Transcribed for the hard of hearing. Audio available here.
Jess Thom (J)- Hello, my name is Jess Thom and you are listening to In House, the Stagedoor podcast dedicated to exploring the most innovative and exciting creative spaces in london. This week, I’m at Battersea Arts Centre where I’ll be joined by Lekan Lawal, Liz Moreton and Henrietta Imoreh, and we are chatting about their work, and what BAC means to them.
Before we go any further [biscuit] let me describe myself. I’m a 30 something white woman [biscuit] of average build with curly brown hair and a very cool wheelchair [biscuit] . I also have tourettes syndrome [biscuit] a neurological condition [biscuit] that means i make movements and noises I can’t control called ticks [biscuit] So [biscuit] [hedgehog] [biscuit] this podcast comes with extra biscuits [beans] and beans [fuck it] and a bit of swearing.
[from this point, Jess’ ticks are only transcribed only when they are referenced in conversation]
My first guest is Lekan Lawal. Can you introduce yourself and maybe describe yourself.
Lekan Lawal (L)- So my name’s Lekan Lawal and I’m a tall black man about 6 ft 2, quite big and I’m in my mid 30s, I’m in my mid 30s!
J- Ye, I’m slowly accepting that I need to change my description at some point to I’m moving very much into late thirties now. Tell us a bit about your role here at BAC.
L- Sure, so I’m one of three co-artistic directors on a project called up next, I’m working with a guy called Tarek Iskander and Saad Eddine Said and we are looking at… we are working with David Jubb really closely who is the artistic director here and i guess the kind of provocation of up next which is a collaboration between the Battersea Arts Centre Bush Theatre and an organisation called Artistic Directors of the Future is looking at how you diversify and begin to switch up the kinds of people who take artistic leadership roles. So in a similar way to change makers which is what you’re doing I’m just kind of looking at what’s artistic leadership like in the sector and how can we change that and the program, so there’s three of us working here and there is three ladies working at the Bush and it’s kind of looking at i guess how closely can you mirror the experience of being an artistic director within an organisation? We are also programming artistic work and kind of working with the rest of the producing team and all the different project teams in the BAC and we are making work. So I’m directing a show that’s happening in November as part of the Phoenix season
J- And do you want to explain a little bit About the Phoenix season and what that is?
L- Yeah sure so three years ago the grand hall burned down and we’ve been rebuilding it and we’re having a season to celebrate the season to celebrate that and kind of go out of the Ashes I guess, what’s the future and I guess? It’s called The Phoenix season and it’s looking too kind of celebrate the breadth of British Theatre and kind of, all the extremities of the possibilities of it. So you’re doing something Brewing in Battersea. There are companies like Gecko and Bryony kimmings and really cool people Little Bulb, should I go through all of them?
J- It just feels really excited as supposed to have that part of the building back, the main the sort of front of the building has been fully active for the whole time.
L- A couple of days later I’m told it was open back in business. so yeah it’s a really exciting moment for the organization and I think yeah. It’s going to increase our capacity to make new midscale work and things like that which is really cool.
J- What has it meant to you to have had access to the spaces here at BAC and those opportunities?
L- Yeah I think it’s really difficult imagining yourself in leadership roles, for some people, for me, i shouldn’t talk for everyone but for me. I guess you kind of get to learn all the things that you don’t know, like over the course of… like the longer I spend here especially the way the the BAC works and it’s so sprawling and the kind of breadth of work that we do and the types of activities we undertake are so kind of wide it’s much bigger than a standard artistic program or a standard education program we do so much engagement and so many other things which don’t fall necessarily within a traditional theatre model which just means that it’s kind of a equipped me with lots of different skills and kind of a different way of thinking about how a building can be run. I mean David Jubb is many things but he is a producer, to a certain extent and he’s an incredible producer, it means that the way in which the building runs is very different to other buildings I have worked in which are led by directors or people who make work in a different way. It’s just a great and unique model so it’s been really great to learn from that.
J- I definitely feel like that was one of the things that sort of supported me to start feeling comfortable in this space and in the space is that historically because of my ticks i’ve found really difficult to access and have felt at various times that they’re not for me. I think one of the things that definitely changed that was having really strong relationships with the producers and with a producer who basically just looks after you and supports you to make the work that you want to make in the best way you can and challenges that process but I don’t think I’d really understood the value of producer straightforwardly until… Like when I first entered this building I had no idea of what a producer did, I’d never made a piece of Theatre before I didn’t know what all those different roles were and in some ways that felt exciting because I had to, I could start from fresh, but having those connections with individuals who really get to know you I think certainly for me meant that I felt safe to take more creative risks then I might have done in another model if that makes sense.
