TAITMAIL     The Fed and the parlours of power

TAITMAIL The Fed and the parlours of power

The Creative Industries Federation is in a spin, how vertiginous a spin remains to be seen.

On the other musical hand

On the other musical hand

All standard musical instruments require ten active fingers to be able to play them and up to 30,000 children in UK schools are deprived access to music-making as a result. But OHMI is opening up musical expression to them, Simon Tait reports

First woman MP’s portrait presented to Commons

First woman MP’s portrait presented to Commons

This portrait of Constance Countess Markievicz, the first woman to be elected to the House of Commons in 1918, was last night presented to the House on behalf of the Irish parliament.

V&A fulfills £100k regional pledge

V&A fulfills £100k regional pledge

The Victoria & Albert Museum is fulfilling the promise its then director made when it won the 2016 Art Fund Museum of the Year award, to revive its touring design exhibitions.

Pictures at an Exhibition

Pictures at an Exhibition

The Great Exhibition of the North is underway. But will it fulfil the hopes of its creators? Patrick Kelly has a look.

Huge fall in numbers of arts teachers

Huge fall in numbers of arts teachers

Arts teacher numbers in England are in dramatic decline, according to official figures.

Creative Scotland’s Archer resigns

Creative Scotland’s Archer resigns

Creative Scotland chief executive Janet Archer, is leaving after five years in the role.

Kampfner stands down from Fed

Kampfner stands down from Fed

John Kampfner has stood down as chief executive of the Creative Industries’ Federation, which he founded four years ago with Sir John Sorrell.

Audience agency in Scotland closes

Audience agency in Scotland closes

Axe falls after Creative Scotland grant cut

Site making its Steel City mark

Site making its Steel City mark

Sheffield’s Site Gallery is to reopen with three times the space, and a new mission with a new artistic director, it was announced today.

Ground rules set for Brexit culture deal

Ground rules set for Brexit culture deal

The government’s Brexit white paper has set out a basis to ensure artists’ mobility between the UK and Europe after Brexit.

Battersea Arts Centre heralds reopening with Trump protest

Battersea Arts Centre heralds reopening with Trump protest

Three years since Battersea Arts Centre’s great hall burnt down, it is pre-empting it autumn opening today with a defiant message for Donald Trump https://www.bac.org.uk.

TAITMAIL   What, me worry, when Mr Wright has come along?

TAITMAIL What, me worry, when Mr Wright has come along?

Who is Jeremy Wright, the headlines on Tuesday were asking.  For me, he bears an unnerving likeness to Mad Magazine’sAlfred E Neuman (a kind of 1960s Forrest Gump who only ever said “What, me worry?”), but he was the Attorney General and is now the seventh Secretary State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport since 2010.

Dulwich to get a Colour Palace

Dulwich to get a Colour Palace

Dulwich Picture Gallery in South London is to get a “Colour Palace” for its gardens next summer.

Shakespeare Schools wins Japanese arts prize

Shakespeare Schools wins Japanese arts prize

The Shakespeare Schools Foundation has won £33,000 in the Japan Art Association’s Praemium Imperiale 2018 awards.

Matthew Bourne’s tours to go green

Matthew Bourne’s tours to go green

Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures dance company is to collaborate with environmental sustainability agency Julie’s Bicycle to creative a creative green certificate for touring.

Arts centre plan for Reading Gaol

Arts centre plan for Reading Gaol

Councillors in Reading are backing a plan to turn the town’s famous jail into an arts centre.

New culture secretary appointed

New culture secretary appointed

Kenilworth MP and former Attorney General Jeremy Wright MP is the latest Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport .

AI PROFILE Girl gangs of Hoxton

Karena Johnson, artistic director and chief executive of Hoxton Hall

The true but little told story of the Victorian girl gangs of London will open a unique all-female theatre season in one of the last working music halls, celebrating the centenary of women’s suffrage.

Hoxton Hall in East London is to mark the centenary women’s suffrage in 2018 with a season, Female Parts, created and performed entirely by women, devised by the venue’s artistic director, Karena Johnson. It will open on January 20 with Oranges and Elephants, the first musical by the playwright Lil Warren.

Not only is the musical believed to be the first ever to have a wholly female cast, the entire production team, with music by Jo Collins and directed by Susie McKenna, is female – as is this whole three month season. The score follows the music hall genre, complete with a female chair leading the proceedings. 

“We’ve got to 2017 and we still have to make a point to whatever great institution it might be that you’ve announced your new season and there’s not a single woman writer in it” says Johnson. “And people don’t notice the absence of women in things – there’s a strange kind of default to men.

 

It’s an astonishing fact that most theatre tickets are bought

by women, and they’re buying them to watch men’s stories

 

“So I wanted the opportunity to say there are amazing creative women and we need to put them out there, not only for their sakes but to make a space for young artists whose role models they can be. It’s an astonishing fact that most theatre tickets are bought by women, and they’re buying them to watch men’s stories.”

Her season, then, is of women telling women’s stories, starting with the musical relating the war between the Forty Elephants of the Elephant & Castle and the Oranges of Stepney, both ruthless gangs of female pocket-pickers and muggers. But there will be stand-up comedy, cabaret, music and a finale of three short plays directed by Johnson herself.

Johnson has another mission, however. It is to bring this unique survival from the heyday of the music hall back into its community with a contemporary audience. “It was built in 1863 by a guy who wanted to create a musical hall for working people behind houses for them to live in, but it was a music hall with a difference - its theme was philanthropy and education, and there was no booze” she says.

