Trainee Artistic Directors – One Year on

The Artistic Director Leadership Programme just had it’s first birthday! This week our Trainee Artistic Directors, Anastasia Osei-Kuffour, Nathan Powell, Kash Arshad and Anthony Ekundayo Lennon, one year into their residencies, have been reflecting on their journey so far. Anastasia got in touch with her fellow TADs to find out how their year has panned out.

Anastasia: We’re all resident at very different theatre companies, what has your role as a TAD involved?

Kash: Everything! From sitting in board meetings, making decisions about the future of the company, to running workshops, directing shows, taking out the bins (!) and everything in between.

Nathan: It's involved a lot! I've been leading youth theatre sessions, directing a community tour, developing a show with the company and trying to soak in as much about the business and the running of the company as I can, from finance to organisational development and everything in between.

Anthony: My role has consisted of attending weekly meetings with the Artistic Director and Executive Director regarding all aspects of the company – current work and future planning. I’ve also been attending board meetings, running sessions as an ambassador or host for the company, directing work at City Hall as part of their Windrush Day, visiting a partner theatre – Theatre by the Lake (TBTL) – to deliver sessions to their summer school and begin discussions with the TBTL Artistic Director about a Talawa/TBTL co-production that I will direct next year. Ongoing mentoring of the Talawa Young People’s Theatre Company has been taking place while I’m continuing to seek out and make new industry contacts. I have also been working closely with the Talawa Studio, Talawa Firsts and MAKE initiatives and also the upcoming MAKE online platform.

At the beginning of my time at Talawa Theatre I was fortunate to be on the assistant directing team supporting Michael Buffong while he staged the all-black production of 'Guys and Dolls' at the Manchester Royal Exchange – their largest grossing production ever staged at the venue. Talking to audiences after the shows, especially to so many young people for whom it was their first time seeing Guys And Dolls, was a blessing! Seeing themselves represented on stage in such an iconic story was very inspiring for them.

Anastasia: What’s the most exciting project you’ve been able to lead so far as a TAD and why was it exciting for you?

Kash: The most exciting project so far has been my Introduction to Directing course. It did 2 things: first it made me realise that (on the whole) I do actually know what I’m talking about and secondly that I really love the process of artist development.

Nathan: We're working on a project for next year called Europe Fiction with some European partners and it's been so exciting planning and preparing for that to kick off. It's going to be amazing to make international work with our young people.

Anthony: Two things stand out so far. Visiting and entering discussions with Theatre by the Lake in relation to a forthcoming co-production and UK tour that I will direct and also the designing and planning for the Introduction to Directing course that I will lead. A few friends in the industry have offered to be guest practitioners (timetables permitting) and their support has been completely inspiring!

Anastasia: What valuable insights into running a theatre company have you gained from being a TAD?

Kash: That it’s not easy, and passion and desire and creativity can only get you so far. You need to understand the business of theatre to be sustainable.

Nathan: The thing that has stuck out to me the most is learning how to balance the business and the art. I have always known that's a tricky task so it has been great seeing how two Artistic Directors manage that and approach it in different ways – all things for me to pick and choose from in the future.

Anthony: The most valuable insights that I have gained have been concentrated on the skills of negotiation, forward planning, budgeting and how much can be achieved while working alongside focused part-time colleagues, who have a standard of excellence when doing their work.

Anastasia: How has your understanding of leadership developed whilst being a TAD?

Kash: Since being a TAD, I’ve realised that to be a leader, you don’t need to be the loudest or most outspoken in the room. You can be quiet and introspective and still be a great leader.

Nathan: I have become a lot more aware and most importantly, excited about facilitating the work and vision of other artists. It's amazing being able to give a platform for others to make work that is so different to you but so exciting.

Anthony: The word and idea of leadership has become a lot more real and vivid to me. Especially the thought that leadership is not a destination but a process of learning and developing ways to not only have a vision accomplished, but also to seek ways of best serving others while they too are seeking to accomplish their professional and personal goals.

Another thing that I have had highlighted and confirmed is the practice of being in a leadership position while also being empathetic. Prior to being based at Talawa Theatre Company I had the notion that most people occupying ‘leadership’ positions were brash, loud, self-centred and quite arrogant with their attitude. This was due to having met quite a few people – both within and out of the theatre industry – in positions of power and influence who had a toxic attitude toward others around them and were being allowed to get away with it. Or having met many who had/have created a form of echo chamber environment around them as a way to keep their personal status-quo running. I’ve always known that I don’t wish to work in that way and look forward to not having to in the future.