L- Absolutely I think that’s definitely true there’s like a kind of, every artist who works in the building has a producer and everyone who kinda contacts the building has a producer who kinda looks after them and they’re point of contact and I think that model is just incredibly invaluable and I guess as you progress through the Scratching and developing work and making work in this space
J- You’ve just used the big BAC word, which is Scratch which is all over the place and it’s not because there’s horrible infestations everywhere.
L- I hope not i don’t know it’s an old building
J- So yeah let’s talk a bit about scratch and your experience of that
L- So it’s a, what’s the word they use, it’s an iterative process, I don’t quite know what it what iterative means
J- I think it means that you have different iterations so you do and then another and then another and i suppose it builds and test things out and then keep the good bits and get rid of the bad bits .
L- And get rid of the bad bits, well hopefully.
J- Sometimes make the wonky bits even more wonky
L- So I think it’s that kind of thing where you start with something and then you build on it ye, and so everytime you scratch I guess it’s about you peel a layer off and you kind of gone ok there’s something there is another thing there there’s another thing there but it’s kind of use across the whole organisation so everything that we do is scratched, so it doesn’t feel like… and think that kind of is that thing that there are no stupid questions or you can’t get something wrong in the way that you can sometimes feel like in some other environments because the idea is that whatever you do is a scratch and we’re gonna improve on it.
J- There is this idea of scratching people feel less afraid of getting it wrong sometimes in particularly around accessibility I think people get terrified think that they have to be have some really specialist knowledge and that fear means they never start and so they never start and so making sure that people can access these spaces because I’ve felt huge benefit from having access to Performance spaces and networks and accessing that creativity, creativity can be such a vital force in people’s lives, and I think particularly at a time when there’s lots of pressures and a time of cuts these spaces offer lots of potential
L- and Refuge
J- Yeah. What do you see as the potential for a space like BAC within the Communities and within the sector?
L- A couple of months ago we had an announcements we had the season announcement and what was really exciting about the conversation around that was that obviously there’s a massive artistic programme that’s happening as part of the Phoenix season, it was actually talking about all the other things that we do which are about how we kind of engage with our local community and I think that there’s an opportunity I guess to kind of fill a gap as you said there’s lots of really interesting conversation is happening about social prescribing, about the idea of being able to give people an activity or things to do that kind of can help them this much as if not more than medicines can and I think that is something really unique and exciting about that. About the potential to not just be a space for people to have an evening activity but a place where people go where things happen, a place where people go and have a conversation about something that’s happening and they know that’s a place to go and I think that we are kind of always getting closer to being a place for the local community and for people in London
J- And thinking about Up Next has anything surprised you so far?
L- I guess the three of us have been having a really interesting dialogue about leadership and the 6 of us and Madani at the Bush and David here an Sim who is artistic director Artistic Directors of the Future are having a conversation about what is artistic leadership and what do we need artistic leadership to be in the future and what kind of leaders do we need to be? And I mean me you and I have been having that conversation No I mean and I think part of it has been going ‘Oh ok I might not want to be understood director in the way that has been done before’. Partly because that isn’t necessarily me but also partly because that isn’t necessarily what is needed now and there is a little bit of that which has just been really interesting kind of thinking about ok what kind of leadership am I interested in and how would I… how do you kind of give yourself permission to be you in that position rather than try to mould yourself into an idea of what an artistic director is or what a leader is or that should be?
J- I think that some of those ideas about what leadership looks like and particularly how that looks as in the Arts have been developed by a particular group of people who’ve had historically lots of control and power and confidence in those spaces, have been shaping what our culture, shared culture is presented. I think that there is a really exciting move to broaden who is in control who has power and who is programming but I think it would be missing a huge opportunity to then emulate those existing structures rather than explore new ways
L-Ye it’s all about scratch
J- Ye testing them out
L- Ye I think that’s true
J- What challenges are facing BAC and the sector more widely?
