

My Name is… took five years to create. The project is a quintessential argument for public investment in the arts – ‘market value’ would never have come up with this show. Don’t get me wrong, now that it is a hit, Tamasha are doing everything in our power to exploit its success. It may, one day, break even. But it will never make a profit. Does this mean it is without value?

I’d like to close with a quote from Lorne Campbell, in a recent think piece for the Guardian about whether an obsession with value for money is trumping concerns of artistic quality.

“Perhaps this is the role of the cultural organisation now?” Cambpell writes, “To be the buffer between the market system we operate in and the non-market place that must be created if we are to begin to dream a new more equitable way for us to be as a society?”

So, I would repeat again: the question we should be asking of our publicly-supported theatre is not – or not only – ‘How much did it cost?’ but ‘How much value did it generate?’ for British society.

Thank you.”


‘My Name is…’ Rehearsal week 2, Composer/Sound designer Arun Ghosh on creating the soundscape and music.

Arun discusses what inspires him to create music and sound for live theatre, how he became involved in ‘My Name is…’ and the challenges of scoring verbatim theatre.


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