For a theater in the middle of a pandemic, the Bush Theatre in London is keeping remarkably busy. It’s produced a series of timely Monday Monologues online, curated The Protest series of digital pieces inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and posted a number of Master Classes. It even became one of the first theaters in London to reopen its building — not for regular theater performances, but for socially distanced community programs (including theater-focused activities for young people) or for a safe, outdoor pint at the Bush’s bar.
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At the helm of it all is Lynette Linton, the young writer-director who took reins at the Bush just last year. For her, the focus on community engagement is an integral part of theater-making. “When a theater has lost the reason it’s there, which is to feed to the community and to be fed by the community, it’s lost what it’s supposed to be doing,” she said on the latest episode of Stagecraft, Variety‘s theater podcast.
“Theater is about telling stories and bringing us together, and we learn from everybody outside our doors,” Linton continued. “We’re supposed to be representing what’s actually going on in the world, so I don’t understand how theater can’t be community-led, if that makes sense. I wouldn’t be in my position at all if I hadn’t had access [to theater] through young peoples’ schemes. It wasn’t something that came naturally to me.”
For industry professionals on Broadway, the Bush’s activities in recent weeks can serve as a case study in the ways that London theater is working to sustain itself during the coronavirus pandemic. It might even give U.S. theatermakers a few new ideas of their own.
Linton also offered perspective on how the fight for greater equity in the theater industry is playing out on the other side of the Atlantic. “I still think the U.K. has a lot of work to do when it comes to championing Black British writers,” she said. “I also think it’s really important to make sure that COVID doesn’t f— up the progress. We don’t want to be looking back and then have everybody doing work that isn’t going forward, because they’re scared of what COVID’s done. We’re going to really fight against that here.”
One of the keys to ensuring that an industry grows and evolves? “I think you should really think about how long you run an institution,” she said, referring to the fact that in U.K., it’s far more common for arts leaders to shift positions regularly — as opposed to the U.S. nonprofit scene, where some leaders have been in power for more than 40 years. “It should always be moving and changing. That’s part of the conversation too: who’s running it, and for how long.”
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