Abdul Shayek: One Year at Tara Theatre

In August 2020, Abdul Shayek became Tara Theatre’s new Artistic Director, beginning a bold new chapter. Remaining true to its activist roots, the new chapter of Tara Theatre is committed to being a catalyst and agent for change within UK theatre, addressing the lack of diversity and representation and challenging the industry, all whilst creating exceptional, innovative and politically charged theatre. Here Abdul reflects on his first year in Earlsfield at Tara Theatre, during what has been an undeniably profoundly challenging and unpredictable year.

Last week I was speaking to an audience member who had come to experience Final Farewell. We were discussing the project and I was explaining that the idea and concept had come to me as I had been making my application for the role of Artistic Director. I had to catch myself as I said “six months ago”, realising that it has now been twelve whole months since I became Artistic Director of Tara Theatre. Wow – how a whole year has flown by!

Despite the various challenges the sector has faced, I am so pleased with what Tara Theatre has achieved over the last year and am incredibly excited to continue creating important and innovative theatre and working with the wider community. As we now look forward to our new season (watch this space!) I want to share with you just some of the highlights of the work we have done over this past year.

In November 2020 we set up a brand new project called The Listening Space. The Listening Space was designed to allow artists to come together and speak openly about their fears, challenges and future aspirations – and most importantly about how Tara Theatre can support them. We also wanted to further engage with current issues and create a space for meaningful discourse. This ambition brought about the creation of Tara Table Talks, a series of facilitated conversations that explore a range of different topics. Since March 2021 we have held a number of Tara Table Talks on subjects such as colourism, casting and mental health, and look forward to holding more of these types of events that explore relevant issues.

Another massive highlight from this year has been the rebrand and relaunch of Tara Arts to Tara Theatre. This was a huge project as we wanted the rebrand to pay homage to our long and influential history but to also reflect where Tara is going and the transitional period that we are in. Complete with a new look and a new website, we reopened our beautiful building in June 2021 with the Disproportionately Affected season, a season which highlighted the voices of people who have been most impacted by the pandemic.

Production shot: Final Farewell (2021)
Production shot: Beyond Lockdown (2021)

The season was launched by a group of amazing local young people from Southfields Academy with a hopeful and inspiring show they devised called Beyond Lockdown. Our second production 2020 brought together writers and actors from across the UK and the world to present 12 new stories from a local and global perspective.

Finally, our most recent production, Final Farewell, is an audio walking experience that captures the voices of seven individuals and a little black pug in six audio stories. This production was conceived to explore how we say a proper goodbye to those who passed away during the pandemic. The usual grieving process was interrupted by the lockdown, with many people having to grieve alone, so we wanted Final Farewell to be about communities coming together to celebrate the lives of those who are no longer with us. Creating this piece was a deeply moving and humbling process as each story is based on real people’s memories and accounts of their loved ones. I am so grateful to everyone involved for making this such a memorable and affecting piece of theatre. It has received beautiful feedback and responses from audiences and critics alike – so much so that we have added two extra shows for you to come and enjoy. So, if you haven’t managed to get down to Tara Theatre yet, fear not – you still have some time.

Trailer for Final Farewell (2021)

For me, one of the most amazing parts of this year has been the number of freelancers we have been able to support. Creative freelancers have been among those most impacted by the economic challenges of Covid-19 and I am proud to say that we have supported hundreds of freelancers across the sector this year both directly and indirectly – whether it be employment, providing a space for them, helping with applications, or offering valuable advice and guidance.

We are now looking ahead to our autumn season and already have a fantastic programme lined up which we are super excited about and can’t wait to share with you – keep your eyes peeled on our socials for more! We are also getting all of the nuts and bolts of the organisation in place and doing the necessary work that is needed to ensure we are robust and resilient for the future, including speaking to our local community to ensure we are a space which is inviting, safe and one which they feel they have a genuine stake in.

It has been a hard year for so many, but the joy and energy that making theatre again has brought me is beyond words. We plan to continue this into autumn as we and the sector rebuilds. We hope you can join us at the theatre – if not for the last performances of Final Farewell then certainly for the autumn.

Abdul Shayek

Artistic Director, Tara Theatre

Abdul Shayek was appointed as Tara Theatre’s Artistic Director and Joint CEO in August 2020. He was previously the founding Artistic Director & CEO of Fio, an international theatre company based in Cardiff and the only Asian, Black and ethnically diverse-led theatre company in Wales. Abdul is also a member of the British Council’s Arts and Creative Economy Advisory Group, Vice Chair of the National Alliance for Arts in the Criminal Justice System, as well as a trustee of mid-Wales dance company Impelo and No Fit State Circus. Abdul was a Clore Cultural Leadership Fellow from 2013 to 2014, during which he spent time at Film4 and M&C Saatchi. He is a visiting lecturer at the University of East London and has guest lectured at a host of other institutions.