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In Conversation with Lynette Linton New Artistic Director at the Bush

It’s not been that long since Director and playwright Lynette Linton has taken up her role as artistic director of the Bush, succeeding Madani Younis. It not difficult to see how Linton has earned her strips with the play of year Sweat recently transferring to the West end and seeing the success of her co-direction of Richard II: are we looking at the future of British theatre or what it should look like. It was a busy week for Linton when we conducted this interview as Sweat had just opened and she has just announced the new season at the Bush. She states: “Sweat opened a few days before I announced the season, so I didn’t get a lot of sleep that week! It’s nerve-wracking putting your first season out there but I’m pleased to say it’s been warmly received, and I can’t wait to get started”.  Alt is excited about the opportunities Linton has announced for writers as part of the new season.

1. So let’s talk about your journey into theatre: how did it all come about as you have writing credits from 2013? I was born in Leytonstone, London but wasn’t a regular theatregoer. My frame of reference like most people tended to be film and TV. I did a degree in English at the University of Sussex and flirted with becoming an actress but found myself working in the food hall of John Lewis in Oxford Street. When I joined the National Youth Theatre in my early 20s, I found a mentor in the director Rikki Beadle-Blair. Rikki turned my attention to writing and directing and my first play Step was staged at my local theatre the Theatre Royal, Stratford East. That set me on a course of freelance directing for theatres such as The Gate, The Globe and the Donmar Warehouse for whom I directed Lynn Nottage’s Sweat which is playing in the West End until 20 July.

2. 2018/2019 has been a fantastic time for you what do you take from directing Richard II when we last spoke you said you were afraid of directing a Shakespeare play? I love Shakespeare but I was always scared of him as a director. Because of the way we’re taught his work at school you aren’t playing with his ideas or thinking about the ways in which it can be or made relevant to you, and sometimes you can feel isolated by it — that’s not Shakespeare’s fault. Shakespeare writes for everyone — we can all see ourselves in his characters but the way he’s talked about can feel slightly like he’s used as a badge of exclusivity. The joy of his stories is always in thinking ‘what would I do in that situation’

3. How have you settled into the Bush Theatre what does a day look like? It’s been crazy busy as I’ve been directing the West End transfer of Sweat whilst putting my first season together with the help of the amazing team at the Bush. Sweat opened a few days before I announced the season, so I didn’t get a lot of sleep that week! It’s nerve-wracking putting your first season out there but I’m pleased to say it’s been warmly received, and I can’t wait to get started. Aside from what happens on stage, my day is filled with overseeing all the other aspects of running a building whether it be the development team who are busy fundraising, the marketing department promoting the shows, the literary department who read hundreds of unsolicited scripts per year to find plays that would work well on our stages or the Community department, which is close to my heart. It’s very important to me to be collaborative. I value everyone’s opinion on the team because that’s how you make art. When people disagree with you that’s even more exciting because then you really interrogate yourself. I’m a firm believer in the community feeding the work on stage and vice versa. As often as possible I’ll meet people new to the industry. I had incredible mentors who guided me when I first began and it’s important to me that I do the same for others.

4. You recently announced the new season at the Bush can you tell us a bit about the writing initiative/s? Talent Development is key to our work at the Bush and with this in mind we’ve announced a new intake of writers into our Emerging Writers Group, an opportunity for the Bush to develop relationships with new playwrights we’ve found through unsolicited submissions process and further afield – all of whom are in the early stages of their career. It supports the writers over a sustained period and helps encourage work on a new full-length play.
We’re also now taking applications for our new West London Playwrights’ Group, a free introductory course in playwriting skills which will be held on various dates over nine months by our artistic team. It’s open to anyone aged 18 and over in West London and you can apply via the theatre’s website.
Along with supporting writers, we have also revamped our Project 2036 scheme to have a focus on BAME designers, lighting designers, and sound designers in the industry. Have a look on the Bush Theatre website for more details.

5. As a Director what attracts you to writing: what ignites that spark?  The word ‘risk’ is an interesting one to me. We talk about it as a negative thing when some of the most incredible shows I’ve seen are the ones we might call ‘risky’. So, I enjoy being in a space where I myself as an artist can grow, but also the writers, directors, and actors we’re working with know they can take their own risks. Our first season at the Bush is an all-British season, much of it made by artists of colour and dominated by debut plays. It’s all home-grown talent, people in our community, in our backyard and whose work should be on our stage. It’s not ‘risky’ it’s important and other theatres should be doing it.

6. With every new job they are challenges what are some of the challenges you face?
Time is a challenge. There are so many people to meet and so many artists we would like to support and saying no is hard. But I am learning and growing with this.
7. What is the best thing about your job?
Everything! I really love it. To be able to get up in the morning and do what I love is such a blessing. I love working with the Bush family every day. They are all so passionate about what they do. I love that each day is different and how many artists we can support in what we do.
8. What have you learnt along the way that you would give as advice to anyone wanting to follow in your footsteps?
I remember when I first set foot inside a theatre, I didn’t feel comfortable. It took me a long time to see stories that were like mine on stage, and people who sounded like me. I think about 15-year-old Lynette a lot. Now we’re in a place where people are listening so don’t doubt that you belong in the building – take up space. Now I spend my time thinking ‘what can I do to make sure 15-year-olds now feel like they are theatre people’

9. We must state the obvious you are a woman at the helm of a theatre, do you think we are riding a wave or is this change? We must ensure that when we speak in the future, this won’t even be a conversation. We must keep striving and maintain this train. As long as I’m running a building, as long as I’m making work, I’ll keep pushing for that. We’re in a really great place but we need to sustain it.

10. Give us an insight into Strange Fruit that opened at the Bush? It’s part of our ‘Passing the Baton’ season of plays where we revive a work by an artist of colour so that modern audiences can appreciate the writers on whose shoulders we stand. Just as we’d hoped, it has had a great reaction. It’s directed by Nancy Medina (whose production of The Half God of Rainfall you might have seen at The Kiln Theatre earlier this year) It’s a really emotional, engrossing play and the cast which includes Jonathan Ajayi, Rakie Ayola, Debra Michaels, Tilly Steele and Tok Stephen work so hard, they deserve all the praise the critics have showered on them.
In August I’m directing the next play in the season, ‘Chiaroscuro’, a reworking of Jackie Kay’s debut play from 1986, which looks as female identity and which I’m planning to be a mash-up of live music and spoken word. Jackie Kay is a legend; everyone should know her work.

Chiaroscuro is at the Bush Theatre, W12 (020 8743 5050, bushtheatre.co.uk),  runs Aug 31-Oct 5.

Strange Fruit is on until 27 July.

Sweat is at the Gielgud, W1, until Jul 20

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