Artistic Director of the Young Vic Theatre Kwame Kwei-Armah talks about the venue’s 50th birthday celebrations!

Marking its 50th year, the Young Vic celebrates with a year-long programme paying homage to the venue’s legacy of creating ‘an experimental workshop for authors, actors and producers’ as well as factoring in affordability. Established by Royal National Theatre Associate Director Frank Dunlop, successive Artistic Directors Michael Bogdanov, David Thacker, Julia Bardsley and Tim Supple, Tim Supple, David Lan and now currently Kwame Kwei-Armah have shaped the venue into what it is today. Commemorating the past as well as envisioning the venue’s future, Kwame tells us more about the venue’s initial programme, possible plans for a block party to mark the important milestone and his hopes for the theatre moving forward.

Hi Kwame, The Young Vic will be celebrating its 50th birthday with a specially curated year-long programme of work. How did the launch go, and how are you feeling about the year-long programme ahead?

Hi Lucy! The launch celebration on Friday was wonderful, and to have four of the seven previous Artistic Directors of the Young Vic stand together was really beautiful. We animated the building that evening – to the left was The Unforgotten installation and to the right was the Projection Project– it was an amazing night. And I’m really looking forward to The New Tomorrow festival, which is up next, which will put words to those visuals we launched last week.

With video design by Duncan McClean, the Young Vic will be hosting the Projection Project– a project celebrating the people and productions of the last five decades. What can be expected from the display?

If you or someone you know has worked at the YV in the last 50 years- come down and see who you can spot! Really, it’s a beautiful trip down memory lane, an advertisement of how a theatre can be there for a whole community, where the people offstage are just as important as those on the main stage.

Created by artists Sadeysa Greenaway-Bailey and Anna Fleischle, The Unforgotteninstallation will commemorate trailblazers Mary Seacole, Marsha P. Johnson and Ulric Cross – as well as welcome nominations from the Young Vic community for who we should celebrate. What inspired this feature?

One of the Young Vic’s associate artists was at a Black Lives Matter march, and they stood next to the statue of Winston Churchill. They wrote in their diary about that experience and that monument, and when this artist shared this response with me, I then said: “what we need to do is participate in the debate about who deserves to be memorialised.” Then I went to Sadeysa Greenaway-Baileyand Anna Fleischlewith this germ of an idea, and they ran with it, and now we have the brilliant work that is The Unforgotten.

The New Tomorrow will witness the first piece of live theatre since the beginning of the year – with monologues written by Jade Anouka, Jasmine Lee Jones, Jack Thorne, Isobel Waller-Bridge amongst others. How did you approach programming the artists and work?

Essentially, I asked the artists and writers that I really dig! They are all artists who I really love the work of, and who will give us a fresh take on what the new tomorrow might be.

Initially meant as a giant street party celebration, like many venues, the Young Vic has had to adapt their programme. How have you found having to adapt during this unpredictable time?

It’s an absolute corona-coaster! Full of up and down. Hold onto the sides. I feel churlish complaining when I have a home, and family, and health, and we absolutely have to put those things first. But it is hard. During a moment when the nation is discussing health, and race, and inequalities, our building should be buzzing with discussion and manifestations of those conversations. To not be able to do that has been frustrating. But that also helps explain why we have created The Unforgotten.

What can be expected from the rest of the year long programme?

Good question –we are going to have to vibe it. What I can say is there will be lots of really exciting pieces throughout the year which speak to this moment, and I am really hoping that at the end of this year – if we are Covid-free – we might be able to revive the original 50thidea of a massive block party, where we celebrate by creating 50 stages of work in and around the YV for our community. And ultimately stage that big celebration of this thing we call theatre.

How have you found this historical point in time? Have you learned anything new, whether that be about yourself, theatre, wider society?

That’s a hard question. I believe trauma is best served at a distance, and so I don’t really know how traumatised I have been throughout this. I think I will learn that in the time to come, once we are out of this. What I do know is that humanity is a beautiful thing, and I truly cherish physical interaction with other humans. Zoom has been great, but the two-dimensional nature of interacting in this way is nothing like the real thing.

Within the next 50 years, what are your hopes for the Young Vic?

It’s less a hope and what I know- it will continue to be a beacon, endlessly reinventing itself and forms of theatre, and serving all people as a place they can call home.

Questions by Lucy Basaba.

To find out more about the 50th birthday programme, visit here…

To catch the recording of The New Tomorrow live streamed on Saturday 3rd October, visit here…

Written by Theatrefullstop