Arti Prashar (AP) I love chaos
Dominic Campbell (DC) Yeah, why? Why?
(AP) I do, because because I think it is it is the essence of creativity
(Both AP and DC laugh)
(AP) It is the big bang theory (laughs)
(DC) Okay. You’ve got to get a bit messy before something grows out of it.
(AP) Yes, absolutely.
(DC) and and how did you become aware of Spare Tyre? How did they first pop onto radar?
(AP) Now isn’t that a really interesting question. So umm, in the late seventies there are lots of lots of umm community arts groups popping up, especially in London and that was partly to do with the GLC and Ken Livingstone who was funding a lot of these groups. So I was busy working with a little known company called Tara Arts, an Asian theatre company, and uhh across the river there was another company called Spare Tyre. A feminist theatre company. And, I, we used to meet them at Chats Palace every now and then when we were all doing our thing.
(AP) And, and I vowed… not to have anything to do with Spare Tyre
(AP) At the age of… 17.
(DC) And what, why didn’t you want anything do with them?
(DC) What was it about those people?
(AP) So interestingly enough it it’s around the question of “what is feminism?”
(AP) And and Spare Tyre’s philosophies at that time were just not aligning with my… views about what feminism is and I guess that’s cultural, where it was coming from. Umm and so it just was not connecting with me at all so I do regularly laugh at myself that here I am now, how many years later, running the organisation.
(DC) … I was going to ask you what happened in the in between but presumably the the director role is advertised, some point a lot later?
(AP) Yes yes and this is this is my famous number around about 2000 there was a little ad that popped up in The Guardian, in those days that’s what happened you found your jobs in The Guardian, and err and it was advertising for an associate director and I looked at it and it said “Making Musical Theatre for London Communities.” Now, (laughs) I don’t do musical theatre but I thought, I started to read the bumf on it and I thought “ahhh you know, community arts is my thing, it’s my bag, that’s what I’ve always done.” And I just thought I’d put an application in and see you know. It was a way of meeting and talking to people.
(AP) So I went along and I was interviewed by umm, three people and uhh and they offered me the job.
(DC) So then you end up bringing your toolkit, the one that you built, into Spare Tyre.
(DC) and so what did you do first, what is the first things you did?
(AP) So when I interviewed for the job it was to work with the umm the group of adults with learning disabilities and that’s, I’ve always done that.
(AP) and I real-, and I suppose that was part of my, uhh, why I was attracted to the job as well, to be able to do that. So that’s what I went in to do, to direct a show with them. Umm and then it kind of just escalated from there I would say. So you know, went in to do that did a pro- a project with homeless people umm made the project uhh with umm adults with learning disabilities into a course.
(DC) Mmm, a teaching course?
(AP) A theatre course.
(AP) Skills. Building their skills which is always built around soft skills.
(DC) Yeah yeah
(AP) Umm but but it was a credited OCN course umm uhh which we developed umm you know… it wasn’t me on my own and we we
(AP) we were working with some uhh really really skilled artists. So people like Jo Paul, Julia Schauermann, Isaac Ngugi.
(AP) So you know, so that’s, that’s how that all started to develop. And I guess that’s where the practice started to develop as well because actually I was attached to an organisation. It became embedded, you know?
(DC) Yeah, yeah.
(AP) That “toolkit” was explored and exploited and uhh changed.
(DC) What happens if people stay around for a while and people come through the company and?
(AP) So what happens is that is that umm a language develops. Uhh you’re not having to constantly justify your ideas or explain your ideas or teach your ideas. Umm… it’s just a given. You start from a different place when you start the creation
(AP) of a project
(AP) or a product. Umm a lot of it is around collaboration
(AP) and co-production so umm you know we may have our designated titles but actually we all know that actually … there’s a lot of co-production that goes on with our participants and our artists. And I guess one of the difficult things is is that you know the artists are asked to do a lot of things you know when they’re working, they’re asked to be artists. They’re asked to be facilitators and they are asked for their egos to be left outside actually so that they can be open to whatever is happening in the room and respond to it and be reactive and improvise.
(DC) Mmm, and… is that difficult for them?
(Both AP and DC laugh)
(AP) I don’t think everyone can do it. I don’t think every artist can do it actually so I think I think that’s when you say who stays umm
(AP) it is there is a certain, there is a certain tribe that stays
(AP) there’s a certain tribe that-
(DC) Do they have anything in common? That tribe?
(AP) Yeah, I I think umm they are, they are good listeners. I think they have, umm, the work is all about the heart. Umm being responsive and gut reactions
(AP) Umm I think there is a, there is a different kind of humanity in it. In the work that is produced… within those artists as well.
(AP) Umm they’re not afraid of risk. Uhh in fact I would say that most of us thrive on it.
(AP) You know? Umm just because the discovery is just so… gorgeous.
(DC) So I’m interested in from from the day that you walked in until now, that that the, what are the things that you’ve started to pick up what do you notice, what’s what’s grown?
(AP) I think one of the things I did move away from was actually umm doing scripted work. So there’s there’s a lot of devising work that goes on that’s improvised
(AP) and that was partly because of the groups that we were working with and the individuals that we were working with. If you’re if you’re wanting an individual to kind of find their… their way of expressing themselves sometimes it’s not always through the written word
(AP) Or it’s not through the word. And so… therefore we had to find how they wanted to express themselves
(AP) So it could have happened through movement and dance. It could have happened through music. It could have happened through visual art. It could have happened through theatre in its wider sense and when you do that umm then then you are moving away from scripted work
(AP) So so they were it was left open to improvisation. You know, providing that structure and saying, “this is the structure, this is the frame but within that frame you can do what you want”
(AP) so you’re building up teams in a way to understand to respond and react to each other. You’ve been building up ensembles
(AP) you’re building up umm yeah that’s what it is
(DC) Yeah, body of knowledge
(AP) body of knowledge.
