Posted: 05 July 2021

Tamasha: representing and supporting theatre-makers from ALL ethnically diverse backgrounds

Valerie Synmoie, Executive Director, Tamasha

At the height of the Pandemic last year Tamasha turned away from the shock of what was happening outside, and we looked inward. Like many others, we took a long hard look at ourselves and what we stand for in a world gone crazy, and where it literally felt as though the ground was shifting tectonically beneath our feet. The double trauma of the pandemic and by the murder of George Floyd starkly re-emphasised to me and the rest of the team the deep inequities that exist in the world. That shock served to re-invigorate our long held determination to address the entrenched imbalances In the cultural sector – still over-dominated at every level as it is by white privilege.

In the midst of all the uncertainty of 2020 we were also undertaking a long overdue brand re-design. And as we reflected on our purpose and mission, who we are, what we stand for and how we want to be known, a clear and simple vision emerged – to tell stories that shape the world.

We believe that the telling of stories is a powerful part of what it is to be human. Stories can be  urgent, reflective, compelling. They can provoke thought and actions, resonate on both a personal and global level, make us laugh and cry, and change our view of ourselves and the world. Our new vision neatly captures what we do –  we are a catalyst for creating new stories, and these stories can become a touch-paper for our times, sparking and firing change. This is what we do best. And if we are the story-makers, then our Developing Artists network is our secret super-power – allowing us to tap into some of the most creative and dynamic artists in the country today.

So on the one hand we support talented artists to create exciting relevant new stories. And on the other? Well this is where the last year has taught us that we need to push back more – and harder. For too long the stories that have had the most stage-time have largely represented the white British experience. Now more than ever, it is critical that stories by and for the global majority are placed centre-stage – and on more stages across the country.  Tamasha continues to be a changemaker – and to lead, empower and support with our peers and artists, to dismantle inequities in theatre.

In pondering on our new vision I’ve also reflected on how much the company has changed since its inception over 30 years ago. We’ve had our stroppy teenage years,  have grown up, found our feet and our place in the world. The most significant change, and perhaps the one that has been the most challenging to achieve, has been the widening of our lens – a deliberate and bold move that the company took nearly 10 years ago to represent and support theatre-makers from all ethnically diverse backgrounds, not solely South Asian artists. Such a fundamental shift takes time and focus – and we know that there are still organisations and venues that continue to only know Tamasha for the work we created in our first 20 years –theatrical classics like EAST IS EAST, WUTHERING HEIGHTS and THE TROUBLE WITH ASIAN MEN. The work we are doing with artists from a range of ethnically diverse backgrounds takes time to pierce through into mainstream attention – but it’s there, quietly making waves and propelling forward theatre-makers of today and tomorrow. Work such as HEAR ME NOW, led by the inspirational Titi Dawudu, or WE ARE SHADOWS:Liverpool Chinatown currently under development and led by our very own Digital Producer, Tuyet Huynh. Both our Writers programme and Directors programme positively reflect this shift, as does our newly launched Producers First programme. In fact our Developing Artists programme is where the magic is really happening, where our secret super power is growing in strength. I remember some years ago one of the Developing artists we were working with noting down on a feedback form that being in Tamasha workshop was like being on a London bus – with so many different ethnicities, and so many different experiences and stories , and how rare and special it felt to be in that space. That made me so proud of what we do and it’s what’s what we continue to strive for.

Sadly Tamasha is one of only a handful of ethnically diverse-led companies that has reached it’s 30 year milestone, but we are encouraged by the talent, vision and tenacity that we see amongst the Gen Y’s and Z’s, alongside the step-change in a commitment to anti-racism in the theatre sector, and we are hopeful for a brighter, more diverse future ahead.

2021 will be a particularly significant one for Tamasha as our Artistic Director, Fin Kennedy, will be stepping down after eight years, and we will be seeking our new artistic lead. Working with Fin over the years I have admired his steely-eyed focus on supporting and enabling many writers and artists, and I’m sure the impact of what he has done will be appreciated by many for years to come. What is critical going forward however is that Tamasha has strong and representational artistic leadership, that we truly live and breathe our mission to support ethnically diverse artists. I for one eagerly look forward to the exciting next phase that awaits us.

Valerie Synmoie, Executive Director, Tamasha