Thursday 22 March 2012

The Mama Quilla Initiative

Astonishingly, in 2012, despite a century of women’s emancipation, and the triumphant upsurgence of feminist theatre in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, Mama Quilla is one of a tragically shrinking number of theatre companies in the world that aim to specifically represent the female viewpoint on current world political issues.

Mama Quilla’s first three major productions, THE BOGUS WOMAN, BITES, and BONES, were all performed at The Bush Theatre and published by Oberon Books.

THE BOGUS WOMAN was awarded a Fringe First at Edinburgh and was shortlisted for the Susan Smith Blackburn Award and an EMMA; its performer Noma Dumezweni received the Manchester Evening News Best Fringe Performer Award. In Adelaide, Sarah Niles won Best Fringe Performer and the play was awarded the Fringe Sensation Award. BITES was shortlisted for the Susan Smith Blackburn Award.

The Mama Quilla Initiative was launched by Kay Adshead and a company of ex-acting and creative students of the City Lit. Operating as a pod inside the company, Mama Quilla, its aim is to create and perform rapid-response theatre, producing original, innovative, mixed-media performance responding to the times and to provoke debate. Initially, it aims to create seed or workshop productions some of which will be further developed.

Performers create a fixed repertory company but actors outside the core team may be invited to join the company for specific projects. The Mama Quilla Initiative has its own fixed creative/technical team and its own Workers’ Board.

The Mama Quilla Initiative was launched in April 2011 with a 10-minute platform performance, WE WOMEN SPEAK THE WORDS OF ORDINARY LIBYANS. Devised from verbatim accounts from Libya and performed in the foyer of The Broadway Theatre, Barking, it was a short companion piece to IF ANYONE RECOGNISES THESE YOUNG PEOPLE…, which was devised and directed for 30 young East Enders inspired by the student protests against tuition fees, December 9, 2010.

THE WOMEN’S SPRING and THE SINGING STONES, developed from WE WOMEN SPEAK THE WORDS OF ORDINARY LIBYANS, were performed as part of the inaugural Mama Quilla Initiative debut event THEATRE OF PROTEST. They performed to a sell-out audience at The Roundhouse, January 15, 2012. The event involved over 90 performers and a team of 15 creatives, with 9 new commissions including one Live Art piece from Mark Civil and two short films, STONES made by Sarah Auber and Simon McCabe, and UNTITLED made by Lise Marker and Heide Hasbrouck.

THE WOMEN’S SPRING and THE SINGING STONES will be rewritten and developed further for a reworked production in 2012/2013 as a double bill integrating specially commissioned film fragments and animation.

Monday 9 January 2012

The Roundhouse January 2012

“The author wants to convene a public inquiry into the workings of the whole planet…well, why not?” – The Times on Kay Adshead’s BITES at the Bush.

Since December 2010, award-winning writer Kay Adshead, for Mama Quilla, has been creating performance out of the protests here in the UK and abroad.

On Sunday 15 January 2012, for one night only, these pieces will be put together in a series of linked events at The Roundhouse from 4:00–9:30PM.

Audience, casts and theatre-makers are invited to meet each other and talk.

“Adshead is that rare species, a socialist feminist who believes in fun as well as getting the politics right” – Tribune

                   Pauline Flannery attended a day of protest-exploring theatre presented by woman-led human rights company Mama Quilla at the Roundhouse. She tells us her thoughts.
The flame-red hair has changed to the colour of autumn leaves, all the richer for that, yet theatre practitioner Kay Adshead flits in and out, quietly orchestrating events at Mama Quilla’s presentation of the Theatre of Protest, from the Streets of Revolution staged at The Roundhouse last Sunday.

A soundscape which speaks of her vintage; T Rex’s "Children of the Revolution", Thin Lizzy’s "Dancing in the Moonlight" and The Rolling Stones, accompanies a simple set made up of a table and chairs covered in the same placards which are strategically placed around the auditorium: we are in the theatre of protest. So while The Iron Lady plays the cinemas, the iron lady of Thatcher’s Women brings about a revolution of her own.
Since 2010, Kay Adshead under the aegis of Mama Quilla has been creating performance pieces out of real protests and all the dramatic works seen at the Roundhouse were ‘workshop or seed productions.’ So here form gets to mirror content and the process is all the more invigorating for it.
First up, thirty people dramatised events around the student protests in Westminster on 9 December 2010 against tuition fees:


Made at Barking College of Performing Arts, with 30 young East Enders, it dramatises events around the student protests on 9 December 2010 in Westminster, as the English Parliament voted to increase tuition fees.

