“Talawa has been shining a spotlight on the most exciting and innovative Black British artists”: David Gilbert on Talawa Firsts 2023
Talawa Firsts Festival is an ongoing event that focuses on nurturing Black talent and introducing Black artists into the theatre industry. It has been running for 11 years and is organised by the Talawa Theatre Company, the most outstanding Black British theatre company in the UK. The festival this July runs for two weeks, (excluding weekends), with classes, workshops and performances in line with each day’s theme: Mondays are for The Scratches, Tuesdays are dedicated to networking, immersive works for Wednesdays, Thursdays for double bills, leaving Fridays with club nights and poetry jams.
David Gilbert is the new work producer at Talawa. He’s in charge of cultivating fresh talent and helping to support emerging artists on their projects. He co-founded Talawa Firsts alongside other creatives including Malakaï Sargeant, Winnie Imara and Michael Buffong. Outside of that, Gilbert is also a theatremaker and director in his own right. The Upcoming caught up with him to discuss the difference between this year’s festival from the ones before, classes and workshops he would attend if he were an audience member, and new artists to watch out for at 2023’s Talawa Firsts.
Can you give us a brief introduction to yourself, Talawa Theatre Company, and the work that you do, including the upcoming festival?
Greetings, I’m David Gilbert. I’m a theatremaker and director. At the heart of it, it’s always about collaboration for me. This has led me down an exciting path post-lockdown to work with Talawa Theatre Company as their new work producer. That basically means I help support our talent development – programs like the introductory writers’ group or script submissions – or work with writers in the research and development process of making theatre. It’s amazing to be working with Talawa, the UK’s outstanding Black theatre company running for over 35 years now! We stand on so many great shoulders. Talawa has been shining a spotlight on the most exciting and innovative Black British artists who have gone on to flourish as creatives throughout the entertainment industry.
This year, it’s my pleasure to be a part of opening our 11th edition of Talawa Firsts Festival, which has been curated by extraordinary new work associate Malakaï Sargeant, supported by Winnie Imara, with artistic director Michael Buffong guiding us through this ambitious two-week festival. Talawa Firsts 2023 features so much artistry, from new writing, cabaret, immersive experience to poetry, artist development, networking and club nights, all happening here at the Talawa Studio in Fairfield Halls, Croydon!
What makes this year different and bigger than any of the previous years of Talawa Firsts?
In a meeting with our new work associate, Malakai Sargeant, they said to me: “David, we can not only think about new stories but new ideas, and that can come from all types of places.” With that, we’re going across two whole weeks with events every single day, from 3rd to 15th July, excluding weekends. We’re exploring new art forms for the festival, like cabaret, a club night, to immersive experiences. We’re still celebrating new writers all the same, with some amazing writers who’re from the poetry/rap sector to the theatre. This year is about new ideas: no limits! The artists in our line-up are stretching and testing themselves as creators. They’re bringing that energy to Croydon in this year’s festival.
What is it like organising an event like this? How do you plan the themes for each week and which workshops to feature?
This has been quite a task to work out everyone’s journey through the festival. It’s opened us up to understand Croydon as a community, and connect with new audiences, different partners and diverse organisations. It’s also given us the chance to provide opportunities to many more people. I think this year we’re working with more than 50 artists across the festival.
Do you know anyone who has attended the festival before and gone on to do bigger things with what they’ve learned?
Most recently, Nicole Lecky first performed her play Super Hoe at Talawa Firsts. It went on to have remarkable success, and Nicole transformed the origins of Super Hoe into a TV series with the BBC, called Mood. Mood went on this year to win the award for Best Mini-Series at the BAFTA Television Awards. Talawa Firsts festival is about the artists trying something new and developing their voice and craft. It’s beautiful to see!
If you were attending this year’s festival as a fan, which theme or day would you personally be excited to attend?
I am into all things! We have networking and social events, as well as performances, so I’d be up for a couple… maybe do one of each. Movement director, choreographer and yoga practitioner Gerrard Martin is delivering their new initiative and offering creative wellbeing for Black men via dance on Friday 5th July, which sounds right up my street. I have a yoga practice, so I’d be up for this! Performance-wise, it has to be the double-bill performances on Thursday nights. We have an incredible line-up of actors, writers and directors on-board. These double bills are play reading nights – present plays right out of the print room and into actors’ hands. It is the first time the public can encounter these stories: a very special moment!
What do you hope attendees can take away from these two weeks of festivities?
The festival is packed with a variety of experiences, and I want people to get excited about the talent and breadth of art available at their fingertips and doorsteps. I want people to feel the community, feel inspired and moved by the art they witness at this festival. It’s an exclusive release of something that has not touched the mainstream, and you get to be a part of its beginning right here and now at the Talawa Studio.
Your role as new work producer is to find and nurture emerging artists and support theatremakers who work with Talawa. Are there any up-and-coming performers and creatives attending this year that you’re looking forward to seeing grow?
Too many! Nyumbani, Rhianna Ilube and Coney are extremely talented; Queer Bruk will be providing the fun and release that we all so desperately crave right now. The double bills will also be a great introduction to experiential theatre.
What else is planned for Talawa, besides the festival?
Beyond Talawa Firsts, we’ll be running TYPT – our group grassroots intensive introductory masterclass for those 18-25 year-olds looking to get a taste of the industry. Then, later in the year, we’re back to touring with Black Joy!
Talawa Firsts Festival is on at Talawa Studios in Park Lane, Croydon from 3rd July until 14th July, 2023. For further information or to book visit the festival’s website here.