We speak with artistic director Lauren Nicole Whitter about how she’s making a positive impact in Derby through theatre…
Mojatu: Where did the idea for Anansi Theatre come from?
Lauren: Growing up, I was the only person of colour for a very long time in my school. Going from being around Jamaican food, sounds and heritage at home to this world with a lot of trauma and racism was really quite bad. But I loved theatre, and when I went to university, it really blew my mind that there were playwrights talking about the same things I went through.
Fast forward to 2021, however, and there were still situations where I was the only one who looked like me in creative spaces. The pandemic had hit and George Floyd was murdered, but throughout that time, people and venues were saying really fantastic things about how they’re going to do better and be more diverse – and Anansi Theatre was born through that.
You recently hosted some free drama club sessions for young women and girls of colour. How did that go?
They’ve been really great. It’s about empowerment, safety and representation – being seen in the arts and perhaps gaining the skills or confidence to pursue a career in the arts. We’d love to do it again next term, from January to March, but we’ll have to see about funding as our drama clubs are free to attend so that money isn’t a barrier.
Anansi is an associate company of Derby Theatre, so we’re also going to take a trip to see The Wind in the Willows. This might be some of the participants’ first time going to the theatre, so we sorted out their tickets, and we’re hoping to do more of that in the future.
With the ongoing cost of living crisis and the winter months ahead of us, mental health is really topical at the moment. What role can theatre play in boosting people’s moods?
The body will always tell you how you feel. I did a research project when I was a lecturer looking at movement and yoga in comparison to speaking therapies like CBT, as we hold a lot of tension, pain and trauma in the body. If you’re uncomfortable, you tense up and your breath changes – but if my body’s relaxed, I feel like I can be relaxed and bring what I need to bring to the space.
I think the arts are fantastic for exploring different emotions, and there’s something to be said about alternatives to talking therapies – like drama, art and music therapy – as they can be something nonverbal or expressive. Quite a few people might not have the words to say how they feel, but they can write it, dance it or draw it.
What else have you got planned?
We’re applying for funding, so we can keep our participation work going and create performances where we can. I’d love to be in a position where we can do commissions and pay artists to put on nights and have discussions, and do some more work with mental health.
To anybody who is thinking about going into the arts – just go for it. There’s gonna be some tough times, I’m not gonna lie to you. But, honestly, get yourself a good support system and give it a go.
Find out more at anansitheatre.com