There are many things I am going to miss about my job while I am on maternity leave. Part of the problem is I don’t just see it as a job. It is a series of projects with wonderful, warm, diverse people that have a direct impact of my life and the way I think. Having a baby seems to be just another one. Except it won’t culminate in an evaluation. I suspect there will be just as much tea and cake, though.
One of the projects I will miss the most is Theatre Club. It’s my other baby. The project I feel the most emotionally connected to and completely inspired by. The idea for Theatre Club came to me last September when I was chatting to one of my Two Boroughs members who had come to see Three Sisters. She only ever applies for one ticket, and comes and leaves alone. She has a great time and she enjoys her time here, but it struck me that I take the opportunity to discuss and argue and rage for granted. I work in a theatre. A lot of my friends are theatre makers. My colleagues go to see the plays I go to see, and there is a whole community around me built around a shared, collective experience. Simply, I always have someone to talk to.
In my work here I am continuously trying to identify, and break down, barriers to participation in the arts. Many are obvious: lack of money, feeling you are the wrong age, the wrong ethnicity, the wrong gender, simply a lack of invitation. A lack of language – not of basic understanding of English, but theatrical and artistic literacy, is not something we regularly, or readily, address in participation. How do you discuss what you have seen if you do not have the words? Or anyone to use those words with? So I started Theatre Club. The premise is simple. It is run along much the same lines as a book club – you read a book in your own time at your own speed, you don’t close it and start a discussion. So Theatre Club is held after all of my tickets have been used, on a different evening. The invite is to anyone who has come and seen the show on a Two Boroughs free ticket. The event is also free, of course. It needed to feel welcoming – my role is basically host – so I give away wine, juice, and nibbles (at Christmas there were a lot of mince pies…).
And there is a someone to lead the discussions. One of the most important tenets of the group is that no one involved in the artistic process of the show under discussion is allowed in. No one who represents the Young Vic (apart from me) is allowed in. The director is persona non grata. It needs to be a space where people are comfortable giving their opinion without fear of offence or judgment. So I needed an outsider, not just to be a neutral voice, but a guiding one, who would help us to articulate our thoughts and feelings. I approached Maddy Costa for this role on the basis of her work with theatre makers, in particular Chris Goode and his Transform project at West Yorkshire Playhouse. She seemed to have an openness in her writing and engagement that suggested she would be ideal for my group. She was, and she has been the discussion leader ever since, even starting Theatre Club (albeit with audience members who have paid for their tickets) at the Battersea Arts centre recently. My baby is growing up.
What has amazed me the most is the response we have had from Two Boroughs members. This started as an idea I wasn’t sure anyone else would be interested in, and has grown into hundreds of people who want to join in our evenings. Before we even began I had emails and letters: ‘This is something I’ve ALWAYS wanted so – HOORAY.’ After we were up and running I had more: ‘You’re dead right about how much fun the discussion group was. Everyone has an opinion; theatre buffs or not. I didn’t have much to say myself but it’s nice to hear other peoples thoughts on a show.’ And during the evenings themselves people asked why we were holding them, what we had to gain. I asked them what they thought about this question. The responses amazed me again: ‘I didn’t have anyone to discuss it with so this is really nice,’ ‘I came to find out what I missed,’ ‘…not to be laughed at, a nice kind environment to have an opinion in,’ ‘I came to see if I am the only person to have these opinions,’ ‘It’s a gift to the people of Lambeth and Southwark to talk about art.’
I don’t see it as a gift to them. It is a gift to us here in the theatre – to see how much and in what way people are engaged and enlivened by an opportunity to be seen and heard. It’s going to be a tricky project to miss but I am leaving it in capable hands. I just can’t wait to be back.
Lily Einhorn, Two Boroughs Project Manager