L- I think all arts organisations just have to be aware of the fact that you know, things change very quickly and if you get stuck in your ways or you kind of get stuck in a way of working or a mode of working I think that you can get caught out in a way that can be really damaging. I think one of the challenges maybe is thinking up new ways in which you can engage with audiences that don’t want to come and watch shows and i think that we are good at that and I think we are striving to get better, and I think part of being a home for a community is not necessarily deciding how they engage with the building it’s kind of listening to them to find out how they want to engage how they want to engage with the building and I think that all arts organisations, that shift and it will shift again, when we leave Europe things will shift again and funding will be different and there’s this thing about just listening and kind of going ok cool that’s happened and how do we is an arts organisation or how do we as an arts Centre or home for the community how do we respond to what people actually need rather than what we’ve already done or what we think people need or what we think people should want and I think that’s kind of never ending
J- I think also because there is this sense of change at the moment, this sense of shift I think somehow things already feel like somehow there’s a bit of movement they’re a bit mobile feels like those of the opportunities when we can do something more radical and really try and get people to think about difference to think about different perspectives to think about who might face barriers to these spaces that have value, people need to be able to use them in different ways. We are gonna be talking to Henri and Liz about the Agency and thinking about how buildings can be used as creative spaces beyond just producing and creating shows just feels like a very key part of what BAC offers that may be some others don’t. It’s amazing that you can sort of feel that in the space even if you’re coming to see a show. There’s something that feels like… what I definitely found comfortable about being here for the very beginning was something about the fact that it’s not a precious space and you can see that by the fact that there’s lots of paint on the walls and you’ve got the evidence of 5 or 6 previous shows. But somehow, I come from the adventure play background which again are unprecious spaces, so I only recognise that here and it made me feel like I could start doing something. It’s a bit like when you get a brand new fresh bit of white clean paper and that idea of making the first mark when it feels really daunting somehow coming into building that has all these marks on it already feels like you can start it was a bit easier to start. I definitely feel a sense of responsibility to try and tackle and address some of the systemic barriers that I’ve encountered. I made a show in response to lots of the difficult experiences that I’ve had accessing live performance because my body and mind doesn’t work in a way that is considered normative and I don’t think that people should have to make shows just to feel safe in the theatre or the we have to give so much of our personal experience in order to have access and to prove that we have value in these spaces do you have a sense of that additional pressure?
L- Yeah you’re very articulate about it I think that there’s a thing of… yeah it’s really funny in my how you kind of come into the industry and I guess where you start and how long it takes you to feel like you’re part of it, or how you sometimes never really feel like you’re part of it. Yeah I think I’ve always been really interested in working in ways in which I’m kind of I guess passing on some of that knowledge and passing on some of that awareness to make things a little bit easier like I really enjoy working with communities and working with young people and that’s a big part of what i’m doing here and then part of the show that I’m developing I think there’s a thing about also kind of like putting your neck above the parapet and there’s a kind of cost to that but it’s necessary
J- I think i felt it particularly at edinburgh this year much of our work had focused around comedy and was joyful, we did a co-production with BAC that was very different. And neurodiverse presentation of a Samuel Beckett play NOT I and that got loads of media attention before we two it to Edinburgh therefore we knew we were going to have an audience and I felt really lucky to be in that position but I also felt this huge pressure. Not just to do the best for me or for our company, not about whether people liked or didn’t like the work, but because it’s very unusual for disabled artists to get that sort of profile and I didn’t want to waste it and there is a sense sometimes where I feel really lucky to be in the position that I am and to have his opportunities to make change In spaces that I think are amazing have potential but I also feel responsibility to not waste that. That pressure i think is pressure that probably some people who feel more comfortable in these spaces or don’t have to justify their presence Maybe in the way that sometimes I feel like I need to
L- Ye, i guess it’s because It’s not happening enough yet so it’s still the exception rather than the rule and because of that, people then kind of use the exception or the thing that you do to make the rule. So you do NOT I and it’s amazing and it’s incredible and successful and it’s like extraordinary and people go oh yeah Beckett that can happen like that
J- I knew that the pressure that i felt didn’t feel like it was pressure that I should feel, but I felt that it was important to acknowledge it because we aren’t there that in terms of visibility and representing the sort of broadness of the society that will live in for example in terms of disability One in five people in the UK identify as disabled but that’s definitely not represented in our cultural spaces. I promote a way of thinking about shows called relaxed performance and part of the change I’m working with BAC to create is to think about what it would mean for Battersea to be relaxed venue. So rather than having one of relaxed performances which is the sort of standard model at the moment. Sometimes they put relaxed performances on a Tuesday afternoon at a less popular time. Rather than thinking about that model of single performances what does it mean to embed a relaxed approach across the whole venue and to just flip that assumption that rather than thinking that every performance will be like quiet and reverent what happens if we say every show is a relaxed performance, unless there is a clear creative reason for doing it in a different way, and I think some of the issues with relaxed performance is that people think as soon as you start to relax the rules of theatre there’s anarchy That actually what relaxed performances is not about anarchy it’s not about… it’s not prescriptive it’s just about thinking about the fact that Focus doesn’t look the same way for everybody attention doesn’t look the same way for everybody if I’m being still and quiet I am not concentrating on what someone is saying I’m concentrating on controlling my body. I think often exclusion is a process of being slowly shut out and it’s something you experience from being quite young. I remember being six or seven and being made aware that my behaviour would be problematic if I was in an art gallery and it’s like I’ve got this really early experiences that was already started to tell me that despite my love of creativity there wasn’t a home for that because I didn’t fit and so I suppose tackling those barriers is obviously really complicated But if you start by doing it right I just don’t want to create any new ones now, and for me there’s a big difference between taking a creative risk and taking a risk with an aspect of yourself or your identity and I definitely feel, I’ve felt unsafe in theatres because I felt discriminated against and charged based on parts of my identity that I can’t change but I’ve also felt supported to take creative risks and so my feeling is that I want to create spaces where people feel safe to be themselves but also are able to take creative risks and be able to see something that they might not like, without having to put themselves on the line. Is there a moment on your journey as a director and maker that has as made you feel really joyful?
