News: Interview with Suba Das

Suba Das is the artistic director of Hightide theatre company. I caught up with Suba to find out more about Hightide’s Lighthouse Programme, specifically created to bring light in the weeks ahead.

How did you first get involved in the arts?
At school. I was lucky enough to grow up at a time where teachers weren’t so terrorised by Ofsted reports and relentless rounds of exams and ever-changing curricula that there was time, capacity, and indeed funding for schools – both state and private – to run drama clubs. Having passionate teachers who came in early or stayed back late to inspire kids with culture was incredible, and I was especially lucky to have teachers who also encouraged students to make and direct themselves, not just learn the lines for the Christmas show or what have you. It deeply troubles me that the arts are vilified as “inessential” in the Government’s conversation around education – if that’s the case, then I wish someone would explain why Eton, Harrow and the other major public schools have always funded resident theatre director posts within their staff? If it’s good enough for them…

Can you tell me a little bit about HighTide and its Lighthouse Programme?
HighTide is one of the UK’s leading new writing companies. We identify and nurture the country’s most exciting voices and create productions of their work in partnership with theatres all over the UK. We’ve helped launch the careers of writers such as Jack Thorne, Ella Hickson, Luke Barnes and Vinay Patel; and directors like Michael Longhurst and Kate Wasserberg.

We created the Lighthouse Programme six weeks ago as a gesture of hope. We wanted to create as many opportunities as we could to keep emerging playwrights, who are at the core of our mission, engaged and positive in these times, alongside supporting communities in the East of England where we create our annual theatre festival. The offer ranges from script reading and feedback, through to longer-term mentorship and playwriting classes for brand new writers. Over 150 artists and participants have engaged so far and we’ve raised £17,000 in support for these projects from our friends, members and supporters. We’re thrilled and hope that with additional support we can keep these activities running throughout the lockdown and beyond: theatre ecology has been totally transformed and may not be the same again for a very long time.

How were you able to put the programme together in such a short space of time?
I took over as Artistic Director at HighTide last October and we were in a period of reflection about who we’re here to support, why and how. We were gearing up to announce a series of artist development programmes in April and then global circumstances overtook us. Lighthouse took the key principles of those original ideas and reworked them for these times.

What can audiences expect?
The majority of the programme is very much artist-focussed and we hope that some of the new work we’re supporting now will be seen and celebrated in our next HighTide Festival, still planned for Spring 2021, when we hope circumstances will allow us to bring artists and audiences together again. Ahead of that however, we invited the six playwrights we were already working with for the Festival (Morgan Lloyd Malcolm, Dawn King, Ben Weatherill, Aisha Zia, Debris Stevenson and Sonia Jalaly) to create quick creative responses for a monologue series shared on our website and social media, Love in the Time of Corona. In keeping with hope being at the centre of the programme, these monologues explore the compassion and community we all need to get through a crisis.

What would you like the Lighthouse Programme to achieve?
We’ve already achieved what we set out to in a way – many, many artists and participants have come back to us to say these small gestures have helped them feel less isolated. Our hope now is that we can widen that impact, sustain these strands and add more, for as long as possible.

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