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Interview: Brixton House's Owen Calvert-Lyons on the future of fringe theatre post lockdown

Head of theatre and artist development at Brixton House (formally Ovalhouse*) Owen Calvert-Lyons talks about life during the lockdown, the post-Covid future for fringe theatre and exciting streaming plans.

Owen Calvert-Lyons  Head of Theatre and Artist Development at Ovalhouse (credit Ludovic Des Cognets) 1
Owen Calvert-Lyons Head of Theatre and Artist Development at Ovalhouse/Brixton House. Photo: Ludovic Des Cognets.

How are you doing during lockdown?

Lockdown has been a very strange experience so far. Of course, it has lots of negatives, but I’ve been surprised by the number of positives too.

Working in theatre can be all-consuming and this has given me an opportunity to redress the work/life balance and spend more time doing things I love other than theatre.

What does the future look like for fringe theatres post-lockdown?

While things look pretty bleak right now, I think it’s important to remain positive. Theatre is not just about entertainment, it plays a really vital role in many people’s lives, so it will certainly survive this crisis.

I think the most important thing is not to feel that we have to return to the status quo.

There are many things which need to change about our industry and this hiatus should give us an opportunity to imagine what theatre could look like in the future.

One of the most pressing needs is to solve the inequalities in arts funding which leave so many freelance artists struggling to earn a living.

If we can use this moment to fix that, then theatre post-lockdown could be better than ever before.

GREY  Ovalhouse (courtesy of Mariana Feijó) Koko Brown (10)
GREY Ovalhouse Koko Brown. Photo by Mariana Feijó.

Productions filmed at Ovalhouse will be available to watch for free in June, what does it mean to you to bring these productions to audiences once again?

These are really important plays - Random Selfies, WHITE, and GREY - and we are delighted that they can get a second run.

There has been some great online content made available so far but in the main part, this has been the preserve of our major institutions. Whilst those plays are important, they only represent a narrow section of the huge number of people who go to the theatre up and down the country each week.

It’s just as important that we hear the voices of independent artists and theatre makers from outside the mainstream during this time. So, we are delighted to open up our archive to bring back some great plays from the past three years.

Have you been watching theatre online - what would you recommend?

My favourite online theatre experience during lock-down has been It’s True, It’s True, It’s True by Breach Theatre.

I missed it when it was on in Edinburgh last year, so I was really pleased that they streamed it online. It’s a really powerful play, simply told through brilliant performances from its all-female cast.

I’m currently enjoying the range of digital theatre games made available by Coney through their new Pop Up Playhouse - that is well worth an explore.

For more details of the productions from Ovalhouse's archive which are being streamed visit the Brixton House website.

* Ovalhouse will be reborn early next year as Brixton House in a new purpose-built theatre in Brixton.

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