While in the liberal press, the student protests were described as “a generation finding its voice”, prior to our production, only 12 out of a cast of 30 Barking students said they were likely to vote in a general election in the UK. They believed “the student protesters were probably all rich”.

Barking College of Performing Arts under Mark Civil produces five original theatre pieces for huge casts of young people every year. “The standard of the productions is staggering.” – Steven Beard, actor, RSC, RNT, Old Vic, films Remains of the Day, Shakespeare in Love, etc.

...with cross-cut scenes, overlapping commentary and an ensemble cast, in which an autistic boy finds his voice while his family (some for the first time) take to the streets. Accompanied by projections of the real December protest with the silent remonstrations of the politicians, it is a theatrical contrivance that works. The visual material has an immediate impact because of its shared memory, while the soundless articulation of the politicians appears hollow; summed up in one line ‘it’s a people thing.’

Beyond verbatim, inspired and informed by real accounts, this new short piece explores what the women of the Arab Revolution might have said. It is performed for Mama Quilla by Arinda Alexander, Sarah Auber, Tina Gray, Jennifer James, Jody Jameson, Rus Kallan, Eugenia Low, Margery Mason and Vivienne Rochester.

A 15-minute chorus workshop, open to all, will create a minute of theatre to be performed on the day.

6:00PM – BREAK


An open discussion on overcoming injustices with participation of groups based at Crossroads Women’s Centre. These groups include All African Women’s Group, Black Women’s Rape Action Project, English Collective of Prostitutes, Global Women’s Strike (GWS) and Women of Colour in the GWS, Payday Men’s Network, Single Mothers’ Self Defence, Women Against Rape, and WinVisible (Women with Visible and Invisible Disabilities). The Crossroads Women’s Centre in Kentish Town provides a home to over 15 organisations, projects and services. It was named after the brave women of the squatter town of Crossroads, South Africa, who refused to be moved, keeping alive the struggle against apartheid through the hardest times. Fundraising is underway to complete refurbishment by end January 2012 of a larger Centre nearby.

Two theatre shorts:

• Young East Enders respond to the English riots with their own rhyme and rap
• Students of the City Lit respond to the inquiry into the English riots by the Guardian and the LSE (made in 5 hours as a Mama Quilla PLAY IN A DAY)


A film by members of the initiative inspired by the events of 2011
A specially commissioned 5-minute short presents notes from the global protests as observed by a child.

Shown as part of Theatre of Protest at the Roundhouse Camden January 2012

Video live streaming from St Paul’s brings us up to date on Occupy London.

9:00PM – A SILENCE (working title)

An original, short, wordless live art piece made by Mark Civil will explore enforced silence.

This will be the performance of the piece made in the Chorus Workshop earlier in the evening.

9:06PM – untitled when going to press, a short theatre poem
Written by Kay Adshead, performed by award-winning actress, Sarah Niles, directed by Kully Thiarai.

9:06PM – THE SINGING STONES - a short theatre poem
Written by Kay Adshead, performed by award-winning actress, Sarah Niles, directed by Kully Thiarai.

 Sarah Niles Kully Thiarai
“Sarah Niles gives an amazing performance” – The Stage on Kay Adshead’s THE BOGUS WOMAN

“You have to believe that like everything else you grow and you can nurture things. In the end I suppose for me theatre is a place, a gathering, where we come together to celebrate, to debate, to argue, to reveal…” – Kully Thiarai, interviewed in “Staging New Britain”

“Dialogues are happening now between telly executives and writers to create a ‘sexy’ TV series about the English riots, and exploring those dialogues will quite possibly be Mama Quilla’s next piece” – Kay Adshead

The experience ended with The Singing Stones, a revolutionary fairytale, written by Adshead, performed by the compelling Sarah Nile and directed by Kully Thiarai. In the piece, a woman is condemned for singing in a public square at night on the spot where her husband had died. The dramatic switch comes when the narrative changes from the third to the first person; thrilling.
For the auburn-headed Adshead, who chivvied and encouraged till the end, you wonder how she keeps the fire in her belly. The answer: by believing ‘the only struggle you lose is the one you give up.’ It’s twenty five years since she wrote Thatcher’s Women. Now she gives a voice and a platform to a new generation, empowering them to be loud, proud and strong.

During the events, film maker Lise Marker will be shooting footage to create a new short film exploring protest.


Kay Adshead (artistic director / executive producer / writer)

Trained as an actor at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA).

