Newly appointed Artistic Director & CEO of Contact, Manchester Keisha Thompson talks about taking on the role

Founded in 1972, Contact Manchester has played a vital role in engaging artistically with its local community. A theatre particularly committed to supporting the young leaders of tomorrow, the multi-disciplinary venue continues on with its mission of placing the voices of the younger generation to the fore – its mission to place young people at the heart of decision making and help decide the artistic programme. Having been associated with Contact from the age of 15, poet, performance artist and producer Keisha Thompson has recently been announced as the venue’s incoming Artistic Director and CEO. The artist now gearing up to help programme the venue’s 50th birthday from June. Keisha tells us more about how she feels and what her hopes are for the theatre moving forward!

Hi Keisha, you’ve recently been announced as Artistic Director and CEO of Contact, Manchester. How are you feeling?

Extremely blessed and warm! The amount of people who have gotten in touch to say congrats and share their excitement has been unreal.

Contact has played a vital role within your creative career from the age of 15. Within this time, you’ve been able to build on your artistry and leadership. How has Contact helped to shape you today? 

How long have you got? In simple terms, Contact has given me a sense of myself as an artist as opposed to a young performer. It allowed me to see myself as someone who can have an idea and make it happen – from a logistical point of view as well as an artistic one. It has exposed me to new ideas, mind-blowing artists and new art forms. Once you’re in, you realise that Contact is a family. A big one. I love that I can travel across the world and bump into people who know Contact. To be a part of such a huge and talented network is extremely validating.

Contact is a multi-disciplinary arts venue based in Manchester, committed to placing young people at the heart of decision making, young people helping to lead, help decide artistic programming and act as full board members. Why is this important?

Young people are part of society. There are many decisions that are made that have an impact on young people so they should be consulted. Also, the way that you understand your emotions, develop your morals and make connections with others gets predominantly solidified between ages 7-16 (or even earlier). When you are a teenager, your brain is literally different in terms of pink:grey matter ratios (geek alert!). So if we want to engage with people and get them to think about how they see themselves in the world, we have to start young. The fact that young people are inherently different means they offer a unique perspective that is valuable and cannot be replicated. I love having young people in “serious meetings” or “formal spaces”. They ask the risky questions that need to be asked.

You officially start work in June, where Contact will celebrate its 50th birthday. Your aim to create a ‘castle of curiosity’ and ‘place of opportunity for young musicians. How do you envision the programme?

Well. I know I want to have a big party to welcome everyone into the new building. Contact has recently made some architectural changes that we’ve not been able to show off yet. It’s been open for a year but for obvious reasons we did not get an opportunity to throw the doors open and have everyone in. I’m bursting with ideas for the programme but I need to sit down with the programming team and our young people first. Keep your nose in the air for more details but for now I can tell you it’s going to be fun and it’s going to be loud.

What are your hopes for the theatre moving forward?

I know many people have fallen out of love with theatre during the lock-downs. For others, that happened beforehand. It can feel exclusive and intimidating. I can attest to that and I’m a theatre-goer and theatre-maker! But the theatre (both the art form and the building) should serve its people. So I want to stretch the boundaries. I want more people to feel that it has a place in their lives and I want them to consider a wider range of things to sit under the banner of “theatre”.

Questions by Lucy Basaba.

Keisha Thompson will start work with Contact, Manchester from June 2022. To find out more about the venue, visit here…

To find out more about Keisha Thompson, visit here…

Written by Theatrefullstop