How the Genesis Foundation is expanding in the face of austerity
No fewer than five shows in the present Young Vic season have been directed by beneficiaries of the Genesis Foundation. If it sounds like some wacky quasi-religious cult, nothing could be further from the truth. Started in 2001 by American-born investment banker and arts philanthropist John Studzinski, the foundation’s mission is to give talented youngsters in the performing and visual arts field a helping hand, not just financially but also in terms of mentoring, networking and moving on to the next stage in their careers.
“It has never been enough for Genesis simply to sign a cheque and wish for the success of a young artist,” says Studzinski, known to his friends and colleagues as Studs. “Our concern has always been to make a sound, long-term investment in talent. We aim to bring young artists closer to fulfilling their creative potential.”
In terms of theatre, these long-term investments have so far encompassed the Young Vic, the Royal Court, the HighTide Festival in Suffolk, LAMDA scholarships, Welsh National Opera and the Genesis Opera Project.
From 2003 to 2009 the foundation, in association with artistic director David Lan, supported the Genesis Directors Project at the Young Vic, part of the Genesis Directors Network, which supports the training of the next generation of theatremakers and has 800 directors on its books.
Among the first young directors to benefit from the Genesis patronage were Rufus Norris, the new broom at the National Theatre, Joe Hill-Gibbins, now associate artist director at the Young Vic, and Carrie Cracknell, renowned for her revival of A Doll’s House in 2012.
The foundation’s work with the Royal Court is equally important to that theatre’s reputation and output, focusing on the development of foreign writers. Since the 1990s, the Royal Court’s Elyse Dodgson has benefited from Studzinski’s philanthropy in her international quest for new writing.
Harriet Capaldi, managing director of the Genesis Foundation, explains: “To begin with there wasn’t an audience for this, but Studs stuck with it and since it started the world has changed and we’ve all become more multicultural in our tastes and outlook.
“Elyse is now working in 70 countries in 40 languages, including some really dangerous locations. She works in association with the British Council who help her to track down these young writers. One of her proteges, the Palestinian poet Dalia Taha, had a play on at the Royal Court recently, called Fireworks.”
Many of the playwrights supported by the Royal Court’s international programme have gone on to become leading voices in their own countries, among them Marcos Barbosa (Brazil), Gianina Carbunariu (Romania), Anupama Chandrasekhar (India), Vassily Sigarev (Russia) and Natalia Vorozhbit (Ukraine).
Another aspect of Studzinski’s philanthropy that predates the setting up of Genesis is his LAMDA scholarship endowment, which he instigated in 1998 following a conversation with Janet Suzman about the socio-economic inequality of the intake in the major London drama schools.
One of the earliest recipients of a scholarship under this scheme was Samuel Barnett, who says: “There is no way I could have gone to drama school if it hadn’t been for Genesis. Investment in young people at grass-roots level is critical if we want to continue to be a country at the forefront of artistic excellence.”
A more recent project, the Genesis Laboratory, provides space and funding for emerging writers and new voices at the Suffolk-based HighTide Festival Theatre. Among the plays that have been developed there are Ditch by Beth Steel, Lidless by Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig, and Karen’s Wishes by Ross Sheridan.
The Genesis Opera Project grew out of an international competition launched in 2001 to find composers and librettists to create intimately scaled, one-act music theatre works. No longer a competition, it is now focused on creating a platform for the best young directing, design and musical talents from all over the world, working in association with Almeida Aldeburgh Opera and other festivals.
There is also the Opera Academy programme, run by Welsh National Opera in tandem with Genesis, which provides opportunities for promising young talent in a variety of operatic disciplines to gain experience with one of our leading opera companies.
All the current Genesis projects will continue as they are for the foreseeable future, but Studzinski is planning to draw on funding from a variety of sources, and extend his work beyond the UK over the next 10 years. “Talk of expansion might seem at odds with the prevailing climate of austerity,” he says, “but this is not a matter of entertainment for the wealthy, it is a matter of education, cultural heritage and our integrity as people. If just one artist nurtured by the foundation makes a major cultural impact in the next 10, 20 or 30 years, then we will have achieved our objective.”
He added: “The real success of Genesis is embracing and nurturing talent, working as a team with our partners and creating a network that continually supports every artist the foundation has worked with.”