As I reach the end of my first year as executive director of the Donmar, I’ve been reflecting on an exciting first 12 months at the organisation – and the significant change we’re undertaking.
Together with artistic director Michael Longhurst, we’ve set ourselves the mission to stage important and relevant stories.
But alongside this, we’ve also challenged the team to re-imagine who could lead a production at the Donmar, and given a platform to people who haven’t traditionally been given a voice to tell their stories on our stage.
We’re living in complex and turbulent times with challenging issues affecting communities across the country, and I feel it is more important than ever for theatre to play a civic role and bring communities together to find common ground and reduce social isolation.
The Donmar sits in the heart of Covent Garden, across the boroughs of Camden and Westminster, which include some of the highest levels of wealth inequality in the UK.
With declining numbers of community spaces and limited opportunities for groups to come together in a shared space, it feels vitally important that the Donmar uses its position to support the local community. While we have previously built an excellent programme of work with London schools, through our schools performances and Take the Stage programme, working with our neighbours is something we strongly feel we should be building.
With limited opportunities for groups to come together in a shared space, it feels vitally important that the Donmar uses its position to support the local community
As we move into our second year, we’ll be doing this in the way we know best: through our work. Alongside five plays from a combination of established and new talent, we’ll be forming our first ever local company.
Writer Nina Segal and director Joseph Hancock will work with local people to create Assembly, a community response to Steve Waters’ The Contingency Plan, which plays in the theatre from June.
To recruit the local company, we have engaged more than 140 community groups and invited anyone aged 18 and above to take part in taster workshops. The final company will be made up of people who participated in these workshops, and who live or work locally.
We’ve been inspired by the work being done by our peers in their local communities through participation programmes, such as the Almeida and the Lyric Hammersmith, and by talking to local people about what they want from us.
We hope Assembly will be a way of us saying ‘hello’ to our community through workshops, as well as bringing new people into our building. We want people to say: “This theatre is for me. I am welcome here.”
Our aspiration is that local audiences will recognise the relevance of the Donmar to their everyday lives; and over the next few years I aim for us to grow deeper links with our neighbours and schools to represent London’s audience and the multiplicity of voices in all our work.
The Donmar might be a small space, but it has the potential to have a mighty impact.
Henny Finch is executive director of the Donmar Warehouse, London. The Contingency Plan opens at the Donmar on June 10. Details: donmarwarehouse.com