Acting credits include: 'Wuthering Heights' (BBC), Mike Leigh's 'Kiss of Death' (Play for Today, BBC), 'Acceptable Levels' (Frontroom Films), 'Touched' (Old Vic), 'Thee and Me' (National Theatre), 'Trafford Tanzi' (Mermaid Theatre). Directing credits include: 'Fen', 'The Possibilities', 'Entertaining Strangers' (all for Lyric Hammersmith Studio).

As Artistic Director of Mama Quilla, wrote, devised, produced and directed 'Bones' (Leicester Haymarket, Bush Theatre) and over 15 other large scale / site specific community projects. In 2012, produced 'Theatre of Protest' (Roundhouse) and 'Bites' (Old Bank District Theatre, Los Angeles).

Written over 25 plays including 'Thatcher's Women' (Tricycle Theatre), 'Bacillus' (Royal Court), 'Juicy Bits' (Lyric Hammersmith), 'Lady Chill' (RNT), 'The Bogus Woman' (Traverse Theatre, Bush Theatre), 'Animal', 'Possessed' (both for Soho Theatre), 'Bites' (Bush Theatre), 'Protozoa' (Oikos Project/Red Room). Published by Oberon, Methuen, Faber & Faber.

Awards include: Fringe First, Adelaide Best Play of Fringe and Sensation Award (all for 'The Bogus Woman'), Calouste Gulbenkian Award for Performance Poetry (for 'The Slug Sabbatical'), Peggy Ramsay Award and Arts Council Theatre Writing Bursaries; nominated for an EMMA and three times for the Susan Smith Blackburn Award.

Kully Thiarai (associate director)

BA Hons in Applied Social Studies, Bradford University.

Directing credits include work that spans communities, cultures and
performance styles from large scale epics and new plays through to site specific
multi-media work. Recent credits include: 'The Singing Stones' (Mama Quilla),
'As The World Tipped' (Wired Aerial Theatre), 'Soul Exchange' (National Theatre
Wales), 'Digital Tea Dance' (Bangor University), 'Do We Ever See Grace?' (Contact

Artistic Directorships: Contact Theatre, Theatre Writing Partnership, Leicester Haymarket Theatre, Red Ladder.

Awarded an Arts Council/Mercers Company Bursary as Trainee Director in1990/91.

Vivienne Rochester (associate director / actor)

Trained at Manchester University, London Contemporary Dance School and Alvin Ailey in New York.

Mama Quilla credits: 'The Women's Spring'. Other theatre credits include: 'Twelfth Night' & 'Dido Queen of Carthage' (British Council tours), 'Macbeth', 'Restoration', 'The Rover', 'Kissing the Pope', 'The Maids' (all for the Royal Shakespeare Company), 'Hobson’s Choice' (Birmingham Rep), 'A Mouthful of Birds' (Royal Court). Screen credits include: 'Casualty', 'Down to Earth', 'Men of the Month', 'Public Eye' (all for BBC TV), 'The Bill' (Thames TV), 'Without Motive' (HTV United Broadcasting).

Member of the BBC Radio Drama Company.

Sarah Niles (actor)

Trained at Capitol School of Television and Theatre, Manchester Metropolitan University.

Relevant performance skills include singing, improvisation, physical theatre. Relevant experience includes workshop participation for National Theatre Studio, ATC, Talawa, Young Vic Directors, commissioned performances for Amnesty International, English Collective of Prostitutes and Crossroads Women's Group supporting refugees and asylum seekers.

Mama Quilla credits: 'The Singing Stones', 'Bones', 'The Bogus Woman'. Other theatre credits include: 'Truth & Reconciliation' (Royal Court), 'Mrs Affleck' (National Theatre), 'Play Size' (ATC/Young Vic), 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe', 'To Kill A Mockingbird' (both for Leicester Haymarket). Screen credits include: 'Gravity' (Warner Bros), 'Happy-Go-Lucky' (Thin Man Films), 'Thorne: Sleepyhead' (Sleepyhead Films), 'Being Human' (Touchpaper Television), 'Beautiful People', 'Doctor Who' (both for BBC), 'Touch of Frost' (YTV).

Jody Jameson (young people's director / actor)
Trained at Academy of Live and Recorded Arts (ALRA).

Relevant performance skills include improvisation, dance. Relevant experience includes youth theatre facilitator, director, workshop leader, community theatre, site-specific theatre, TIE.

