Feeling Like a Child: Monique Touko

Leader of Tomorrow Monique Touko reflects on the most recent session in the Artistic Director Leadership Programme (ADLP) ‘The Role of a Leader in Business Relationships’.

This ADLP session at the Unicorn Theatre couldn’t be a more fitting session for me to blog about.

I feel like a child a lot of the time within the programme – not in a “I feel patronised” way but in a “I’m allowed to be free and like a sponge” way, soaking things in and constantly entering new spaces that excite and challenge me. This programme has provided me with a network and a safe space to constantly reflect on my position within the industry – being young, female and black. The big dirty d – diversity – isn’t just a topic of conversation but is at the core of it and the reason why we were all selected and have the opportunity to partake.

The topics we explore on the programme, on paper, at times makes me feel quite far removed because of the advanced level of the content covered in the sessions. The feeling of being a kid kicks in and I feel like we’re learning leadership skills that I will not be able to put into action for many years to come. It’s only when I enter the room, see the group, listen to the content first hand that I begin to feel like these are concepts that are not above me and that I can fully engage with them. The focus of this session was contracts – a legal agreement between two parties, understanding the nuances of business relationships and knowing how to negotiate. This is knowledge I am extremely lucky to acquire at a young age and it will very much inform my practice from now on. These sessions remind me that I do want to lead an organisation one day – it may be in many years to come but the skills I now have will inform that and give me the confidence to even apply for the job in the first place.

The wealth of knowledge I gain regularly through the programme is a testament to the Independent Theatre Council. Charlotte Jones has an ability to make concepts relatable and make you fully understand. A lot of the skills we are gaining are legal and business focused which are highly important and valuable. Within the framework of an arts organisation, striking the balance between the production of high quality art and having a sustainable and concrete business model isn’t easy. The understanding I have gained is multidimensional and allows me to look at leadership from different angles. The skills I have gained means confidence and self-assurance which is needed when you’re in an industry that doesn't reflect you and that feels elitist and white.

The ADLP is one of the only theatre spaces I enter on a regular basis which isn’t a majority white space. It is a space of talented, inspiring, knowledgeable practitioners who influence me every time we meet. The feeling of being a child kicks in when I’m in their presence as I’m aware of how early I am in my career and how much I have to learn. Some people may think that progress is only just happening – with all these schemes and bursaries available now – but that doesn’t take into account all the people who have been in the industry for years and years and who have laid the groundwork allowing people like myself to progress in the industry. Time and hard work is what I see when I meet with the other participants – from lighting, to set design to youth engagement – all of them have been occupying theatre spaces for years and years and are able to come to the session with informed viewpoints.

A safe space is created every time we meet – we’re able to talk freely about micro-aggressions, past employers and times when being a woman and a person of colour affected the ways in which we were viewed and treated. Anecdotes are freely shared as I – the child on a bean bag – sit in awe of these women who have really paved the way. Women who school me on the importance of self-care and mental health, who give me contacts of people in the industry they know I can learn from, who fill me in on what I’ve missed and ensure I leave every session as a full sponge – able and supported.

The Unicorn Theatre as a setting made me reflect on myself as an artist. What do I want to become and what am I capable of? The feeling of being a child became empowering by the end of the session as I realised that the possibilities are endless. Me as a leader, in years to come, is still something that feels far removed, similar to a unicorn – a magical made up creature. But the ADLP has allowed me to take steps closer to being a unicorn – imagining my future self as an artist who is strong, efficient and knowledgeable – being able to accurately articulate my ideas through my work and go on a journey. This wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t for the other participants reminding me of the path that has been set and how far I can go.

Monique Touko is a London based multidisciplinary artist working in both theatre and film. She is an emerging theatre director. Her directing credits include A Number by Caryl Churchill at Manchester Student Union, Animal Farm at Ziferblat Cafe Manchester, Gourds by Chino Odimba at Royal Exchange Manchester, The Sting by Suzette Coon at Arcola Theatre, See you at the End by Alexis Boddy at Theatre 503, Green Matter by Serafina Cusack at UCL, Soon in the 4ciable Future by Elizabeth Kwenortey at Canal Cafe Theatre and Whole Foods by Charles Leipart at Old Red Lion Theatre. Monique’s most recent piece was a reading of A Legacy by Benedict Lombe at Katzpace.

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