Spotlight on Freelancers is our interview series dedicated to highlighting the incredible range of jobs that exist in the arts. Theatre maker Alistair Wilkinson tells us about their work, journey into the arts and their LGBTQ+ icons. You can read more freelancer interviews here or listen to the Stratford East Podcast.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your work.
I’m Alistair Wilkinson. I’m a Pisces, but there’s also a bit of Aries and Libra in there too. I’m queer. I’m non-binary. I’m working class. I’m from Manchester and I’m really proud of that. I live in Shoreditch, East London. I’m a Writer, Director and Producer working across stage and screen. I gain so much joy from collaboration and seeing people thrive doing what they love. I have a BA from Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, and an MA from RADA/Birkbeck. Garlic bread would feature on my final meal. So would a shot of tequila. I am obsessed with Whitney Houston and The Bodyguard is my favourite ever film. I’m a recovering addict. I make a lot of work about this, and in it I also talk about sickness, grief, intimacy and infatuation through intoxication. I’m really interested in pushing the body in performance, connecting with natural impulse and experimenting with how the audience a piece of art. I’m currently writing some plays, TV and films for people, which feels really cool to say. I also work at The Old Vic, leading on their artist development programmes, I am an Associate Artist at National Youth Theatre and a proud Trustee of Boundless.
Can you tell us about WoLab?
WoLab is a working laboratory for artists to create. We’re an ACE-funded company that gives early-career performance makers the opportunity to try their ideas out. We do this in many ways: by running workshops, producing R&Ds, commissioning new work, connecting artists together, providing mentoring support, and also by staging fully realised productions. I run WoLab with our Associate Director, the phenomenal Kaleya Baxe. Our most recent project saw us team up with Paines Plough to launch ‘WoLab Presents… First Commissions’, where we gave three never-before-commissioned writers £1500 each, to spend some time writing a brand new play. AZARA, Alice Straker and Rachel Main were the three recipients and it’s been so great to work with them over the last few months.
All of WoLab’s projects are always centred on the artist’s personal development. We pride ourselves on nurturing exciting talent, and I’m really thrilled that our former company members have since gone on to become award-winning artists, have received further commissions and off the back off our several past projects, they have also obtained representation and exciting castings too. We have lots of plans for WoLab this year. including two brand new shows and a host of artist development opportunities, so keep an eye out.
What was your route into the arts/theatre making? Are these routes still available?
I went to this amazing place called Langley Theatre Workshop, where I only had to pay 50p for classes in drama, singing and dance. It was situated right in the middle of an estate, and brought together loads of amazing people, to just have fun basically. And we had loads. But we also put on some cool shows too. It really helped me as a kid gain confidence and feel better about myself. And I took that into school, but sadly school drama wasn’t that fun, so I didn’t take it for GCSE, and therefore I lost touch with it and my confidence also went down.
But then when I was 16 I took part in NCS The Challenge, and along with doing loads of mountain walking and kayaking, we also did some drama in a care home. It was great because we got to meet these fantastic elderly people who had such a lease for life, but also the best stories of when they were our age. We sat for days and listened to them, before going away and devising some scenes, to then go and perform back to them. I think we also sung Rihanna’s ‘Take A Bow’ to them too – not sure why. The performance quality wasn’t that great, but it didn’t matter because they absolutely loved it. And so did I! It was my first taste of applied theatre – something I’d go on to do lots of – and after taking Theatre Studies for A-Level, I ended up applying and getting into drama school. After that, I worked really hard, seized every opportunity and made a career of it.
What skills do you think a theatre maker needs?
They need to be confident. Brave. Potentially fearless.
They need to have audacity.
They need to know when to use their voice, but when to make space for others to use theirs.
They need be aware of their privilege.
They need to be creatively entitled – by themselves and also the industry.
They need a support network. They need to be cheerleaders to other makers.
They need to be intelligent. They need a POV.
They should have a brain. They should have a heart.
They need to be curious.
They need to be organised but a little chaotic too.
They need clarity in their intention.
They need to be a collaborator.
They need to not always think, but actually do.
They need authenticity.
What are some of the biggest myths around theatre making?
That only a certain type of person is able to make art. That you need to have gone to a certain school to be an artist. That there are rules to existing in this industry. There isn’t. You do you.
Who or what inspires you?
I am inspired by imagery. I have an ever-growing folder of photos or screenshots I’ve taken of things that I think are cool. I’m not necessarily thinking about specific projects in these moments, but I know that something has got me creatively excited and therefore I store it for the future. It’s the same with songs. I have a secret playlist called ‘Issa Vibe’ for every song I hear that moves me in some way. It may be that I want to get up and dance, vibe or it hits me emotionally. I find that cool too. I’m inspired by the art I see. I’m inspired by the people I meet and have interactions with. I’m inspired by the crazy situations I get myself into. The people I love inspire me more than anyone else. I am inspired by ambition. My friends also inspire me a lot. I love being surrounded by people who make me up my game. I find enthusiasm contagious and love seeing people smash it. How cool is it to watch people succeed? I’m inspired by people who live their authentic lives. It makes me feel brave too.
It’s also LGBTQ+ History Month – what does this mean for you?
On one hand, it’s a chance to remember the beautiful people that have paved the way for me to live my truth. It’s an opportunity to bring the phenomenal existence of certain queer people to the forefront of the narrative. It’s an opportunity for people to learn about the diversity of queer existence. It’s a chance to teach people who aren’t allowed to learn in school. But also, sadly for me, LGBTQ+ month feels like a performative action organisations and brands do to seem more inclusive and open than they actually are.
Who are some of your LGBTQ+ icons?
Dominique Jackson. Olly Alexander. Rikki Beadle-Blair. Effie.
Which Queer emerging artists should we check out?
Liv Ello, Saffia Kavaz, Tricia Wey, Am Stubberfield, AZARA, Louis Rembges, Phillippe Cato, Simon Fraser, Jack Albert Cook, Emily Aboud, Matt Gurr, Beth Sitek, Sam Bruce, Koko Brown.
What’s one piece of advice you would give to emerging Queer artists?
Don’t make yourself small so that somebody else can be comfortable.
TV Show: Pose
Film: Victoria or The Wizard of Oz
Play: Beautiful Thing by Jonathan Harvey
Album: Rainbow Boy by Keiynan Lonsdale
Book: Something for the Weekend: Life in the Chemsex Underworld by James Wharton
You can find out more about WoLab here. Follow Alistair on Twitter and Instagram.