Mama Quilla credits: 'The Women's Spring', 'Bites'. Other theatre credits include: 'Cinderella' (New Wimbledon Studio), 'Sedated/A Fiver for Eliza' (New Wimbledon Studio), 'Turning Trix' (K2, Edinburgh Fringe). Screen credits include: 'Gypsy' (, 'Little Deaths (Mutant Tool)' (Samantha Wright), 'Hard Shoulder' (Oceanstorm Films), 'F2.8' (Channel 4 Television), 'Venus Drowning' (Long Pig Industries), 'Holby City' (BBC Television), 'Hollyoaks' (Mersey Television).

Eugenia Low (admin support / actor)
Trained at the Actors' Temple and City Lit.

Relevant performance skills include improvisation, physical theatre, stage combat. Relevant experience includes site-specific, interactive and multimedia performance, improvisational and devised theatre, academic historical research (D.Phil. in Modern History, University of Oxford).

Mama Quilla credits: 'The Women's Spring', 'We Women Speak the Words of Ordinary Libyans', 'Breaking', 'To Dismember'. Other theatre credits include: 'Unresolved: Voices of Spoon River' (Actors Collective), 'The Tragedy of Macbeth' (River Productions), 'Hotel Medea' (Para Active/Zecora Ura at LIFT 2010). Screen credits include: 'Healthy' (Hades Productions/Beansprout Films), 'Miller' (Anglia Ruskin University), 'Sensors Censor Senses' (EcoSpace Productions), 'The Letter', 'The Noise' (LAMb Media/Teachers' TV).
Company member of the Mama Quilla Initiative.


Arinda Alexander (actor)

Trained at the Actors' Temple and City Lit.
Relevant performance skills include physical theatre, improvisation. Relevant experience includes site-specific, devised theatre, drama workshop facilitation, TIE, outreach work with marginalised groups.

Mama Quilla credits: 'The Women's Spring'. Other theatre credits include: 'Unresolved: Voices of Spoon River' (Actors Collective), 'Macbeth' (La'Beth), 'Something About You (Makes Me Want To Hurt You)' (Dirty Market Theatre), 'Twelfth Night' (Dirty Market Theatre). Screen credits include: 'After the World Ended' (Vertigo Heights), 'Mercy' (Central Film School).

Robert Allison (stage manager)

Trained in technical theatre at the City Lit.

Relevant technical/production skills include stage management, sound design and operation, light design and operation.

 Mama Quilla stage management credits: 'The Women's Spring', 'Breaking', 'To Dismember'. Other theatre credits include: 'Smile for David Concert' (Sallis Benney Theatre – stage manager), 'The Duchess of Malfi' (New Players Theatre – lighting operator), 'Dark of the Moon' (CL Theatre Company – sound designer and operator), 'Sleeping Beauty' (City Lit Rep – assistant stage manager).

Sarah Auber (actor, film-maker)
Trained at the Central School of Speech and Drama and City Lit.
Relevant performance skills include contemporary and jazz dance, physical theatre, improvisation, singing, stage combat. Relevant experience includes devised theatre, community theatre, film-making.
Mama Quilla credits: 'The Women's Spring', 'Breaking', 'To Dismember'. Other theatre credits include: 'The Changeling' (CL Theatre Company), 'Urban Psychosis' (Shifty Commutors, Volcano Festival), 'The God of White Cloth' (Shunt Cabaret). Screen credits include: 'Policy 3' (London Architecture Biennale 2006).

Tina Gray (actor)
Trained at Royal Academy of Music, Drama department.
Over fifty years' industry experience as an actor with numerous stage and screen credits.
Mama Quilla credits: 'The Women's Spring', 'Bacillus'. Other theatre credits: 'To Kill A Mockingbird' (York Theatre Royal), 'Macbeth' (York Theatre Royal), 'The History Boys' (National Theatre tour, Wyndhams Theatre), 'Our Ellen' (Iris Theatre), Screen credits include: 'Decoy Bride' (Ecosse Films), 'Love in Autumn' (FFP Media), 'Coronation Street' (Granada Television), 'Heartbeat' (Yorkshire Television), 'Doctors' (BBC Television).

Richard Hillier (lighting designer)
Trained in technical theatre at City Lit.
Relevant technical/production skills include stage management, sound design and operation, light design and operation. Relevant experience includes multimedia work, projections, video and AV work, technician.
Mama Quilla lighting design/projection credits: 'The Women's Spring', 'Breaking', 'To Dismember'. Other theatre credits include: 'In the Solitude of the Cotton Fields' (Europa Scenes – lighting designer), 'Judgement at Nuremberg' (Tricycle Theatre – sound and video designer), 'NewsRevue' (Canal Cafe Theatre – lighting and sound operator), 'Blonde Compassion' (Yogamahny Productions – show technician), ''Judith: A Parting from the Body' (Good Night Out Productions, Cock Tavern – lighting designer),Three Tales' (Riverside Studios – video technician and rigger).

