Artistic Director's Blog: May Day...

Mon 4 May

I have now been the Artistic Director and CEO of Eclipse for 100 days.
Our Arts Council Relationship Manager asked me if I was counting the weekends. I said I was not, only the days I had worked. I’m not counting the evenings either, or the 3am hours I have spent thinking about my days to come.

I am changed. I am forever changed. I came to the table thinking I was ready. I am now.

I hit the ground running when entering the company. Producing a production that was not of my making, whilst all around me were expecting me to have the time and answers to their questions only seconds into the race. It was like entering a kitchen as Head Chef having not stocked the cupboards or the fridge myself and being asked "What’s on the menu, Chef?". I slowly opened the cupboard and shouted with confidence, "Food!".

With the previous Head Chef also in the kitchen making the same said production. I pulled up a stool and took an inventory, whilst looking after the team and production. This made for an extraordinary start creating the chance to meet audiences at Belgrade Theatre, Coventry before the first previews of The Gift. With thanks to Yinke Ayinde, our Audience Development Producer, we hosted the first of many Black Tea Parties on the tour. We shared tea, cake and some real talk.

At this event, the day before the The Gift opened, I was asked by Yinka, to share my thinking on the term ‘Imposter Syndrome’. I said there were many of us who don’t have the time for Imposter Syndrome, as the low expectations of our capabilities are already set in place. We face so many barriers and assault courses to get to Level One, let alone run a National Portfolio Organisation, we sometimes delay our own start in order to get extra ready.

I used to enter into rooms and sit quietly whilst people waited for the Director to arrive. I used this trick many times in big auditions seeing who had done their homework. I’d love it when I’d take the platform and start the day and people would understand what had just happened. Even in the age of the internet this still happens, or I get mistaken for the other Black women in the business that people think they know. 

You know what’s weird though? People either expect me to act and be like a white man as this is the barometer set for leadership. Or if not 'professional' in this way somehow perform my Blackness. Everyone just needs to stop being weird. That’s what my sister says so that works for me.

I am proud of all that I am and all that I have achieved and conquered including my own fears. I pay attention and respect to my own cultural background(s) and experiences alongside the education curriculum I have had access to. Supplementary schools were created as a recognition that there were missing elements for a Black child’s education in the UK. This principle of supplementing whatever is on offer with as many alternative learning opportunities as possible, is part of my practice and has been for a very long time.

Until Lions have their own Historians and all that.

I am a more determined, cut to the chase, deeper listener than ever before. Since I stepped onto the mighty ship that is Eclipse, I have had to take in the landscape and make decisions based on instincts when the facts were not all to hand, hoping that my experiences would see me through. It mostly did, I have had to face some facts that were beyond disappointing. I have laughed, cried and prayed for a new day for Eclipse and I.

My first day was spent discussing the definition of Black as I did not want to waste time explaining a position that no longer served our purpose. I have an inner circle where I bounce my ideas. An inner counsel. My sister is on this counsel. She lives in the real world where people would laugh in your face, then look at each other, then back at you and ask you to repeat what you just said. “Black is Black, what are you talking about?”. We sat into the night and talked, laughed and shrugged. I concluded that language evolves. For now this is what we have:

We work with Black African and African Caribbean people, those of us who are also marginalised for their race and all who wish to support and champion their work too.

In my lifetime, I had Grandparents who defined themselves as West Indians as they were born in the shadow of Transatlantic Slavery. My eldest Grandparent was born in 1909. This history of categorising people has divided us for centuries based on trade and divide and rule principles.

More than 100 years later, I am interested in creating spaces where we can launch a discussion using a foundation of respect and understanding. We are not all the same, we each have our own histories, language, culture, boundaries and barriers and are richer and sometimes poorer for that.

Eclipse was founded to create high quality Black led productions that tour the United Kingdom. We have achieved this through Theatre, Film and Radio play broadcasts to date. This legacy includes Revolution Mix and the ambitious Slate Programme.

We have as a collective an inheritance of theatre history, valuable lessons and hard won resources to protect.

Revolution Mix, a series of productions that presents to our audiences new Black British work, continues on. The process and choices of creating theatre is as important as the productions themselves. Now more than ever, we question ourselves and our industry on the form, content and teams that make Theatre in the 21st Century, with our audiences always at the forefront of our minds.

We have commissioned a report on the Slate programme. Slate was the tool used to name some of the barriers faced by Black Artists and through the work of the Enablers the programme took these barriers on one by one. This report will share the findings of this ground-breaking and ambitious programme of work. We look forward to sharing it with you.

Within my first 100 days, C-19 arrived to challenge us all. Our world continues to face the impact of this extraordinary crisis. It has exposed the inequalities faced by many that were already here. Some hidden in plain sight, whilst others fought for years unheeded.

I am digging deep and using the skills, tools and resources I have on every level possible both personally and professionally to push forward towards change. The words that we have been using at Eclipse are: Protection, Insight, Care and Courage. We will be using them to forge forward together with all the communities we work with in hope.

We have been gathering evidence of the impact by firstly bringing some of the ecology together and learning to respectfully listen to each other if not agree. We are all in this together, however the scale and impact will be felt in many different ways, some of which will take time to be fully revealed.

No matter what, I am ready.

All the best all.

Stay Safe

Amanda

Amanda Huxtable 
Artistic Director and CEO, Eclipse Theatre 

Photo credit: Vante Productions

Artistic Director's Blog: May Day...