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Interview with David Jubb, Artistic Director of Battersea Arts Centre

30 June 2015 Natasha Sutton-Williams

Situated in an old town hall, Battersea Arts Centre works with over 400 artists to produce over 800 performances in any of the 80 rooms available: from the attic to the artist’s bedrooms to the crannies of the basement corridors. Not only that, they work creatively with their local community and over 3,000 young people. London Calling caught up with BAC artistic director David Jubb to find out how they make it all happen, especially after the recent fire that ravaged the back of the building.

London Calling: What is unique about BAC compared to other London theatres?

David Jubb: It’s got 80 rooms that we can make theatre in. It used to be a town hall, so it’s got all this history. I think there’s something particularly rich about arts organisations that are based in found spaces. There’s a civic ownership of that space because the community owned it long before the theatre turned up. Due to the nature of the spaces themselves it means you have to break rules when you’re making theatre because you’re not in a perfectly equipped black box studio. It can be challenging for artists but I think it’s a creative provocation. Artists think and create work that is very much in response to the oddness of the situation.

LC: With 80 rooms filled with activity BAC has a lot going on at any one time. How do you keep up with the pace?

DJ: BAC is an on-going show with lots of different activities and ways for people to engage and get involved. My job is to direct that show and make sure everyone has their part to play, and gets excited about the way they can make a contribution to what we’re all doing together: inspiring people to take creative risks to shape the future. My job title is confusing because I’m called ‘artistic director’ but I’m not an artist and I’m not a director. I’m actually a producer so put simply I make stuff happen. I think many artistic directors in many theatres will be people who lead their programme by directing shows. But in this building artists lead the programme, so do brides and bridegrooms, so do people who come to learn through one of our workshop programmes.

LC: Having an open space to try out new ideas is a major focus of BAC’s artistic credo. How do you make this happen?  

DJ: We have a programme called Scratch where artists try out an idea at a really early stage of its development and get feedback from an audience. Ideas then develop through Scratch iteratively over time. We started Scratch in 2000; since then there have been thousands of shows that have been created through this process. We wanted to use the ideas and practices of modern theatre to revitalise creative thinking in other sectors, so we started to use Scratch in different contexts: in architecture, education and social enterprise. Scratch is about the creative process, it’s a way you can learn in the classroom, it’s a way you can develop an idea for a business by having a theatrical mind-set, it’s a way you can develop how you make art.

LC: Have you used this Scratch way of thinking to inform how you run BAC?

DJ: Yes, absolutely. We knew we wanted to have artist bedrooms in the building but we were worried if we commissioned an interior designer the bedrooms would look and feel a bit like a hotel or a hostel. We decided to commission artists to create one-on-one performances in bedrooms and design the space so that it would last for years. One was based on Where the Wild Things Are, which had a rather marvellous swinging bed, which you could unbolt and swing like a hammock if you so dared. One was based on a Frida Kahlo painting, which was a very beautiful and calm space. There was the Peter Pan bedroom, which had lots of clocks, trees and a bed that folded out into the Lost Boys den.

LC: This March BAC experienced a terrible fire. In response you received overwhelming emotional and financial support. What are the nuts and bolts of rebuilding the damaged areas?

DJ: The back third of the building is where the fire occurred. It might take up to three years to rebuild the Grand Hall. We’re starting to shape artistic and event plans for what we’ll do without that space. We still have all our shows in the front of the building but we want to host much larger events. We’re looking for an offsite space, which we can create a temporary Grand Hall in. It doesn’t have to be a purpose built theatre. We hope to launch it next year. People responded and reacted to the fire as if it had happened to a member of their family. Whenever my team and I have a dark moment we just look at our emails, Twitter and listen to people’s response and it lifts us back up. It’s been moving, emotional and astonishing in terms of what people have offered us. 

For more information about Battersea Arts Centre and to book tickets please see their website.
 

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