Anastasia: What opportunities have you been able to enjoy as a TAD that you wouldn’t have been able to enjoy otherwise?

Kash: Too many to mention, but a few examples: my first Associate Director credit, the opportunity to work with and meet other amazing artists, the huge network of future leaders that I am now associated with, directing at Leeds Playhouse, assisting David Thacker, making connection with amazing organisations such as CommonWealth, Theatre in the Mill, Red Ladder and Mind the Gap.

Nathan: It's been brilliant having the in-depth experience of observing and contributing to a company on this scale and having the company be conscious about providing you with all the information and training needed.

Anthony: My introduction to new contacts and also a shift in attitude in connection with approaching other industry professionals (specifically Artistic Directors) is definitely something that I have gained and been able to nurture whilst on the ADLP.

Anastasia: What key skills have you gained that you didn’t have before?

Kash: Finance! I now have a much better understanding of budgets, spreadsheets etc, it’s still not brilliant, but it’s much better than it ever was.

Nathan: I think I’m a lot more comfortable networking and talking about my work. It's a work in progress but I definitely see the difference from when I started

Anthony: My skills with budgeting, forward planning and a deeper confidence when networking have all been gained or strengthened.

Anastasia: What challenges have you faced as a TAD and how have they informed your learning?

Kash: Getting to grips with the amount of admin there is when running a theatre a company. It’s made me realise where gaps in my knowledge actually are, which is to do with governance and fundraising and I guess the producing side of theatre. Also, having been freelance for nearly 20 years, it was a real shift getting used to the full time job. (It is a joy now!)

Nathan: I've spent some time writing a piece that I am working on with the company and it's been really challenging but so fruitful to work with the structure and dramaturgical support that the company offers to writers. It's completely new to me but the support and mentoring from dramaturg Philip Osment has developed my understanding of writing, immensely, in such a short space of time.

Anthony: The main challenge I have faced is getting used to the support/advice offered and given by all my Talawa colleagues and so many others outside of Talawa. I have spent years supporting and nurturing other artists and they have all been pleased to hear that I am getting some of my own medicine, ha. I have also had to face the inner monster of self-doubt, low self-worth and the often-mentioned industry phrase ‘imposter syndrome’ that is successfully nurtured by too many of the ego-centred theatre gate keepers. Convincing others of their self-worth has been so easy for years. Destroying the monster within myself is a different level of communication. This learning curve has re-focused my eye, strengthened the foundations of my ongoing journey and made the many planned destinations feel less further away.

Anastasia: What are you looking forward to doing in your last year as a TAD?

Kash: In my final year, I’m really looking forward to producing/directing my show, which is very exciting and also the relaunch of our actor training provision – Freedom Actors Bradford. I’m also looking forward to hosting an RTYDS 3 month placement. The idea that I can help support another artist who was like I was 2 years ago, is very exciting and I feel ready for that challenge.

Nathan: We have recently launched our professional development programme for young artists called 'Launch' and I’m excited to see what work and exciting art comes from this cohort of amazing artists.

Anthony: I am looking forward to directing a play that has been on my wish-list for many years. I will also be looking forward to any possibility of utilising my residency in regards to a few projects that could involve UK and US based artists – not only performance based work but also cultural exchange/educational programmes. I’m also looking forward to supporting the next Talawa Young People’s Company production and leading on the second Introduction to Directing course. There will also be some networking and motivational events that I would like to explore leading on, with Talawa in association with Breakin’ Convention.

Anastasia: When you finish as a TAD, what do you aspire to achieve in your career using what you have learned?

Kash: I aspire to run a building. Ideally it would be one that I start from the ground up, a community hub, a bit like Slung Low’s HUB, but, you know if Rufus Norris were to step down, I might like to give the National a bash!

Nathan: I aspire to be leading a regional theatre. Not straight away, but that's the next big goal.

Anthony: My aspirations will be focused on directing and producing international platforms of collaborations as well as nurturing new writing, performers and directors. At the right moment I will co-run a company with a trusted and inspiring industry colleague who has known me since my acting days at Black Mime Theatre in the 1990’s.

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