Mercury Theatre wins prestigious UK Theatre award for Excellence in Inclusivity

On Sunday 27th October UK Theatre held their annual national awards ceremony and the Mercury Theatre were thrilled to be presented with an award for Excellence in Inclusivity.

The theatre beat competition from the likes of London-based, Bush Theatre and The Royal and Derngate Theatre, Northampton to win this coveted award.

The Mercury aims to be a welcoming and fully inclusive theatre and over the years have embraced diverse casting, supported national initiatives such as PIPA (Parents in Performing Arts) and Stagesight, and have built strong relationships with various diverse local communities through learning and participation programmes.

Despite this, the theatre knew they could be doing more and therefore took advantage of a new initiative to address this, “The Sustained Theatre Regional Associate Producer Placement (STRAPP)” from Tamasha and Arts Council England. This new intervention is a bid to address the lack of cultural diversity (specifically BAME) in positions of power in British Theatre, by employing new producers in decision-making roles to develop their skills and experience.

The Mercury Theatre’s Regional Associate Producer, Dilek Latif, expanded the organisations thinking and has completely reimagined the way in which the theatre delivers their programming and engagement activities.

The two shows she chose to produce over the last year appealed to communities where the theatre had their lowest engagement rates.

The first was a Studio production of Silence, by Essex based disabled playwright Nicola Werenowska. Silence explored the intergenerational effects of war/displacement through the lens of the UK’s postwar Polish community, told from the perspective of three women. Dilek chose an all female creative team and 50% of the cast and creatives were of Polish origin. The show was a huge success and it was the bestselling Mercury Studio production to date. For many Polish audience members Silence was their first experience of theatre in the UK, now they have a connection with the Theatre, paving their way to return to see other work.

The second Main House production was Ain’t Misbehavin’. The 10 strong cast and band were all artists of colour and Dilek also ensured the creative team was equally as diverse. British Actor Tyrone Huntley was given his first directing opportunity and BBC Strictly Come Dancing’s Oti Mabuse was offered her first theatre show as choreographer. The production was a resounding success gaining much critical acclaim and attracting a more diverse audience.

Dilek has also introduced a wide range of programmes to the theatre including Diverse Creative Open Days, Scratch Nights for Artists of Colour, PROUD – a writers group for LGBTQ+ creatives and the #OneOfUs campaign where members of the community were invited to discuss their relationship with Colchester and their mini stories were printed and distributed to local food outlets on coffee cups and takeaway boxes.

Executive Producer Tracey Childs said: “The Mercury Theatre could not be prouder to have been awarded the Excellence in Inclusivity Award at the UK Theatre Awards this week. This national award is great recognition of all that we’ve been doing to make our work accessible to as many people as possible both on and off stage – we welcome everyone to watch, play and work with us. Our inclusivity journey continues in our temporary venue Mercury at Abbey Field, through our outreach work in the community and remains a priority for the reopening of our newly refurbished theatre in autumn 2020. We want to ensure the Mercury looks and feels welcoming to all today and for decades to come.”

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