It lasted a couple of years when a true music hall impresario bought it and reopened it as MacDonald’s Music Hall attracting audiences twice the size regulations will allow now – in the 1870s there were an estimated 80 music halls in the Hoxton-Shoreditch area alone, she says -  with two balconies on top of which MacDonald wanted to add a third to cram even more in. He was denied planning permission, and after half a dozen years it closed when its licence was not renewed following neighbourhood complaints about noise and bad behaviour.

It was eventually bought by a philanthropist, biscuit heir William Palmer, who turned it into a temperance hall. When he died in 1893 it reverted to the Bedford Institute, a Quaker-run adult education organisation, and it is the Quakers who still own the freehold that have ensured the survival of this extraordinary venue, which now seats just 227.

It became a community centre whose head was still called The Warden, and in the 1970s, was run by May Scott who introduced the arts and performance to her care of local youth. She brought working artists in to teach the kids, one of whom was George Passmore of Gilbert & George. “I taught hooligans in the afternoons and old ladies in the evenings, and by far the more terrifying were the old ladies” he told Johnson recently. In 2015, when she took over as artistic director and chief executive, the Grade II* listed Hoxton Hall reopened after a £2m restoration and refurbishment with generous help from the Heritage Lottery Fund and other trusts and foundations, returning it to its original look complete with high stage, ceiling windows, double balconies and two fireplaces with pier glasses above them.

Karena Johnson is not an East Ender, hailing originally from south of the Thames at Clapham. She got a theatre directing MA at Royal Holloway College and her first job was programming at Oval House in Stockwell, when she also created her own black theatre touring group, Kushite. She went on to run Contact Theatre in Manchester and then artistic director of The Broadway in Barking.

“Quite a journey” she says now. “It was a beautiful building with no audience, the BNP was the official opposition on the council and it was a very political atmosphere. But we built a brilliant programme by developing new plays and embracing entertainment, and attendance grew so that when the council decided to cut funding the people bombarded them and they changed their mind.

 

When the politics got scary we confronted it through art and by allowing

people who don’t normally speak to each other to occupy the same space

 

“I felt I'd done my job, because the people now believed it was their place. When the politics got scary we confronted it through art and by allowing people who don’t normally speak to each other to occupy the same space. It was bonkers but it worked.”

At Hoxton, she discovered that for 44 years the hall had been run by women, for no particular reason, but it gave her the idea for her 2018 season. Through the year there are performances, panto, events, and for six days of every week there are well-attended free workshops for seven-to-19-year-olds, with the spring season taking on a theme.

It has not been easy putting together an all-female programme, with designers, lighting and sound engineers being found often by word of mouth. Comedy agents were reluctant to put female comics forward because they felt they wouldn’t be able to fill the hall, until Johnson  tied up with Funny Women which supports and promotes women comics.

Female Parts will continue after Oranges and Elephants with Jazz versus Jukebox featuring poets and musicians; introducing 1930s and 40s lindy hop dancing with Spring Swing; stand-up comedy with Funny Women with which Johnson has recently sealed a partnership for the hall (“they had a try-out here and just fell in love with the place” she says) who will also run a workshop for female comedians; cabaret with Patrizia Paolini’s company; and provocative  comedian Desiree Burch with her solo show Unf*uckable which comes with the strict “Over-18s only” warning.

Johnson will round off the season herself by directing three short lays. The first is a commissioned piece from the award-winning singer, actor and director OneNess Sankara, The Immigrant, which explores the guilt pressures of a successful working mother. The final two are both by Franca Rame and her husband Dario Fo – A Mother is about a woman who discovers from the television news that her son is a terrorist, and The Woman Alone explores how a woman imprisoned by housewifely duties finds means of escape. Johnson believes Rame is an inspiring, witty and thought-provoking voice who, despite his being a left-wing activist, was nevertheless over-shadowed by Fo.

“I hope the season will start to put some of this right, I think it will” Johnson says. “It’s 100 years since the Representation of the People Act gave women the vote, it was such a major moment, but we're still having to fight.

“It’s not that it makes me angry as that it gives me something to kick against, it’s what's interesting about the moment we’re living in. The struggle continues and we’ll be having a debate for young women about political engagement which is being organised by some of our young trainees that come from our community.

“And I hope this season allows more people to discover this amazing place.”

 

CURRICULUM VITYAE

1996 – 1997                         MA Theatre Studies, (Major in theatre directing) at Royal Holloway University of London

1998                       Associate at NOW festival.

1999                       Associate at Nottingham Playhouse

1998 - 2006                          Artistic Director, Kushite Theatre Company (Touring)

1999 - 2000         Associate at Theatre Royal Stratford East,

2000 - 2005         Head of Theatre Programming at Oval House Theatre

2001                                       Directs Under their Influence at Tricycle Theatre and UK tour

2002                                       Directs The Key Game at Riverside Studios 

2003                       Won a Jerwood Young Directors Award.

2004                                       Directs The Oddest Couple at Theatre Royal Stratford East

2005 - 2006         Acting Artistic Director for Contact, Manchester

2006                                       Directs Sweet Yam Kisses at Lyric Hammersmith 

2007                                       Directs Safe at West Yorkshire Playhouse

2009                                       Directs Underneath/ Nothing as Silent as Snow at Black Seas Festival

2009 - 2014         CEO/Artistic Director at The Broadway, Barking

2010                       TMA special award nomination for “theatre with cojones”

2014                                       Directs Forty at Hackney Empire

2015 - present                   Artistic Director & CEO at Hoxton Hall

 

 

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