Sandra Thompson-Quartey: ‘I want the Courtyard Theatre to be diverse and different’

Sandra Thompson-Quartey. Photo: Anna Nightingale

Thompson-Quartey founded the Writers Avenue Theatre Company in order to discover and stage new plays by first-time writers. She tells Giverny Masso why she wants the company’s new home, London’s Courtyard Theatre, to be known for diversity…

How did you get into playwriting?

I wanted to be an actor since the age of 14. At primary school I was always tipped to play the main part, as I was the most enthusiastic. I trained as an actress at the Brit School and East 15 Acting School and a few years after graduating I wanted to put on a play, so I put it on in a very small theatre. My first play is called Water Under the Bridge, and it’s about two foster sisters who lived in an abusive home as children and meet as adults.

How did your career progress?

I wanted to start my own theatre company, so I started Writers Avenue. I began a competition where writers can show audiences the first 20 minutes of their show. The next step was to move into my own venue, which led me to the Courtyard in Hoxton. It’s so new to me to have my own building [Writers Avenue has become the resident company at the Courtyard Theatre]. If you had asked me 10 years ago, I would not have seen it happening.

What are your plans for the Courtyard?

I want it to be diverse. This is the first time I feel I have power to change things. I want it to be a place people can go to see good, contemporary work. I would love to have around 12 to 15 productions a year with three or four-week runs, as well as continuing to do new-writing events. We will also select a winner from The First Twenty Minutes and produce their play.

Why is it important for the venue to be diverse?

Some of my friends that don’t work in the industry don’t go to the theatre because they feel it will have nothing that represents the life they live. I love the mainstream too, but there is a gap to do something diverse and different. There needs to be a venue known for diversity where we get a real mix of stories. There are enough people writing, but not enough people who are given the opportunity to get their work out there. It also comes down to the people making the decisions, you need to have diverse staff and management. There is a lot of work to be done to make theatre more open and not feel like it is for the middle class.

What is your advice to new playwrights?

See as many plays as you possibly can. Get involved and see who is doing what. Keep writing and don’t feel intimidated. Also, you can’t be waiting forever, try it out in a small venue and let it grow, get audience responses. Be bolder, don’t worry as much and don’t be afraid. I like to write about things that interest me and things that I care about in the world. I really like people who have something to say.

CV: Sandra Thompson-Quartey

Training: Brit School, musical theatre; Brunel University, BA (hons) modern dramatic study; East 15 Acting School, MA acting
First professional role: Acting in a trailer for the Royal Opera House production of Don Giovanni (2007)
Agent: None

Hip hop and theatre show DenMarked runs at the Courtyard Theatre, London, until June 17