Senior Producer of the Last Word Festival Jack Prideaux talks about this year’s event at the Roundhouse

Returning for their latest edition, The Roundhouse’s The Last Word Festival will take over the iconic venue from the 9th to the 23rd June, some of London’s most vital voices including The Receipts Podcast, BBC Radio 1xtra’s Richard Brave, founder and authors from A Quick Ting book series hosting talks exploring some of society’s most pertinent issues. Alongside these discussions, workshops led by writer and performer Jack Rooke and the ‘Letters to the Earth’ team will inspire and support writers looking to further perfect their craft, the Roundhouse’s renowned Poetry Slam yet again searching for the next young pivotal voice to be crowned Slam champion. New works – Sankofa: Before the Whitewash by Abena Essah, Matriarch by Keziah Hodgson and Gardens + Other Such Tree Places by Ruth Awolola all due to debut at the event. Ahead of the festival, senior producer Jack Prideaux tells us more about what to expect!

Hi Jack, you’ll be hosting this year’s The Last Word Festival from 9th to 23rd June. How are you feeling ahead of the event?

This is a really exciting one for us. The festival was cancelled in 2020 and we delivered a scaled back, hybrid online/in real life version in 2021 but this will be the first time we’re welcoming artists and audiences back for a fully realised Last Word Festival in three years.
The Last Word Festival is a two week programme of compelling stories and perspectives from some of the capital’s most vital voices, with well known artists confirmed including The Receipts Podcast, BBC Radio 1xtra’s Richard Brave, founder and authors from A Quick Ting book series amongst others. How have you approached curating this year’s event?
The festival programme is always a mix of those more established voices alongside artists you may not have discovered yet. We always try to ensure our programming feels like London, representing the diversity of our city and topics and themes that are important to the artists we work with and that will resonate with audiences, particularly those aged 18-30. The festival always showcases work that’s been developed as part of our year-round Young Creatives programmes including our Film Fund, Poetry Collective & Poetry Slam and Resident Artist programmes.
The festival’s theatrical strand includes Sankofa: Before the Whitewash by Abena Essah, Matriarch by Keziah Hodgson and Gardens + Other Such Tree Places by Ruth Awolola. What inspired you to choose the shows programmed?
These are all shows by Roundhouse Resident Artists. Our Resident Artist programme is a year-long professional development programme which allows us to work with and support outstanding emerging artists working across a range of disciplines.
We’ve been supporting these artists develop their shows over the last 6 months and are really proud to be presenting these work in progress performances which will give a taste of what’s to come.
Opportunities like The Last Word, where we get to programme our Residents on professional stages are invaluable to their development as well as ensuring that our programme includes exciting new voices alongside more established ones.
The festival actively encourages the younger generation to get involved, as the Roundhouse Poetry Slam searches for the UK’s next young, trailblazing spoken word artists aged 18 to 25, before the ultimate slam champion is crowned, What does this part of the festival involve?
This will be the 16th Roundhouse Poetry Slam and over the years it’s grown to become one of the most celebrated platforms for young poets and spoken word performers in the UK. Each year we receive applications from poets across the UK who compete in regional heats in England, Scotland and Wales before selecting a final ten who compete for the title of Roundhouse Slam champion on our main stage as part of the festival.
It’s an incredible opportunity for poets and writers to gain performance experience, build networks and has been an amazing launchpad for previous performers many of whom have gone on to become published writers, award-winning playwrights, screenwriters and journalists.
Something we’re really proud of is the atmosphere of the slam – although it is a competition, it always feels like a safe, nurturing environment for the performers to share their perspectives and experiences with supportive, captivated audiences. The final is always a really special night, not to be missed.
Workshops include ‘How to Adapt Your Writing for TV, Radio, Film by Jack Rooke and ‘Letters to the Earth workshop and sharing’, these offering a chance for prospective audiences to take part, what will both involve?
We hope audiences will take something away from all the shows/events that are part of the festival but we always programme some workshops and masterclasses that we hope will allow people to get a glimpse behind what’s being presented on stage and take something away that might inspire them to explore or develop their own creativity.
Jack Rooke is a writer and performer who’s relationship with the Roundhouse started when he was 18 and joined our Poetry Collective, since then he’s written shows which have won awards at the Edinburgh Fringe, created documentaries for the BBC, had his debut book published by Ebury/Penguin Books UK and his comedy series Big Boys airs on Channel 4 in May – so Jack is brilliantly placed to speak about his journey so far and how he’s developed his skills and approach to writing across these various mediums. Jack’s masterclass is open to anyone who’s interested in developing autobiographical writing and will explore retaining your artistic vision and the practicalities of getting your work in front of the right people.
Letters to the Earth are an award-winning organisation focused on campaigning and facilitating creative responses to the climate emergency we’re facing. This workshop, with guest artist Zena Edwards, will offer 18-25 year olds the opportunity to creatively explore what the climate emergency means to them – imagining how it will impact their futures and what changes can be made.
Themes that are prevalent throughout the programme being representation, climate change and supporting the younger generation. Are these core themes that are clear from the inception of the festival or ones that emerge as you programme?
The themes of the Last Word are largely driven by the young people and artists we work with.
For this festival we find that rather than imposing a theme – the work that is pitched to us, or that we’re developing with artists tends to provide a real snapshot of what’s important to the artists and creatives we work with at the time.
Having said that, over the coming year the Roundhouse will be exploring the theme of Liberation. We’re in the midst of an ongoing consultation, speaking to various groups, from the young people we work with to our artistic networks, staff and local community groups to understand what the word Liberation means to them and how we can apply some of these ideas to our programming but also how we work more generally – challenging ourselves to be more transparent and engage in dialogue with our our audiences and communities year-round.
An event within the festival which speaks directly to this theme is our inaugural Roundhouse Long Table, which we’re piloting during the festival. We’re partnering with an amazing organisation called Split Britches to host this first Long Table which will open up and provide space for people to come and share opinions and knowledge on the theme of Power.
What can audiences expect from the festival and what would you like them to take away from the festival?
I’d love someone coming to the festival to hear a new perspective or something that makes them think slightly differently about the world – and to be inspired in some way! We’d also like to think that audiences will bring a lot to the festival – engaging in conversations around themes being explored, both at the Roundhouse during the festival as well as online. We hope that someone coming to see a show at The Last Word will be the beginning of a conversation between them and the Roundhouse and the artists we work with.
Questions by Lucy Basaba.
The Last Word Festival will take place from Thursday 9th until Thursday 23rd June 2022 at The Roundhouse. To find out more about the event, visit here…
Written by Theatrefullstop