Have you bookmarked Stagedoor’s new weekly theatre podcast In House? This week’s episode sees poet, journalist and Critics of Colour founder Bridget Minamore interviewing Theatre503’s Lisa Spirling. We’ve picked out some of our favourite highlights but be sure to listen in full…
Lisa Spirling has been the artistic director and chief executive of the 63-seat Theatre503 in Battersea, south London since August 2016, when she took over from founder Paul Robinson.
Prior to Theatre503, Lisa was the Education Project Manager for the National Theatre’s groundbreaking Art of Regeneration programme. In 2008 she set up Buckle for Dust Theatre Company with producers Claire Birch and Juliette Rawlins and writers Ali Taylor and Lou Ramsden, which had its debut with Ali Taylor’s Meyer-Whitworth award-winning Cotton Wool in 2008.
Her other directing credits include the premiere of Andrew Thompson’s In the Event of Moone Disaster at Theatre503 as well as Jumpy by April De Angelis (Theatr Clwyd); Ken by Terry Johnson, Pine by Jacqui Honess-Martin, Deposit by Matt Hartley, Fault Lines by Ali Taylor, I Know How I Feel About Eve by Colette Kane (Hampstead Theatre); Donkeys’ Years and Here by Michael Frayn (Rose Theatre); Enron by Lucy Prebble (West End Recast & UK Tour); Hundreds & Thousands by Louise Ramsden (Buckle For Dust / English Touring Theatre / Soho Theatre); Boeing Boeing by Marc Camoletti (Alley Theatre, Texas); and The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler, and Gas and Air by Louise Ramsden (Pleasance, London).
Theatre503 is dedicated to supporting new playwrights. Each year, Lisa and her team read more than 2,000 unsolicited manuscripts (in addition to another 2,000 or so submissions to the Theatre503 Playwriting Award) and stage more than 100 new pieces through their programme of “full” four-week productions and corresponding “Rapid Write Response” initiative in which up to eight ten-minute response pieces are created.
- How reactive is Theatre503 to the social issues that matter to audiences?
- What emphasis is put on the collaborative partnerships between emerging writers, directors and actors?
- How does the business model work with no Arts Council subsidy?
- Through Theatre503’s prolific submissions, what has Lisa spotted as the most urgent social issues being addressed in new writing? How has this shifted in the past ten years?
- How did this year’s bit hit Br’er Cotton come to be?
Lisa discusses all of this and more at length in the podcast. And she credits many of the writers, directors, producers and funders who make it possible for Theatre503 to do what they do.
Here are a few highlights to tantalise. Listen to the podcast for the full story.
“I have the best job in the world… I’m awful at stage management, I can’t act for toffee, I can’t string together sentences as a writer but I got a job as a director.”
“What’s extraordinary about 503 is that it’s not just about new writing, it’s about new writers, writers at the very start of their journey…. They might have been writing for years in other forms, but more often than not, this is where they come when they’ve written their first play.”
“We talk about Theatre503 being a launchpad. It’s a launchpad for the writers, but also for the artists who bring their words to life.”
After the “kick, bollock, scramble” romance of just getting a show on as cheaply as possible, Theatre503 is there “when you’re taking that step up and you consider yourself to be an artist and you want to serve the work to the best ability that you possibly can. I didn’t get better as a director until I started working with much more experienced lighting designers, sound designers and set designers. It was the full picture of what happens on stage theatrically. You suddenly go, ‘God, we can do anything on that stage.'”
“That’s when the building comes alive. When the entire team are going, ‘I love this play. We have to do it.’ And you burn for it. And you get it on. That’s the best part of this job. We are sent plays and we ask: how can we get it on? That’s the question, all the time. It’s partly about” how do we make it better, partly about a story or a voice we haven’t heard before or a story being told in a way we haven’t heard. But ultimately, it’s all about how to get it to a production.”
“People talk about the relationship between writers and directors… Writers do it, writers birth that story, but often it’s the directors that raise it, often it’s directors who bring it into the world, like step-parents or adoptive parents.”
“We’re able to take the temperature of our times through the plays that we receive. Just in terms of numbers. We’re receiving over 2000 plays a year through our unsolicited script programme…. And then we have our playwriting award. This time, we received over 2000 plays from 49 countries for that.”
“The zeitgeist is magic in theatre.”
About Bridget Minamore
This week’s Stagedoor In House podcast is conducted by ‘jaded poet, accidental journalist, reluctant critic, sometime writer of everything else’ Bridget Minamore (@bridgetminamore), whose debut pamphlet of poems, Titanic, was published in 2016.
Based in south-east London, Bridget has written with the National Theatre’s New Views programme and the Royal Opera House. As a poet, she has read her work both nationally and internationally, from Cheltenham Lit Fest and the Southbank Centre to literary festivals in Rome, Vancouver and Kraków.
She has been commissioned by Historic England, the Tate Modern, Nike, and ESPN, and in 2013 was shortlisted to be London’s first Young Poet Laureate. In 2015 she was chosen as one of The Hospital Club’s Emerging Creatives, as well as one of Speaking Volumes’ 40 Stars of Black British Literature. Having placed third in the Roundhouse Poetry Slam in 2009, in 2017 she became the youngest person, and first woman, to be the lead tutor for the Roundhouse Poetry Collective.
She speaks regularly on radio, and panels and events, and is a repeat guest on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour and BBC Radio 5 Live’s Good Week Bad Week. Her 2017 BBC R4 documentary Lines of Resistance—on the poetic history of women of colour’s writing—was a Radio Times pick of the week.
As a journalist and critic, Bridget has written for publications like The Guardian, Pitchfork and The Stage, about theatre and music, as well as London, pop culture, race, class, and feminism. In 2018 she co-founded Critics of Colour with playwright Sabrina Mahfouz, a collective for UK-based people of colour which aims to make writing about theatre, dance, and/or opera more accessible.