Jennifer James (actor)

Trained at Goldsmiths College and City Lit
Relevant performance skills include improvisation, singing, physical theatre. Relevant experience includes devised theatre, community work (movement teaching) with disabled, youth, elderly and women's groups, TIE, community theatre, personal trainer.
Mama Quilla credits: 'The Women's Spring', We Women Speak the Words of Ordinary Libyans', 'Breaking', 'To Dismember'. Other theatre credits include: 'Swimming in the Persian Gulf' (Bandbazi, Brighton Fringe), 'Jack and the Beanstalk' (Party Time Tour), 'The Philanthropist' (City Lit).

Rus Kallan (actor)
Trained at the City Lit.
Relevant performance skills include improvisation, combat for stage and film. Relevant experience includes interactive performance, site-specific theatre.
Mama Quilla credits: 'The Women's Spring', 'We Women Speak the Words of Ordinary Libyans', 'Breaking'. Other theatre credits include: 'Boom Bang a Bang' (Giant Olive Theatre), 'Triumphant Desire' (King's Place). Screen credits include: 'A Blinded Fate' (A Thousand Faces Films), 'What Colour Is The Sky' (Lauren Davis).

Simon McCabe (sound designer, film-maker)
Trained at Goldsmiths College (music technology), O2 Academy (live music), City Lit (technical theatre).
Relevant technical/production skills include sound design, live and studio mixing, lighting design and light and sound operation. Relevant experience includes film-making, IT developer and systems administrator, electronic design, technician and technical director. Associate artist with Lumenis Theatre.
Mama Quilla credits: 'The Women's Spring' (sound designer and operator), 'Stones' (film-maker, editor), 'Breaking' (sound designer), 'To Dismember' (sound operator, deputy stage manager). Other theatre credits include: 'Underfoot / For How Much?' (Blue Elephant Theatre – lighting designer), 'There is only one Wayne Lee' (Southwark Playhouse, Beijing Fringe Festival – sound designer), 'Magical Chairs' (Blue Elephant Theatre, Beijing Fringe Festival – sound designer), 'Secret Boulevard' (Courtyard Theatre – sound designer), 'Three Tales' (Riverside Studios – technical director).

Najma Akhtar (Composer, Musician)

Recognised as a musical pioneer for her unique fusion of subtle jazz arrangements with a traditional South Asian vocal ghazal style. Eight albums released, including 'Qareeb', 'Atish' and 'Pukar'. Songs and music used in films ‘Pret a Porter’, ‘People I Know’, ‘Brick Lane’;
Theatrical work includes ‘The Far Pavilions’ (Shaftesbury Theatre), ‘Haroun and the Sea of Stories’(National Theatre), ‘Journey to the West’ (Tara Arts).
Notable musical collaborations include: Basement Jaxx, Jethro Tull, Philip Glass, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), Andy Summers (The Police), Jah Wobble, Steve Copeland.

Shanaz Gulzar (Artist, Designer)

Cross-disciplinary digital and installation artist, with a national and growing international reputation for making innovative and challenging interventions. Work explores interactions between new technologies, film, theatre, place and identity.

Part of a successful co-practice, Adept, with artist Steve Manthorp, with clients including: Cartwright Hall Bradford, Chol Theatre, Joseph Rowntree Trust, Live Theatre Newcastle, Bradford International Film Festival, BBC Screens, Yorkshire Film Archive, Culture10 Newcastle, BBC, Moti Roti, BEAM, North West Sound Archive, Magnetic Events, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Warwick Arts Centre, Snibston Discovery Museum Leicester, Ryedale Folk Museum, The Crucible Sheffield, Jerusalem Festival of Light Israel and imove.

Alia Alzougbi (Actor)

Trained at the Central School of Speech and Drama. MA in Applied Theatre.

Relevant performance skills include fluent Arabic, singing and dance. Relevant experience includes theatre workshops, presenting, social and political activism.

Theatre credits include: ‘Can You Look At The Camera’ (National Theatre of Scotland), ‘Yarn’ (Grid Iron/Dundee Rep), ‘Go to Gaza, Drink the Sea’ (Pit Theatre/Zeitgeist Theatre), ‘Godot’ and‘Lysistrata’ (Arab Theatre). Screen credits include: ‘Trouble Sleeping’ (Makar Productions),‘Sky Jack’ (BBC) .