Derby Theatre, Sarah Brigham Interview: “It’s vital that every young person is given access to high quality arts experiences and able to realise their own creativity.”
Sarah Brigham is Artistic Director and Chief Executive at Derby Theatre. Sarah is a powerhouse. Previously the Artistic Director at The Point, Eastleigh, and The Berry Theatre, where she developed a unique programme of support for established and emerging artists. Amazing.
We had a discussion about life in general and more. See below.
Hello! You are a hard-working person. If you were to draw a graph of the last ten years, how would it look?
Hello, that question made me smile – my graph is probably like everyone who works in the arts – pretty crazy most of the time but high on fulfilment and enjoyment and a high peak in feeling very lucky to do a job I am passionate about.
You are currently in Tech week for Look Back in Anger. What’s going on?
Well its an interesting tech week as we are actually in tech for 2 shows at once – yes we are mad – Its going to be a full on week! Alongside Look Back in Anger we have commissioned a response piece from the female perspective. Its called Jinny and its the third in our RETOLD series which sees us cracking opening the classics from the female perspective. Whilst working on Look Back in Anger I began to wonder when do we ever hear the working class voice on stage now? And when is that voice ever female. So we decided to commission another writer who has lived and worked in Derbyshire (as Osborne did) to bring this voice alive for 2016 – Jane Wainwright was born in Chesterfield and spent a research and development period meeting women aged 25 (Jimmy Porter’s age) across Derby asking them for their take on class, feminism, love, dreams, ambitions and what they were angry about now. Interestingly many felt similar to Jimmy there was no an open door to a good job no matter how talented you were, they felt frustrated by the life plan they felt society still imposed onto them and they were frustrated that the voices they heard on their stages, in newspapers and in films didn’t represent their experience. Jane has taken their wit, their fears, their ambitions and created a female Jimmy Porter for 2016.
So right now we are in a lighting plotting session for both shows ! Lighting Designer Arnim Freiss is working wonders and Neil Irish’s set is looking fabulous. We’ve built further into the auditorium than usual so I’m constantly checking sight lines as its changed the dynamic of the space in an exciting way.
Look Back in Anger induced a step-change in British Theatre didn’t it.
In many ways yes although sometimes this is overplayed a little as there was lots going on then , Waiting for Godot opened a year earlier for instance but you are right it is often heralded as the play which changed the face of British Theatre, it is studied by students of theatre across the UK, it helped put The Royal Court on the map and often the industry talks about plays prior to 1956 (the year the play premièred) and post as two distinct eras.
It certainly put on stage a voice which had not been heard before; the voice of the working man and he had a lot to say, heralding the movement of “angry young men”. I don’t think we would be in the same theatre landscape if Look Back in Anger had never been produced. Its a great play – full of complexities but great none the less.
You’ve been a pioneer for artist development locally. What is the next corner to be turned?That’s very kind of you. Gosh I’m not sure – there are lots of challenges ahead I think we all know that – the latest settlement for ACE was great but its not a time to rest on our laurels – we need to keep making the case for the arts. One area that really worries me is the destruction of arts in education. It’s vital that every young person is given access to high quality arts experiences and able to realise their own creativity. At the moment that seems hugely under threat and if we don’t do something about it then we will be all the poorer not only in 20 years when we are looking for the next generation of artists but also straight away as our children and ultimately our society will suffer.
We also need to turn a corner on diversity – its not good enough that our creative leaders, our artists and our audiences don’t represent the world we live in.
On a more positive note there are so many exciting things happening in the industry at the moment – everyday I meet new artists, new companies who are making work in new ways and thinking about how to take new audiences on a journey so on that score I feel pretty chipper about our future. I guess my role is to ensure those artists are nourished and supported.
Regional theatre appears to be in mighty shape. What are the biggest challenges to sustain this?
That’s so nice to hear as often the regions get treated like the naughty child and told they aren’t good enough. Yes there is great work coming from the regions – I’ve had some of my best theatre experiences in Manchester, Edinburgh, and a small village hall in Leicestershire. Of course funding is a challenge as always and the disparity of funding I think is an issue which needs solving. Maxine Peake made a great speech recently where she pointed out that the (brilliant ) work she makes in Manchester is judged on the same platform as work from london which has three times the resources to rehearse and make the work. I totally agree with her – give any director or theatre 3 times the funding and I’m pretty sure you’ll see bolder choices being made and a more consistent product produced.
There is disparity within the regions too. The Northern Powerhouse and the Midlands Engine idea is great but we need to remember the cities on the edges of that also. Putting a show on in Derby costs the same as putting on a show in a big city although the distribution of funding doesn’t always recognise this. The smaller cities also often don’t have access to the same level of possible philanthropy or audiences. Having said all of that I absolutely recognise that it would be mad to just drain London or the bigger cities, these are our jewels … It is a conundrum but one we need to crack.
What is your least favourite emoji?
I’m probably not cool enough to be able to answer this question but just looking at them on my phone now I’m not very keen on the angry one and there’s one with dollar signs in its eyes which looks vile! generally my rule is if you’re really bothered by something say it to the persons face to face , don’t text it or Facebook it and if you daren’t say it directly then be quiet!
And what else do you have coming up?
Lots of projects but immediate things I’m excited by are The Departure Lounge festival which will be held at Derby Theatre again this year in July – curated by Ruby Glaskin it allows us to turn our stage into a Glastonbury (we astro turf it and the audience sit on deck chairs and picnic blankets) and we programme the most exciting work going up to Edinburgh.
I’m also excited about putting Look Back in Anger and Jinny in front of an audience – we open on Friday for 3 weeks then transfer to Bolton octagon.
To conclude, then, is there anything you would like to say to the people (plural) reading this?
Just if you work in the arts keep up the good fight and if you’re an audience member go to your local theatre today and see what’s on.
Thanks for chatting to me, Carl.