‘Go for the chips, stay for the art’
Helen Monks: When I was a kid I used to go to Mac for the chips. It’s also where, between the ages of 11 and 18, I went to my free weekly drama club, funded by ITV and the BBC – the Television Workshop. Any kid who was good at acting, no matter how much your parents earned, could go. It’s produced actors including Jack O’Connell, Samantha Morton, Felicity Jones and, obvs, me. The Mac is in Birmingham’s Cannon Hill Park, one of the best parks ever, apart from the very scary geese. The fact it’s in one of the best parks ever means anyone there for a picnic, or wandering through or running away from the very scary geese, can nip into Mac, have a sit, have a look around and then maybe, sometimes even accidentally, partake in some art. It has a cinema, exhibition spaces, workshop spaces and three brilliant theatres.
The year I turned 18, ITV and the BBC stopped funding the Television Workshop. Coz of cuts to the arts. And then in 2017, Birmingham City Council slashed the Mac’s budget by 70%. Coz of cuts to the arts. Venues like the Mac are used to being undervalued and overlooked, despite the huge cultural, educational and happiness-creating impact they have on our city. The Mac has continued against the odds to make sure its doors are open, its creative spaces are accessible, the work on its stages is brilliant and the art on its walls reflects a Birmingham that’s inclusive and representative. Oh, and they’ve continued to do really, really good chips. A Birmingham without the Mac is unthinkable.
‘I felt heard, celebrated even’
Sacha Dhawan: The first time I was granted access to the world beyond the stage door was in 2001. My company at the Leicester Haymarket when I made my debut in East Is East not only looked like me, but collectively we were able to share our own stories in a safe space without the fear of feeling “different”. I felt heard, celebrated even. Our audiences weren’t regular theatregoers, but rather members of a community who, like me, often felt alien and wanted to be represented. In a way, the theatre strived to bridge the gap between us all by creating a space that allowed us to communicate with one another over shared experiences. It also marked the start of a crucial relationship with the arts that would forever continue to shape and challenge me. The Leicester Haymarket recently handed its lease back to the council, and went into liquidation as a result of the current crisis.
‘One hot August I discovered a magical world’
Indhu Rubasingham: Nottingham Playhouse has a very special place in my heart. At the age of 16, school placed me at the theatre for my work experience. I had never been there before. I was anxious as I started. I followed stage management around one very hot August. They generously introduced me to the magical world of backstage. I was blown away and then hooked. I relished setting the props, sweeping the stage, being in the wings as the show started. I wanted to be part of this secret, colourful world with all my heart. Without my local theatre, or the opportunity from school, I would not have the career I do now.
‘It was like travelling to a foreign country’
Bunny Christie: Going to the Citizens theatre in Glasgow in 1980 made me a designer. Everything about it was exotic and exciting. As a girl brought up in a small village, going to the Citz in the Gorbals was like travelling to a foreign country. It was always dark, always raining, the theatre sat on its own, surrounded by potholes and puddles, everything else seemed to have been pulled down.
Giles Havergal, the artistic director – immaculately dressed in a dinner suit – met the audience at the door, welcoming them into the glowing foyer. On stage were the most beautiful, lithe, languid actors imaginable. White-faced, dark-eyed, quite often half-naked, smoking, draped over a chair or clambering over a haze-filled, half-destroyed library of all-white books. Phillip Prowse’s designs of extraordinary style, invention and bravery entranced me. It was like a dream, and the feeling of that has never left me.
‘I saw my first ballet there – and premiered my own version’
Matthew Bourne: It is not only a world famous and iconic powerhouse for dance and dancers, Sadler’s Wells is also my second home, woven into the fabric of my life and career for more than 40 years. I saw my very first ballet there at the age of 18 – Swan Lake, of course! Some 17 years later I was to premiere my own version on the same hallowed stage. As a proud associate artist I have performed there, rehearsed there and been an audience member on numerous occasions. My company, New Adventures, took up residence there for our Christmas seasons 18 years ago and have remained a fixture ever since. Thank you, Sadler’s Wells, for a lifetime of unforgettable memories, enriching experiences and pure inspiration.
‘I took two buses there to deliver three lines in a youth show’
Stacey Gregg: Lyric theatre, Belfast. I remember the smell. I remember it always felt like autumn. I remember hearing its name and saying it out loud in the hope I might be taken and then finally, a school trip to see Brian Friel’s Translations. I remember travelling on two buses to deliver three stirring lines in a youth production. The old building was replaced by a beautiful new building with extraordinary rehearsal space and a big airy bar. The Queen dropped by and hung out with Martin McGuinness there. The theatre chills over the river Lagan in leafy splendour and has produced some of our finest shows and been home to many more: most recently Abomination: A DUP Opera by the Belfast Ensemble and Outburst Arts. A lens through which we see ourselves more clearly.
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