(DC) So one of the points that we’ve connected up before is is through the umm Connected Culture work and one of my take homes from that was to realise that actually the role that the arts organisation plays for participants is is equal to the role that it plays for commissioners, you sort of sit in the middle. So company lead, how do you navigate through that? How, how has it changed? Has it changed much?
(AP) At first perhaps I was afraid.
(DC) I was petrified?
(AP) I was petrified!
(Both AP and DC laugh)
(DC) Go on.
(AP) because the commissioners did frighten me!
(AP) because they would have an agenda.
(AP) and I was looking around and saying “actually all the work that we do has to be funded because actually the groups that we work with umm are actually quite poor” and it’s rare that we will ask them to pay for things. I guess one of the things that we had to do umm was to make our products a little bit more… better actually. And once we earned their respect that actually it wasn’t just you know fluff- what I call “pink and fluffy community work”
(AP) but actually there was quality behind it. Umm there was production values behind it. Umm people were more ready to speak to us I think
(AP) and so we were able to talk to them. So you know there, you felt an equality round the table
(AP) that you know they were willing to listen umm because they could see what we were doing was having some kind of an effect
(AP) it was having some kind of an impact on the people that we were working with.
(DC) And where does the work succeed most then?
(AP) you see it working and being successful in the moment.
(AP) You know? And and in a way that’s why you wake up in the morning
(DC) Yeah yeah yeah.
(AP) for that moment of when you see somebody just light up when you see someone just produce something amazing and you say “that’s, that was worth it” because they feel, they feel empowered. They feel valued they feel important.
(AP) Umm how they carry that through into the rest of their life I guess you don’t know but you just hope that they will take that experience with them and maybe you won’t know about it immediately but it may have a knock on effect two, five, ten years later in their lives. I think the other thing about Spare Tyre right now is that actually our door is always open and everyone who works with us, doesn’t matter what they do, know that that door is open.
(DC) Mmm, I’m interested in the difference between planning and retrospection. So how do you how do proceed. You talked about going from avoiding overheated spots?
(AP) I don’t stop being an artist and an artist is about being curious and asking “but what if?”
(AP) or “how did that happen?” or
(AP) “if we went and looked into that area what what would happen?” and so that’s, it’s it’s about what you as artists are excited about really.
(AP) and I guess that’s how it happens. That’s that’s the discovery that happens and you know being alert and being open to that all the time.
(DC) Do you think you ask questions differently now than when you started?
(AP) Yes because when I first started I wasn’t really asking questions because
(AP) because I was I was delivering other people’s work.
(DC) Yeah yeah yeah okay.
(AP) So I wasn’t I wasn’t able to ask the questions and and I think the joy of being where I am right now
(AP) and holding the position that I hold is that I am able to ask those questions.
(AP) Umm and I and I hope that actually everyone who works for us feels that they can ask the questions as well.
(DC) and Spare Tyre has hit it’s 40th, why archive now? Why get into this now?
(AP) We’ve all been so busy doing and making that actually we haven’t stopped to put our stories down.
(AP) and and if we don’t stop to do that there is no one else who is going to do it. There’s a realisation that actually we have a lot of young people who come through wanting to learn about the stories, the practices but actually they can do it by learning on the job as well
(AP) but actually it’s it’s time to put some of those stories down to say actually this didn’t just happen. There was an evolution that happened that brought us. That’s not to say that the practice needs to stay the same it absolutely can keep evolving but I think there there just… you know I umm as a person of colour I also feel very strongly about this. That actually “where is where is my story?”
(AP) You know, uhh and if if I don’t put it down who will?
(DC) Yeah, so I’m I’m really interested in how you navigate that territory and I think it’s partly because you open up the organisation so it isn’t like uhh it isn’t six people in a room all the time
(DC) It’s much more porous kind of
(DC) thing than that.
(AP) yeah and you know that that can cause conflict, that can cause uhh an extreme amount of chaos as well but actually it is also very dynamic.
(DC) So from this moment what we is in now
(DC) If you was to go uhh what do you think Spare Tyre’s… contribution is? What’s it’s what’s it’s value been so far?
(AP) I think it’s it’s value has been even across the 40 years of doing a fair amount of umm pioneering and risk taking actually.
(AP) So from from the moment of kind of like doing anti-homophobic work in schools
(AP) to having a gay youth theatre
(AP) to doing uhh feminist theatre
(AP) you know its origins
(AP) to now doing non verbal theatre
(AP) for people living with dementia. I think that’s if it has a legacy, if it has an impact in the industry it is really about kind of taking some of those risks.
(DC) and what would you hope it keeps doing then?
(AP) The same.
(DC) Stay risky!
(AP) Stay risky!
(Both AP and DC laugh)
Arti joined Spare Tyre in 2002 and became Artistic Director in 2006. Under her leadership we developed our inclusive practice and continued to champion the voices of those who are often underrepresented in mainstream arts.
Arti spoke to us about how she went from vowing never to work with Spare Tyre to becoming Artistic Director, and the importance of co-produced work.