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Lauren Yvonne "Never let anyone tell you to stay in your lane"

The effects of the Covid-19 pandemic have significantly impacted the Northern arts and cultural industry, with some organisations closing their doors. Annalisa Toccara spoke to Lauren Yvonne about the challenges of being a theatre producer during this time and the advice she would give to emerging black theatre practitioners. 

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No Ordinary Time, an online exhibition produced by Lauren Yvonne, "captures life for the African-Caribbean community in Kirklees" after the 2020 national lockdown.

Vinny Tyrell

Born in Doncaster, Lauren Yvonne is a creative producer working in theatre, film and events. In the past she has worked with Sheffield Theatres, CAST and Right Up Our Street in Doncaster, and now the Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield.

Having worked in the arts from a young age, Lauren trained in classical dance, drama and competitive choral singing. She is a proud Northern lass with a degree in Arts & Events Management from Arts University Bournemouth.

Lauren is passionate about increasing inclusion and diversity in the Northern arts scene, an element that is central to her work as a producer.

I spoke to Lauren to find out more about what it is like working as a black theatre producer in the North during Covid-19 and about her most recent piece, No Ordinary Time, an online exhibition for Black History Month highlighting the experiences of the African-Caribbean community after the easing of the 2020 lockdown.

Lauren Townsend Headshot 1

Lauren Yvonne.

Why did you choose to work in the Northern theatre industry?

There felt a push for me to move south, that going 'down south' was the only way to have a viable creative career, in not just theatre but in the arts as a sector.

I believe the North has a lot to offer in terms of stories, people and resources. We are seeing more and more creative companies clock onto that and either stay, relocate or create new ventures in the North. It's an exciting place to be.

I want to prove that you can have a varied and fruitful career in the arts and entertainment industry living and working in the North. In doing so, I believe it is essential to tell stories and give a platform to voices representing the places I work in - strong, black, Yorkshire voices - and as a producer, I am one of the team members who can now change the make-up of the rooms I go into.

As I grow in my career and am offered more responsibility, I am driven to use this responsibility to ensure change is happening within organisations to combat bias, risk-aversion, discrimination and generally try to remove those obstacles that keep people from engaging with theatre.

I want to show that the black experience isn't monolithic; it is rich and varied, and there is space on our stages to share a myriad of experiences side by side.

What are you currently working on?

I have most recently curated and launched an online exhibition entitled No Ordinary Time, documenting the impact of Covid-19, the Black Lives Matter movement and the response to systemic racism in Kirklees' community, West Yorkshire.

The exhibition featured images by local Huddersfield-based black female photographer Vinny Tyrell and [it was] commissioned by Lawrence Batley Theatre, where I am the resident producer, to mark Black History Month.

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Vinny Tyrell

No Ordinary Time was Vinny's first professional commission, from which she has since gained subsequent bookings, allowing her to kickstart a career path in the creative sector in the North. She too thought working in the arts was unfeasible, especially in the North, so I'm thankful to have had the opportunity to work with her and introduce her to creative networks, locally and regionally.

What has been the most challenging thing for you as a theatre producer during Covid-19?

The uncertainty has been most challenging.

I have been quite busy during Covid and incredibly lucky to still have a secure role and to have the opportunity to be still creating digital work, such as a three-month programme of free industry masterclasses, an online exhibition and a new animated theatre film. Accepting this uncertainty and the chance that at any moment, the work you're doing may come to a grinding halt has at times been incredibly overwhelming.

Being able to discuss this with colleagues, peers at other venues, and following the many conversations on social media, and seeing that artists and practitioners I admire have also felt lost has been a comfort. There's always much more that can be done, but the rallying cry at the beginning of lockdown to push through and rebuild a better, more inclusive and representative industry when we come out of this is truly inspiring.

As a producer, you are always thinking five steps ahead, trying to be on top of all eventualities to ensure things run smoothly, but no one could have predicted this. It is easy to get incredibly down and question yourself and your ability when you're unable to 'fix things' as a producer. I think I have struggled the most with giving myself a break and realising that sometimes it's out of your hands.

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Vinny Tyrell

In light of Black Lives Matter, how much do race and identity impact your work?

Massively. In my career so far, I have often been the sole black female in an office or rehearsal space, and this is still something I am acutely aware of.

I have found that I have often questioned my place in certain rooms or my right to be there. Have I earned my position here or am I here to be a poster child of diversity in the team? Am I being approached for work or collaborations because people care about what I have to contribute or because it looks good for the industry to be engaging black artists?

Specifically, in light of Black Lives Matter, it has been eye-opening to see how far there is to go in our industry to make a real and impactful change for greater inclusivity and openness, especially in our venues and long-standing organisations.

There are years of practice, procedure, tradition and working culture to unpack and disassemble. It is not an overnight job that is solved by posting black squares or messages of solidarity. It is something that needs to be faced with honesty and transparency and followed with internal action that challenges these existing traditions and structures.

What advice would you give to emerging black Northern theatre producers?

My advice would be never to let anyone tell you to stay in your lane. Go out and explore many different art forms, mediums, genres and styles and get your fill, always making sure you are invested in the project's heart.

As the producer, you are the driving force working to progress a project to completion, and very often you will be working to gruelling deadlines, restricted budgets and unsociable hours. It is essential you work on things that you 100% believe in.

Learn more

No Ordinary Time is produced by Lawrence Batley Theatre with images by Huddersfield-based photographer Vinny Tyrel and can be viewed online until mid November.

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