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‘We remind people there is a whole theatre ecosystem out there’: Siana Bangura on new podcast Behind the Curtains

Emma Clarendon chatted to Siana about her and Christina Nicole about their new podcast Behind the Curtains. 

Thanks so much for talking to me. What can you tell me about ‘Behind the Curtains’ podcast?
‘Behind the Curtains’ is a podcast centring and celebrating the off-stage roles in theatre. More often than not, when most people think about theatre, they think of the actors on stage and maybe sometimes the writer and director but definitely less often. We wanted to spotlight these off-stage, ‘behind the curtains’ roles and remind people there is a whole theatre ecosystem and that plenty of other roles are available for them to consider, should they want to enter the industry.

Across our six episodes, we speak to writers, directors, producers, production managers, sound designers, movement choreographers, a voice and dialect coach who recently worked on BBC’s Small Axe series, as well as an artistic director. There’s so much range. All our guests have their own unique stories and journeys of how they entered the creative space and the world of theatre. Many of them have had other lives before, some took elements of a ‘traditional’ route, but all forged their own path.

My co-host, Christina, and I felt incredibly inspired speaking to our guests throughout the season. The podcast has been a really helpful way to make sense of the calamities of 2020 also, and wax lyrical with our peers in the industry about the future of this space and how they are all coping with the magnitude of uncertainty we’re all navigating. Tune in and expect lots of pearls of wisdom, laughter, our ‘Unsung Heroes’ section celebrating past and present pioneers, and there’s even a dance break in episode 3! I’d say we had fun putting this together for you all.

How did the idea for the podcast come about?
I originally had the idea for the podcast in 2018 or so when I was the Digital Content Producer at English Touring Theatre. I was really keen to spotlight Black creatives in these lesser-known roles as we are especially underrepresented across theatre, including in backstage roles. I thought to myself if people knew the range of roles available, perhaps more folks from Black and brown communities especially, would feel like there was a space for them in the world of theatre – you don’t have to be an actor to get involved.

Although representation is only the beginning and that alone does not equate to meaningful action, if you can see others like you then you’re more likely to feel encouraged to go for certain opportunities. We wanted to create a platform to highlight the people already in these roles, share their career steps and what they’ve learnt along the way, and make space for any advice they have for anybody listening, who also wants to move into an off-stage, backstage role in theatre and other creative industries. What is clear is that lots of transferable skills from other work can helpfully inform the roles we’ve spotlighted in this season, meaning you don’t have to be put-off if you didn’t go to theatre school. Often that’s not the route anyway if you don’t want to be an actor.

How easy was it to put together with everything that is going on?
Recording remotely was quite the experience. I’ve had to do a lot of that as a podcast guest myself over the last few months. In ‘normal’ times, Christina and I would be in the same room with our guests – perhaps recording together in a studio. There’s a real warmth to the in-person experience that can be challenging to replicate online but we do a good job of it.

Once you get warmed up and everyone has their cameras on you are just really focused on the conversation. We’ve all had to adjust our way of life to get through this pandemic and our industry has been hit incredibly hard by it. Our guests, like us, were happy to be in conversation with peers in and from the industry, trying to make sense of things, reminding ourselves why we got into this work in the first place, and sharing our hopes for the future of theatre after this – because we will get through this. It’s not an ‘if’ but more a ‘when’. I also have to shout out our incredible technical producer Alison Holder who not only edited the series but features as a guest in episode five, with her sister, Hazel Holder. Working with talented and passionate people throughout this process has also helped make putting the podcast together a more enjoyable experience.

Who have you got featuring as guests? In episode one we have writers Zodwa Nyoni and Corey Bovell; in episode two we chat with cultural producer Tobi Kyeremateng; episode three sees us catch up with movement directors Shelley Maxwell and Ingrid Mackinnon. In episode four we meet production manager Alysha Laviniere and sound designer Munotida Chinyanga and in episode five, we have a family affair as we chinwag with producer and the brilliant editor of the ‘Behind the Curtains’ series, Alison Holder and her sister Hazel, who is a voice and dialect coach. In our
final episode, we are lucky enough to have pinned down artistic director, Natalie Ibu, to talk to us about her career journey and what artistic leadership looks like in times of crisis.

How have you found 2020 from your perspective? 2020 has been a year of reckoning. I think very few, if any of us, have ever witnessed the
entire world be forced to pause in this way. It has been a year of pain, disruption, frustration but also a year of great revelation and learning. Some of us live our lives fully aware of the many ways our societies are unjust and inequitable, the many ways violence is inflicted on
Black people and Black communities across the globe, for example. For some of us, the murder of George Floyd was not a ‘shock’ but a confirmation of all we have known and felt our entire lives – that for too long, Black lives seem to not matter. Some of us have always felt what it means to be in precarious work. To never be certain you will have a job tomorrow. This is already the reality for many people who walk among us in our everyday lives except now, it’s a shared experience for a record-number of workers in this country.

This year has brought the toxic scum residing just underneath, right to the surface. People have been forced to bear witness in ways they have never had to before – usually most folks are content with ignoring the violence and injustice taking place around them so long as it doesn’t affect their lives. But we have learnt that we are connected in more ways than one – that a virus causing havoc in one part of the world will have consequences across the whole world. We are all connected and 2020 has confirmed that, whilst also being a year of disconnection. We’ve had to innovate to survive as people, as an industry, as a global community. I’d like to think the lessons learnt this year mean we can’t move backwards, but only forwards, however my optimism is often challenged when I’m reminded that some things don’t change. Some people won’t change. But hopefully enough of us are wide awake and committed to doing the work of making sure all of this suffering was not in vain.

What do you think the theatre industry can take away from this whole
The importance of innovation. Nobody could have prepared for this, necessarily, but now we can see ensuring there is a
digital way for audiences to engage is vital for accessibility as well. Beyond a pandemic, people can’t always make it to this city or that city to see a show – so how else can they engage? How else can they be involved? How else can they feel represented? Digital cannot be a replacement to our live art space and nor should it be – many of us choose to work in theatre precisely because of that live connection with an audience. But
that said, I think a hybrid approach to working is what the future of theatre needs to look like. This crisis has also threatened to further push out people already marginalised in the arts: Black and brown artists, migrant artists, working class artists, disabled and differently abled artists, parents and caregivers. So how are theatres radically committing to a level of
inclusivity not seen before right at the beginning of every process? I want to see answers to those questions and I want to see action, not just panels, reports and more talk. That’s all part of the necessary innovation and evolution of the space and those working in it.

How will people be able to tune into Behind the Curtains? You can tune in to ‘Behind the Curtains’ on Spotify, iTunes, Acast, and wherever else you
enjoy listening to your podcasts – just search us up. You can also listen right here on English Touring Theatre’s site:

By Emma Clarendon

The first episode of Behind the Curtains is available to listen to now.

from News, Reviews and Features – My Theatre Mates

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