Women document their place in East Midlands theatre

Published: 23 May 2021
Reporter: Steve Orme

The “pioneering” women who are part of the Lights Up project

Leading women in theatre in the East Midlands have taken part in an “innovative” living history project curated by young women aged between 16 and 21 from across the region.

The project, Lights Up, has been conceived by Fifth Word theatre company in partnership with Derby City Library and support from Derby Theatre. It has been funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Through interviews, photography and podcasts, young women are documenting the part that pioneering women have played in shaping the theatre landscape of the region.

Angharad Jones, joint artistic director of Fifth Word, said, “Lights Up aims to better record women’s experiences and achievements, and to help redress that balance acknowledging that women have always been 50% of the population but only occupy around 0.5% of recorded history.

“We’re delighted that so many brilliant women agreed to be interviewed as part of this project. They’re all pioneers, game changers and have made a real, lasting and tangible difference to the world of theatre, especially for us who call the East Midlands home.

“With a crisis in arts and education under this government, it’s so important to make clearer pathways into the industry. We believe this involves demystifying the roles that exist within theatre to the younger generation, access to success stories and role models to relate to and practical, vocational advice and support.”

Each podcast episode in a series of nine features an interview with a pioneering woman in theatre who in some way has a connection to the East Midlands.

The women featured are Jenny Sealey, artistic director of Graeae Theatre Company, Indhu Rubasingham, artistic director of Kiln Theatre, Sarah Brigham, artistic director and chief executive of Derby Theatre, playwrights Sonali Bhattacharyya, Emteaz Hussain and Amanda Whittington, theatre-maker and actor Ava Hunt, lighting designer Alex Stafford-Marshall and Esther Richardson, artistic director of Pilot Theatre.

The conversations chart the individual experiences of each woman bringing to light first memories of theatre and how their background informs their work, cutting their teeth and their big breaks, coping with challenges and setbacks and offering practical advice to the next generation.

On why she got involved, playwright Amanda Whittington said, “growing up in 1980s Nottingham, playwrights seemed to exist in a very different world to mine. As a teenager, there were no female role models I could look to and say ‘she’s done it, so maybe I could?’

“But as Lights Up shows, I wasn’t alone. I was incredibly fortunate to be a part of this community of East Midlands theatre-makers who reshaped the landscape for young women and girls. By sharing our stories, I hope we’ll empower the next generation to find their voice and their place in theatre.”

The Lights Up web site and podcast will be unveiled during Derby Theatre’s Check In Festival on Friday 28 May at 2PM. There will be a panel discussion with Jenny Sealey, Amanda Whittington, Sarah Brigham, Sonali Bhattacharyya and others hosted by Jones. Tickets can be booked at the Attenborough Arts web site.