02 Mar MARCH 2022 – ATC ARTISTIC DIRECTOR MATTHEW XIA REFLECTS ON THE SECOND ANNIVERSARY OF THE DAY THAT THEATRES CLOSED
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In 2019 we launched the first production since I joined ATC as Artistic Director, Amsterdam by Maya Arad-Yasur, with the intention of touring this work in March 2020. It turns out the world had alternative plans for all of us. The last two years have been some of most difficult times for the theatre sector in recent history.
Our touring production of Amsterdam, created with our partners at The Orange Tree and Theatre Royal Plymouth was stopped almost as soon as it had begun. Luckily we had captured the production digitally and were able to share this with the venues we couldn’t visit physically. This meant that we were eventually able to share the work with 30,000 locked-down audience members.
It was our understanding that the many thousands of freelancers who comprise the majority of workers in the sector, the actors, creatives, freelance technicians and admin staff would need support from those of us in more stable positions – as well as supporting the freelancers we had been working with on our existing projects, we also sponsored a freelancer to join the Freelance Task Force, joined the Mayor of London’s taskforce, advised the Shadow Culture Minister, made several new play commissions, and thought hard about what work we could make without theatres to perform in – and how we might involve freelance theatre-workers in that.
Those new play commissions were our first actions. To have plays ready, for when theatre came back. To commission writers under-represented in ATC’s work historically, and in theatre nationally – to us, that meant commissioning women of colour. The very first of those new plays became our first production, in summer 2021 – and would go on to win the 25th Alfred Fagon Award.
We didn’t leap into making online theatre – if I’m honest I felt stymied by the circumstances; all of our team were caught up in home-schooling and childcare – all of us with children under 6.
In trying to work out what a touring company was – if we couldn’t tour – we had the idea that we could deliver theatrical experiences directly to you, for people to perform at home, for family and friends. We commissioned letters from playwrights around the world with the invitation to create ritualistic happenings where you are. Dear Tomorrow, initially three letters (penned by Maya Arad-Yasur, Stephanie Street & Kimber Lee, and designed by Grace Smart), this project blossomed into the creation of Dear Tomorrow: Hope From Home with our partners Northern Stage. Hope From Home developed the original idea but created in a digital format – 6 writers and 6 actors delivered messages of hope across a week in early 2021.
As soon as it was possible to make work again, we did, with our newly commissioned show Family Tree, written by Mojisola Adebayo and presented at the 2021 Greenwich and Docklands International Festival as our first outdoor production. Mojisola’s wonderfully mythical play went on to win the Alfred Fagon Award (the prestigious award for Black British playwrights) which means you’ll certainly be hearing more from us about this show as we move towards a full production and tour.
It has also been a time to question just how our sector responds to the needs of those it serves and those it employs, there has been a lot of questioning following the #metoo movement and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement which has made us stop and think about kindness, dignity and equity. Ultimately it’s been a period of patience, of reflection, of consideration and also of growth. The past two years have seen our ATC team develop so that we now have a staff team of 6 and a replenished board of trustees (6 new appointments including a new Chair and Vice Chair) putting us in the best possible place to create and tour great theatre from across the globe, so we can respond to these ever changing circumstances and bring our ‘portable portal to the rest of the world’ to you, wherever you may be.
Matthew Xia, March 2022