We caught up with Suba Das, Artistic Director of HighTide to talk about curating their industry-leading response to support the local community and creatives across the nation.
What were you doing when the announcements were made for the theatres to close?
I was in fact on a conference call with about 20 other of the UK’s artistic directors, sat in the foyer at Leeds Playhouse, awaiting the press night performance of MISSING PEOPLE that was sadly cancelled. We had all known something was coming and one truly incredible thing about our sector was the way in which we all reached out to each other in that moment.
What immediate affect did that have on your work?
We had been gearing up for an announcement of my first commissions and programmes as new Artistic Director here at HighTide and that felt immediately redundant. It wasn’t especially important anymore to have that moment of fanfare and celebration, but rather to redirect our energies into asking what we could do that was immediately helpful and useful for our sector and for the communities we most directly engage with: the new writing ecology of the UK, and our audiences and participants in the East of England.
How did you and your colleagues HighTide process that together?
Simply: as part of new leadership, me, the team and Board have spent the last six months interrogating what we’re here for; how we do it; what makes us unique; and so really responding to the crisis was in many ways a continuation of that process. We asked ourselves what out of everything we had planned were the most essential things to hold on to that really made us “HighTide” and what then was possible with our time and capacity.
What have you been up to since then?
We’ve launched our Lighthouse Programme, comprising seven strands of activity so far focussed on supporting emerging writers in the UK and engaging creativity especially in the East of England.
How long have you been Artistic Director of HighTide, and what is your favourite aspect of working there?
I officially took up the reins last October after the conclusion of my predecessor’s final festival for the company. Undoubtedly the best thing is working with our dream team of producers: Francesca, Rowan, Robyn and Holly.
HighTide have released Love In The Time Of Corona monologues as part of your Lighthouse Programme, could you tell us a bit more about that?
Part of our plan for this Spring was to introduce our audiences to the first five writers I have commissioned to create new work for HighTide in the future: Dawn King, Morgan Lloyd Malcolm, Ben Weatherill, Aisha Zia and Debris Stevenson. Five of the truly most exciting writers in the UK.
As we’re working with these writers so closely, I really wanted to hear what they feel and have to say about this moment. Both from the perspective of our responsibility to create space and support for our commissioned artists, but also because I believe those incredible artists truly have messages of solidarity and community to share with audiences generally: they’re all concerned with the idea of how we can build better worlds and better conversations between sections of our society. For me, that’s the whole purpose of theatre and all culture, and it’s been joyous getting their words out into the world and hearing the positivity and emotion they’ve helped generate.
Could you tell us a bit more about the support that HighTide are providing for artists and creatives?
There are four specific support strands for professional artists within the Lighthouse Programme: our new script reading service which will roll out regularly during the crisis and beyond, and which will see our new Associate Artists (Chris Sonnex, Chinoyerem Odimba, Aisha Zia and The Queer House) lead on feedback and support around new plays; our “Cancellation Catalogue”, which is a running record of all British new writing premieres that have been lost in the crisis, with the hope that we can work with partners and sponsors to resurrect as many as possible in some way during the 2021 HighTide Festival; our weekly online playwriting class led by Dawn King; and, our Playwright Support Programme, which will pair up emerging voices with HighTide alumni to offer developmental and pastoral support throughout the crisis period.
Have you been taking part in any other creative activities been happening online or on social media etc?
Perhaps shamefully, very few! We have been so busy with getting our programmes up and running, with over 300 artists registering and taking part already, so when I get to the end of a working day I’m trying to keep away from screens, and walk (which has really become a lifeline to sanity) and cook. I genuinely didn’t realise I was a decent chef but, judging by the response to the assorted stews and casseroles I’ve stuck up on Instagram, a whole other career might be possible one day!
If you’ve seen any theatre shows or readings streamed online recently could you recommend one or two to our readers?
Probably the most gorgeous thing I’ve seen so far is Chichester’s stream of Flowers For Mrs Harris! I sadly missed it in its original life in Sheffield and then in Chichester so it’s one silver lining that this time has made for some catching up. I absolutely salute Daniel Evans and super-producer Vicky Graham for their commitment to bringing a beautiful new musical to life. And Clare Burt’s performance is goosebump-inducing.
Could you tell us a bit about the other projects that you have in the pipeline?
All being well, we’ll still be able to create what will be my first HighTide Festival in March/April 2021. With our raft of new commissions, we had delayed the festival from its usual September slot to this new time of year, and that has turned out to be pretty good luck. We’ll announce the contents of that festival properly in due course, and we imagine it will change in nature as we learn lessons from this time and continue to think about how we ensure we reach people who can’t necessarily leave their homes, which isn’t just an issue in a pandemic. But you should expect to hear a lot about those five incredible writers creating our monologues for us…
Lots of parents have found themselves suddenly home-schooling their children and stuck in the house 24/7, can you tell us a bit more about Morgan and Aisha’s pieces about what it means to be a woman and a mother?
As neither a mother or a woman myself I wouldn’t presume to comment! What I’ve absolutely loved about both of these pieces and, having the great privilege to direct them with the incredible Jade Anouka and Katie Lyons – truly it takes a pandemic to get your cast of dreams – is the thread of positivity and humanity that runs through them. I think these times teach us what matters most: our care and compassion for those around us.