Camden People’s Theatre celebrate 30 years

by Scott Matthewman

In a city where small fringe theatres are fighting every day to keep the doors open, celebrating any anniversary is welcome. To make it through three decades might be seen as nothing short of remarkable.

Nestled in a former pub on the corner of Hampstead Row and Drummond Street, just round the corner from Euston Station, sits Camden People’s Theatre. Since 1994, it has nurtured early-stage and emerging artists, with a particular emphasis on serving and supporting people in the Borough of Camden.

Looking back is an intrinsic part of any anniversary celebration – indeed, at the venue’s 30th birthday party, the walls were lined with mementoes of productions past. It’s also an occasion for being thankful. As Artistic Director Brian Logan puts it, “30 years is an amazing achievement for a winging-it, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants venue.” But it’s also an occasion to look forward to, a “banging year of activity,” says Logan, “in a space where artistic innovation meets local involvement.

“We have mapped out a year that moves from local to city-wide, to national, which involves at every stage supporting and championing cutting edge new theatre work, and artists with electrifying things to say about life in 2024.”

Some of that work involves a revival of the Camden Roar Festival, celebrating life and stories set in the borough and curated by a steering group of local residents. Leading the festival is a three-week run of Grills, a co-production between CPT and Mirrorball that recalls the Camden Lesbian Centre and Black Lesbian Group, which shut its doors for the final time in 1995.

The theatre’s new season also includes further development work on MILF: The Musical, a community outreach project which is being developed with mothers in Camden, Barking and Dagenham and Liverpool; a full run of the CPT-commissioned English Kings Killing Foreigners, which promises to take a darkly comedic look beneath the skin of English cultural identity; and Piece of Me, described as a “Britney Spears/CCTV mash-up”.

In the Autumn, a further commission, Zakiyyah Dean’s Why a Black Woman Will Never Be Prime Minister, makes its premiere as the headline performance in a festival themed around British democracy, timed to coincide with the likely date of the next General Election. That festival, says Logan, chimes with the theatre’s aims of “democratising how we operate and what we do, and championing citizen engagement more widely.”

“This year’s programme is designed to be a true celebration of artist development and creativity,” adds chief executive Kaya Stanley-Money. “All the major shows we’ve got programmed are brilliant examples of the pathways that artists can forge with CPT and the kind of impact that our commissioning and artist development programmes can have on the trajectory of a project. The season shows how important it is to regularly offer opportunities like this to artists, especially those from backgrounds that are more marginalised in the arts.”

The theatre’s open calls mean that “anyone can apply,” says Kaya Stanley-Money. “We meet a lot of new faces throughout the year. And in the last twelve months we’ve seen applications to all our commissioning schemes increase by 109% on average. It’s a testament to the impact of those programmes, but I think it also speaks to the demand we’re seeing from artists who aren’t just in their early career – we’re now seeing demand from mid-career artists who need extra support.

“And it’s not just about commissioning and programming. We know that when we get it right, the little bits of support that we can offer – whether that’s a bit of rehearsal space, or the chance to test an idea out at a really early stage – can help launch the careers of artists who then go on to disrupt theatre, and change the face of mainstream theatre.” Stanley-Money cites Ryan Calais Cameron, who with his company Nouveau Riche created Queens of Sheba and Typical, and who is becoming widely known for For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Hue Gets Too Heavy.

“The main thing is that they all needed somewhere to start, and a home,” she says. “A place where they can experiment, fail and succeed.”

And while the team at Camden People’s Theatre acknowledge that it is harder than ever to sustain a career as a freelance artist, it is clear that this is a venue and organisation that is determined to step up and continue the work it has achieved over the last thirty years.

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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