Bush Theatre’s artistic director wants the venue to continue prioritising community engagement and openness amid meteoric growth as it celebrates one year since opening a state-of-the-art £4.3 million redevelopment.
Bush Theatre has come a long way since its birth in the upstairs of a pub on Shepherd’s Bush Green 46 years ago.
After relocating to a famed library in Shepherd’s Bush in 2011, the theatre is now celebrating one year since the renovation transformed it into a fully modernised cultural building.
That one year has seen the theatre garner multiple awards, attract 40,000 visitors and publish a book, but artistic director Madani Younis believes the theatre should aspire for more.
He said: “We’re not after quantitative success, we are looking for depth of engagement.”
Community engagement and openness have been part of the theatre’s DNA since it first opened doors in 1972, and were at the forefront of the revitalisation.
With 20% of their main house theatre tickets selling for £10 via their Count Me In scheme, a fully accessible building to wheelchair users, and open from 10am-11pm Monday to Saturday for anyone going to see a play, have a drink in the Library Bar, or use the Reading Room, the redevelopment has maximised the theatre’s potential for openness and accessibility.
Speaking about Bush Theatre’s transformation, Mr Younis said: “I think you could sit in the office like we did, you can plan these things for years, but we only discovered what this building meant when we came back.
“We spent that year in other people’s buildings, and those experiences were very varied.
“We felt we could make our work anywhere during that year, but when we got back we realised we actually we do need bricks and mortar so we can be the heart of the community.”
Closing in spring 2016 and reopening with Guards at the Taj in April 2017, Bush Theatre spent the year installing performances at found spaces across Shepherds Bush, including at the Nubian Life Centre and Bush Hall.
Whilst Mr Younis said that the theatre coped well in their fluid circumstances that year, it was also a time of huge political upheaval and increased poverty, making the stability offered by an open, cultural centre essential.
He said: “During that year we had Brexit, we had the national elections: it was a politically unsettling time.
“We want to define a building that is porous and open, a theatre that is engaged in our communities.
“We are also constantly evaluating the civic responsibilities that a public building like Bush has to the community.”
In an effort to promote community engagement, Bush Theatre invited two local organisations to become Associate Companies in 2017: Nubian Life, which provides adult day care services for older African and African Caribbean residents across Hammersmith and Fulham, and Shepherds Bush Families Project which helps families who are either homeless or are experiencing hardship due to unmet housing needs.
The associate companies had the same status and support as any other artist, were invited to shows, events and trips both at Bush Theatre and other cultural institutions, all the while creating a work of their choice with the help of a lead artist.
Mr Younis said that the associate companies project, supported by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, is a means in which the theatre can retain its open, community-oriented approach to art, and added: “We don’t want these buildings to become an enclave for the chosen few.
“The associate companies have ownership over this building.
“It can be accessed by them, their friends, and family as a safe space for them to come in.”
The redevelopment by award-winning architects Haworth Tompkins saw a new entrance, front-of-house area and garden terrace to the main street, as well as a new studio space and attic rehearsal room that have allowed Bush Theatre to work with a further 200 artists each year.
The building is also shortlisted for the 2018 RIBA award, a prestigious architectural prize, which will be announced in May, after already having been nominated in 2017 for Best Theatre Building by The Stage Awards, and achieved “Highly Commended” in the 2017 AJ Retrofit Awards for Cultural Buildings.
Once in a Lifetime is Bush Theatre’s book taking a visual journey through their historic year of renovation, which you can buy at: www.bushtheatre.co.uk/bushgreen/book-launch-once-in-a-lifetime