Hello everyone, the time has come to at last say a final goodbye to Theatre Centre. I would like to start with my Thank you’s. Firstly, I would like to thank Emma Wee for making such a spectacular cake. And to all of you for being here.
I would like to thank all the TC teams past and present, those that are here tonight, those that were unable to come, those that I was unable to track down. The company is a team, it’s the people who make the company and its been wonderful to work with you all. I would especially like to thank Charles (Bishop), Helen (Jeffreys) and Raidene (Carter) with whom I have work closely as the TC Executive. You’ve all been provocative, supportive and dynamic in your own ways and I feel honoured to have had you by my side.
I would like to thank the TC Boards over the last 12 years. I have learnt so much from meeting you all and your particular walks of life. Your support has been invaluable and I have always felt “held” by the Board. Your commitment is unwavering and I am sure it will continue.
I would like to thank the artists; writers, actors, designers, stage managers, production managers, choreographers, voice coaches, composers, directors, dramaturgs…. Thank you for making the shows “more”. Rehearsal time has always been a perk of the job and those collaborations have enriched my practice in so many ways.
Thank you to all the schools that book our shows despite challenging circumstances and to the audiences who make our mission real and our purpose clear.
And finally, thank you to Caroline, my lovely wife, who has been a big part of my TC journey and who has kept me afloat when I needed it.
When I joined Theatre Centre, it was Autumn 2007. These were the last heady days of a Labour government, of Creative Partnerships, of Drama being an integral and important part of a well-rounded curriculum. A week or so after I started Northern Rock collapsed and the economy crashed. We all know the story from here – coalition, EBacc etc etc.
The impact was immediate. I remember the day after the election when the coalition government was formed a school in Doncaster rang to cancel the performance they had booked for the Autumn. It was because the Head Teacher didn’t “want a distraction” in the school. The impact hasn’t ever disappeared. But we have evolved and responded at every turn which has been exhausting. The decline of the arts in schools over the last 10 years is one of the crimes that the government has wrought on children and young people. And I’m not sure why they have done it. The economic argument stacks up as does the evidence of the benefits on learning, creativity, community, employability, mental health…It just seems vindictive to me. But it makes our mission stronger and it gives us more purpose.
I would like to make a shout out of thanks to Arts Council England. In 2014, they dealt us a heavy body blow – a shocking funding cut of 34%. But that shock was also a catalyst of change. With the Arts Council’s and the Board’s support, we re-visioned the company as an Activist organisation which has broadened our opportunities, our associates, our creativity. This came about because in my shock, I realised that I wasn’t angry at the Arts Council for the cut but at the government and their reductive ideology. I realised that we needed to equip and support young people through the arts to have a voice, to build their self-belief, their agency so that generation could change the world into a better place. Never before has there been such a schism between the old and the new values and I want us to be on the side of young people. Its still a work-in-progress and I have every confidence that the new TC Executive – Rob and Emma – will strengthen the resolve and continue the journey.
And Theatre Centre itself is intrinsically Activist in what it does, taking new writing into schools. New writing so that the stories are for audiences today, in schools so we can reach everyone, not just the privileged few. We, as a company, are holding that school space open for the future, making sure it doesn’t disappear. We need to so that the next generation of companies can see what’s possible and that in the future more theatre comes into schools and reaches more young people.
Being Artistic Director of Theatre Centre makes you part of a unique club. 67 years old and it has now only had 6 Artistic Directors. I want to welcome Rob Watt and I hope you have a rich and wonderful time at Theatre Centre. This job is ultimately about making Art and Art having power, making it relevant to young people. With the work, we aim to ignite that magic that can have young people dreaming, aspiring, inspiring and questioning. To have that power, it needs to be beautiful, poetic, passionate and meaningful. For 12 years Theatre Centre has given me the space to make Art that has that power. This experience has been transformative for me and I will take all that I have learnt on the next step of my journey.
Natalie Wilson, as presented on 30th January 2020
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