At the start of a new decade, Hackney Empire’s leadership team plans to build on its commitment to community and championing of young people, alongside an exciting programme of work for audiences to enjoy, plus innovative collaborations with artists, venues and theatre makers round the country.
Since Artistic Director Yamin Choudury and Executive Director Jo Hemmant were appointed in 2018, the theatre has seen an average of 83% new bookers for many productions – a huge achievement for a 1000+ seater theatre in London. In 2018-19 there were over 62 productions with over 100,000 people attending, of which 43% come from the Borough of Hackney.
Previous collaborations with theatres and organisations include Birmingham Repertory Theatre, RSC, Scottish Opera, Royal Court, English Touring Opera and LIFT Festival. The theatre wants to expand upon and increase collaborations in the future, and in autumn 2020, Headlong Theatre will bring their first production to the venue – August Wilson’s Jitney, playing from 20-25 October as part of its UK tour. Debris Stevenson’s hit show Poet in Da Corner will finish its national tour at Hackney Empire, and the venue are working to develop her new show, Write to Rave, offering her and the production team space in the venue as well as financial support.
The CREATIVE FUTURES PROGRAMME, which has run for over 20 years, is a free year-round, extended programme of creative arts provision and training for young people aged 8-19 years old – in 2019, the programme engaged over 4,000 young people in 800+ hours of activity, with 50 new bespoke projects created by and for young people and designed specifically to remove barriers to participation.
ALTER EGO 2020 – East London’s biggest talent showcase for young people – will have its final at the venue on Friday 21 February. Finalists are mentored by top industry professionals and then perform alongside headline acts in front of over a thousand people at Hackney Empire. Previous finalists performed alongside Yxng Bane, Krept & Konan, Lady Leshurr, Big Tobz, Sneakbo, Ghetts x Rude Kid, Ms Banks, Cadet, Akala, Paigey Cakey and many more. Created in 2012, and supported by Discover Young Hackney, Alter Ego has seen more than 9000 young people involved both as participants and audience.
Choudury says: “we are so proud that something like this exists in Hackney, directly by and for its community. No other organisation within the theatrical space delivers a project of this quality, on this scale, for this audience, at this price. Alter Ego uses music as a tool to develop participation in the arts and culture space, exploring and defining who and how, a next, more diverse generation of story tellers will exist. We hope to be inspire the next Sabrina Mahfouz, Bijan Sheibani, Inua Ellams, Bola Agbaje, Arinze Kene, Debris Stevenson, Stefflon Don or Krept and Konan, to name a few, at the start of their journey.”
Hackney Empire’s Artist Development programme (ADP) will see 40-50 young performers aged 13-19 compose, write, choreograph and perform an original musical theatre piece based on Shakespeare’s classic Romeo & Juliet, performed on Hackney Empire’s main stage with two weeks to create and rehearse. The company will include emerging actors, singers, dancers, musicians, rappers, writers and designers; they will work alongside arts professionals to produce new work at Hackney Empire. First started in 2000, ADP develops the next generation of young artists. Every year, these two weeks of intensive support and guidance have helped hundreds of young performers get into the arts industry, with many of them returning as mentors to help the next generation finesse their talents. Auditions for Romeo & Juliet will be held in July, and the show will be staged on 14 August 2020.
Much of this work has been pioneered and led by Yamin Choudury, whose own, often challenging, life as a young man born and raised in North London, reflects the lived experiences of many of the young people and communities the company works with. He first came to Hackney Empire as a 17 year-old and was welcomed into the building and its community, an ethos that underpins the organisation’s mission and values.
He says: “We want to create a sense of entitlement for those that feel unentitled. If you’re in the space, it’s yours.”
Hemmant and Choudury credit this open-door policy to their incredible team of staff, many of whom are local, and initially were participants or audience members and then wanted to be part of the organisation. The theatre is a landmark organisation for communities.
Choudury and Hemmant reflected on the overall programme: “We are so proud of Hackney Empire and what it has meant to people, we want our community to be as proud of us as we are of being in Hackney. That’s why we’re doing it, we want people in and around the borough, to be proud that Hackney Empire is on their doorstep; everybody needs safe and exciting spaces – Hackney Empire is ours”.
2020 comedy highlights include Live at the Empire with comedians Sara Pascoe, David O’Doherty, Suzi Ruffell, Mae Martin and Kiri Pritchard-Mclean; New Acts of the Year Showcase, hosted by Jo Brand; the World Comedy Clash – 14 Comedians from 13 Countries on 1 Stage – as well as solo shows from Henning When, Kojo Anim, Jamali Maddix and Chris Ramsey.
Opera includes three productions from the English Touring Opera: Cosi Fan Tutte, St John Passion and Giulio Cesare, and The Gondoliers and Utopia, Limited, two new co-productions with Scottish Opera.