L- I think it’s always just reminding, you talking about what was your entry point and the things that you were inspired by kind of reminds me of, I remember going To the Royal Court for the first time and being like 22 and seeing a play reading that was directed by a director called Dawn Walton, she’s an amazing Black woman and she was directing it and it was an Athol Fugard play and it was a reading of The Island and I remember just going ‘oh im the Royal Court this building feels really inaccessible but she’s directing that and these actors are On stage doing this Township play maybe there’s something here for me’ and I think finding those opportunities and searching out those people you’re a kind of touchstone to me to kinda go yeah I can do this even if you never speak to them or meet them just collecting those people that kinda just remind me actually there may be a way in for me.
J- That’s why it matters, That’s why visibility matters. Not seeing the same stories told in the same way by the same people but actually finding different perspectives invoices because that’s how we are going to learn about each other and be able to build a community that works for different types of minds and bodies and perspectives
L- Absolutely, thank you so much
J- Thank you Lekan
J- Now we are joined by Liz Moreton and Henrietta Imoreh, who are going to talk about their work on the agency. So it would be great to start with if you could introduce yourselves and describe yourselves very briefly.
LM- Yeah, so my name is Liz Morton I’m Head of Creativity and Social change at Battersea Arts Centre, I am a white woman in my mid thirties with light brown hair and I’ve been working at BAC for about 12 years now
H- I’m Henrietta, my role at BAC is as as assistant facilitator and Bees Knees host. I am a black Female and I’m 24 years old and I’m heterosexual
J- [Do you like calpol?]
J- Who doesn’t? That’s my cutting edge journalism an involuntary tick, one of the joys of Tourette’s and interviewing people are sometimes ask questions that are totally irrelevant. Tell us a bit about your roles at BAC, what you do and how you do it and maybe why you do it.
H- My role at BAC is assisting on, I would say, all the youth programmes, apart from beatbox, but mainly on the agency, the reason why I do it all I’m so passionate about the role is because I was a participant on the agency and now being an assistant is like being able to transfer the skills and knowledge that I have learnt to those young people and it’s inspiring to see where they can go in the next 2–3 years. My role is all about pastoral support, making sure that the lead facilitator is supported at all times, coming up with really fun creative ideas and in Bees Knees the same thing as welcoming and been a smiley face to BAC
J- For people who aren’t familiar with BAC what is Bees Knees and can you describe it a little bit because it feels like an unusual space to have in a theatre
H- Ye it’s an unusual space So I would describe it as teletubbie land. I say that to all the mums and the mum’s are like yes most definitely. Yeah it’s teletubbie land it’s a place for the babies can just express themselves and feel free and the mother’s can just talk and just be ok and open it’s really nice, it’s a lovely space
J- And it’s a permanent space within the building and it exists on the ground floor and it’s open for people to come and use and play
H- Yeah between 10 and 1 at all times, all week and it’s only £3 so it’s so cheap
LM- My role as head of creativity and social change Is very much to look at how we can work with lots of different types of people not just artists and help people to tap into their own creativity. So, as well as working with artists who work with young entrepreneurs, we work with local people, we work with people in the Social sector and voluntary sector.
J- Can you tell us more about the agency?
