There hasn’t been a theatre in Brixton for over 10 years, but that happily changed this month with the opening of Brixton Empire, a two-space theatre in the converted St Matthew’s Church. Here, the Empire’s founding Artistic Airector, Daljinder Singh, a winner of the prestigious Jerwood Award for Directors, tells us about this exciting new development...
What motivated you to found Brixton Empire?
I wondered why there wasn’t a theatre already and thought it would be great to start something, especially in an area like Brixton that has a lot going for it, in terms of transport and community.
What attracted you to the space?
I came across St Matthew’s and I realised that Mass, the club that’s based here, isn’t active on a regular basis: they have nights on and off throughout the year. I thought that was a bit of a shame, since it has two fantastic spaces, and it would be really great to utilise them. Also it’s in a very central location – not in the madness of Brixton Road and all the shops, but literally a three-minute walk from the tube station. I just found the spaces fascinating and I thought it would work really well to have a flagship venue in Brixton and to create work that can really key into Brixton’s very unique personality.
What will be your primary focus when it comes to programming work?
We’re very audience-specific and focused towards people who pay their hard-earned money. That’s extremely important to me. The regular person on the street that works shifts and then decides to dedicate two shifts’ worth to see something. That ethos is important to Brixton Empire.
What will you be doing to attract locals to the theatre?
If you’re a Brixton resident, you get a concession ticket. Also if you’re unemployed, disabled, over-60, student, the usual list, they also get discounted tickets. We’re trying to be fair. Brixton’s got a great music-based arts scene and film-based arts scene, so we’re trying to make theatre just as much of a choice for people as everything else that goes on here.
We’re definitely hoping that the specific ticketing for Brixton residents will really get them. Of course, London-wide as well, it’s not just for people in Brixton. The theatre’s here, it’s their flagship venue, but obviously we also look forward to welcoming everybody from all over.
Our work I hope doesn’t just represent what’s going on in our own locality, but also our city, our country and the world, which is why our current play, When the Chickens Came Home to Roost, has touched people so much, because it doesn’t just reflect certain things that happened in the civil rights movement in the ’60s, these are key issues that we’re still thinking about today, as members of the world community.
You’ve chosen a particularly difficult time financially to launch the venue...
I think there is no right time to start a theatre. Whether you do it in a recession, or whether you do it when things are going great, I think the challenges are still the same. You never really have enough money.
We’ve been very lucky: Mass have been extremely generous in giving the space because they’re very committed; and The Brix, the company thats runs the building, they’ve been extremely welcoming to the idea and really interested in making something like this work because they know that it’s needed. They know that it would benefit the area, especially the young people – we hope to also create programmes for young adults who’ve been affected by long-term unemployment.
We all know what happened during the riots and the different questions that were raised, so it’s really about having a good creative focal point. We hope to be a really positive thing in the area, and because of that, we’ve had a lot of in-kind support. We hope to be really self-sufficient and run a good business model and do work that creates enough interest that we can then go on and produce other work.
When the Chickens Came Home to Roost is at Brixton Empire, London, until 4 November. Book tickets and find out more.