OffWestEnd talks to Sandra Thompson-Quartey, Training & Programme Producer at Artistic Directors of the Future

Artistic Directors of the Future (ADF) once again presents their award winning Board Shadowing Programme, a unique initiative open to theatres and arts practitioners across the UK. It offers the chance for arts organisations to meet potential Black, Asian and Ethnically Diverse board members. It is also an opportunity for companies to assess their engagement and retention strategies.

Sandra is the Training & Programme Producer at Artistic Directors of the Future. She is also the Artistic Director and founder of High-Rise Avenue, a multi-disciplinary production company who previously developed new writers and showcased talent at Soho Theatre and the Pleasance Theatre.

What first attracted you to the theatre?

I was always involved in performing arts as a child and pursued it more in secondary school. I loved performing, I joined after school classes and went on to train at BRIT School of Performing Arts. I eventually went on to train at East 15 Acting School drama school. I have always loved going to the theatre not just for the stories, I really admired the talent. Funnily enough I didn’t think about producing until much later.

If you could pick any one person or theatre company to collaborate with on your next project, who/which would it be?

I would love to do something with Beats and Elements, they’re wonderful Hip Hop theatre company run by Conrad Murray and Paul Cree. I hadn’t seen their style of show before.

What is your opinion of Off West End theatre, in general?

It’s a very mixed bag depending on the size of the venue you go to. What you’ll see and pay in a 50-seat pub theatre (which tends to be work by new producers) versus what you’ll see and pay in 100-500 seat theatre is very different. There’s something for everyone. A few years ago, I fell out of love with theatre and took a break from it, not the artform itself but the systematic racism and disrespect. I returned tentatively. I love theatre, but to say it has problems would be an understatement. There’s a reason I work for Artistic Directors of the Future and why my theatre company evolved.

What was the most inspiring production you have ever seen? Why?

There has been many over the years. I loved Conrad Murray’s one man, hip-hop theatre show, DenMARKED. I first saw it at Battersea Arts Centre. It was a very personal story. I was gripped all the way through. He is a very multitalented theatre maker.

What piece of work/project are you the most proud of?

My first fringe play, but not because it’s the best thing I have done but because the experience inspired me to start a theatre company. It was called Water Under the Bridge. I wrote it, performed in it and produced it. I’m not saying that with pride, that was a naïve move. I put it on for a week in a pub theatre. I had no dramaturg or script reader support, so no doubt the script needed work. I just wanted to try something.

The cast and director were amazing. I can’t believe people came to watch it every night and not just our friends and family. A few weeks later I returned to that same pub to watch something, and a man approached me and said ‘You were in that actress in that about the foster sisters. It was great!”. It was such a lovely feeling. Producing that play inspired me to start a theatre company. I just needed to know I was capable of putting on a show.

What things in your personal life do you draw upon as a producer?

I have commissioned a talented writer, Kalungi Ssebandeke, to write a new play. It focuses on Black women and the judgment they receive about their hair, no matter if it is natural, relaxed, weaved or wigged. We are in the middle of an R & D funded by Arts Council England. Recently I became a co-writer on the play, which is exciting and scary. However, I don’t always want to draw directly from my own life, there are so many interesting things happening in this country and around the world that are of interest to me.

Are there any directors you would like to produce?

The script would always dictate who I want to work with. There are many great directors out there but I do not have a favourite.

Which director do you respect most on OffWestEnd at the moment?

Due to Covid-19 I have only seen one show in the past year and half, so I don’t know. Ask me in a year’s  time when I’ve seen more plays.

Can you tell our readers about what you’re doing now/next?

Apart from developing a new play I will be taking part in a board shadowing programme run by Artistic Directors of the Future. I’ll be spending 9 months shadowing boards of theatre companies and venues in the UK with great networking opportunities. It’s a unique opportunity.