LM- So the agency at first glance might seem like an unusual project for an arts building to be running because it’s all about supporting local young people to develop their own social Enterprise ideas. So we’re working with young people who are developing board games who are setting up their own book swapping projects for young people in care or working with young people who have set up a football league for young people who can’t speak English who’ve just arrived in the country and so at first glance it sounds quite an unusual thing for an art centre to be doing but in the same way we work with artists to help them develop theatre shows we can also use those same skills to help other people develop other kinds of ideas and it’s the creative process that we use to build ideas, so encouraging people to test out ideas that are really early stages of development, to encourage people to take creative risks, encouraging people to listen to feedback from the people the ideas are intended for and to use that feedback to help develop their ideas so yeah we’ve realised the producing skills can be applied in lots of different ways and it’s really exciting to have young entrepreneurs in this building, Soon we’re going to open a scratch hub which is a co-working space which is where some of our young entrepreneurs are going to be based in. It’s exciting to have them in this building because this building is all about bringing lots of different types of people together to rub shoulders and to spark unusual ideas and for creativity to be celebrated in all it’s different forms
J- How did you both first get involved in BAC and can you remember how it felt when you first entered the building and what you thought?
H- I had a mentor here called Toby and I actually just had a coffee here for the first time and I lived in the local area all my life but never once entered BAC and when I walked in I was like God this place is beautiful, so grand, and I just didn’t expect BAC to have any young projects or projects that the agency where like they are affecting social change, i just thought ye like it’s a theatre and it’s really grand, It’s middle class, I didn’t really see people like me so I felt a bit like ‘Oh should I be here’ and then once I kept like coming back and got asked to be on the agency that’s when my life changed.
J- Can you remember like what helped you make that first step in? Because as a disabled person I definitely felt similarly often i felt like those spaces weren’t for me and just ruled them out but then there were just clear moments where I felt people were saying look you can come into this space. What made you take that first step?
H- I think that BAC has this culture of family and everybody here I think their mission statement is so clear about like shaping the future, taking creative risks, everyone here is just inclusive. As soon as you walk into the building it’s so warm and ye throughout my time at BAC I’ve seen new staff coming in and they’ve all just embodied that. Ye i think the people make BAC you know.
J- Liz can you remember when you first step foot in the building and what you thought and how you felt?
LM- Yeah so I first stepped in the building probably over 12 years ago now, it was my first job after graduating pretty much and I came to the building to have an interview for an internship but even then I remember coming in and being like ‘Ah this is not what i expected a theatre to be’. I’d kind of been in theatres before where it was quite closed during the daytime in the evening there’d be one show and there would be people with waistcoats with gold buttons and very expensive g&t at the bar and walking into the BAC I was suddenly like ahh yes I could work in this place for a long time, because it’s so much more than a theatre there’s so much more going and that felt really exciting
J- What have you learnt through the agency and being involved with BAC? Are there things that you think you can really take away from that experience?
H- I have learnt from the agency that we need to learn from young people rather than being taught, does that make sense? Their ideas are so fascinating and this generation is so fast. Their mindset is just crazy and I just think instead of being like taught constantly, I think we need to just listen. Ye more in society we need to just listen.
J- I could not agree with you more, if it was a social media post there would be a lot of thumbs. What’s the value and the role that creativity plays in you life and how has BAC been a part of that?
H- I always feel that I’m really supported here whether that be by Joe whether that be by Liz I feel like there are set people that I can go to at all times, but also looking at those young people and seeing their lives and what they go through, but yet they still come in and they are confident and they’re still rehearsing, it makes me think like ‘What I shouldn’t really be giving up’ to be fair.
J- But then I suppose those young people are looking to you for support and to see themselves reflected in this space
H- I say to Liz that she’s like a mummy, sometimes she babies me too much
J- What do you want to do next what does next look like for you?
H- That’s a good question Jess.
J- You don’t have to know the answer
H- That’s a really good question cos I’m asking myself that daily. I’ve chosen to leave BAC but now I’m questioning why I chose that. So I’m looking to do a post grad to be a drama teacher. Only recently I thought what effect can i have on the next generation and like teaching and the curriculum and the school system like, can I change that can I spark creativity in those drama lessons, Can I take what I’ve learnt from BAC and transfer that in a school?
J — I hope that you can. Thank you both so much for speaking to me.
H & LM — Thank you
J — Thank you for listening. If you are excited by all the creativity going on here at Battersea Arts Centre, you can use the Stagedoor app to keep up to date with all the brilliant performances that it produces. And if you like the sound of any of the artists doing work here, whether it’s Lekan Lawal or even me, you can follow us all on the app too. Beans! Biscuit.