An article by Rachel Russell for The Enfield Independent.
“In a world of Trump and Brexit, we want to hear what the minorities have to say,” says Gail Babb, the producer for participation and learning for Talawa, a touring theatre company who will present new show HatcH at the Hackney Showroom this weekend.
It will mark the 21st year of its flagship programme for emerging theatre makers called TYPT and also celebrate 30 years as a theatre company, which over the years has given black and Asian communities a platform to showcase their talent and given them roles they may have struggled to land in mainstream theatre.
Talawa’s most recent success story is writer/performer of Channel 4’s Chewing Gum Michaela Coel, who won a BAFTA for Best Female Performance in a Comedy Programme and Breakthrough Talent 2016.
She said: “I came to TYPT looking for the empowerment to develop as a performer and writer and I certainly succeeded. The greatest part of being part of the TYPT family was having a supportive group and a community of trustworthy inspiring people that enabled me to develop and grow as an artist and person. TYPT allowed me to create friendships which have lasted thus far and make connections in the world of drama that have benefited my career greatly.”
TYPT’s latest project HatcH explores themes of place and protest and what happens when the spaces we call our own shrink, shift and are invaded.
Gail explains why she wanted to stay away from traditional forms of theatre and create a show from scratch in only four weeks, where production members had to learn fight choreography sequences designed by Kevin McCurdy, the UK’s only Black Equity Fight Director.
She said: “With every show, TYPT starts from a blank canvas and from there, we come up with a theme and a new art form. In the past we have done gender and sexuality, comedy or Britishness with a DJ. This year, I was just really interested in space and place after having conversations with so many people about gentrification and where the spaces are available for them to have an identity.
“After deciding on the theme, we then settled on fight choreography with the wonderful Kevin McCurdy and we were just thinking about spaces shrinking and minorities having less opportunity to have ownership over a space and place and being able to create something of their own.
“Fight choreography seemed like a good idea as it linked to fighting for your own space, such as being on the tube and spreading out and so there is a lot of physical theatre, movement and dance, while also being naturalistic and poetic at the same time.
“We have had four weeks to create this, so it has been very intense and we were all very tired by the third week!”
The theatre company was founded in 1986 by three British Caribbean women who addressed the lack of diversity at the time as they were actors and directors but weren’t able to get the big roles that would showcase how much talent they had.
Gail was interested in getting involved with Talawa as she felt it was giving a voice to those who struggled in the art world.
She said: “The group has always done big European classics, like The Importance Of Being Earnest and Shakespeare’s classics to show that black and Asian actors and directors have the skills to handle all of that sort of stuff.
“Even though it started a while ago and our world has changed since then, it still hasn’t progressed as much as we would have hoped.
“There is opportunity to get work in the mainstream but people are still struggling to get the big roles, so there is still quite a way to go for representation in the classics.”
This is Gail’s ninth year as a producer for TYPT and she admits she is in the rhythm of it by now and is confident that every year keeps getting bigger and stronger for the company.
She says: “I joined Talawa in September 2007, although I wanted to be an actor originally when I started studying BA Drama at the University of Hull before joining the company. During my time as a student, my eyes were opened to what theatre could be and showed me that there were so many elements.
“For me personally, producing was more interesting than acting and had more power and I wanted to use theatre for something other than the theatre itself through creating new stories and provoking new conversations and political statements. I believe it is all about making the world a better place.”
Hatch, Hackney Showroom, Amhurst Terrace, Shacklewell, E8 2BT, Thursday September 1 to Saturday September 3, 7pm. Details: talawa.com