Hair scraped back, and conservatively dressed, Spirling looks like a woman who means business. Her responses are articulated with intensity, her expressive hands adding emphasis. She is the new Artistic Director at Theatre503, and as of today (16.9.16) she has been in office for just four weeks.
“What thrills me, what excites me about 503, what I really feel passionately about is the talent and hunger to enable great new plays. There is the writing side, directing side, producing side and people are able to come here and do their best work.”
Spirling, who has dynamic quick movements and a mind to match, plans on “doing more and doing it even better.” Before coming to this role, she was an established freelance director and artistic coordinator of the JMK Trust Regional Directors programme. With that professional experience behind her, she believes her role is about “artistic excellence, creation of artistic opportunities and developing talent”.
One of her major concerns is funding:
“What is the impact on new writing and the theatre ecology as a whole when you have cuts, both within the industry and to life in general? With an appreciation that audiences and artists begin their relationship with the theatre through schools, youth clubs, drama groups and theatre’s opening their doors. Now cuts are making that relationship harder to begin, to build on and to sustain.”
In Spirling’s first season as Artistic Director the theatre will have an ambitious line up of co-productions with regional venues, in-house shows and 503 shows on tour. Embedded within this is the curated body of work that showcases other companies, as Spirling explains - “It’s important to remember you’re only as good as your last show and people trust 503 because of the high standard of work we present. A major aspect of my tenure is to examine how you reach out and build new relationships to explore who isn’t yet creating work with 503 and could be? Last year I met an incredible American writer, Alice Tuan, of South East Asian heritage, she told me ‘the reason I work in theatre is that I want to write myself into the narrative – currently I don’t exist’.”
For Spirling it’s looking for those writers with whom to collaborate and challenge the perceived ‘norm’.
She is almost evangelical in her enthusiasm and it’s easy to get carried along with her. She is looking for the talent of the future. She cheerfully tells me that she was out every night this week seeing plays. She says - “I love supporting other artists with a desire to share the best theatre with as many people as possible. The plays that I personally like are visceral, entertaining - make ‘em laugh, make ‘em cry, make ‘em think.”
Spirling’s favourite play is ‘Further Than the Furthest Thing’ by Zinnie Harris. The production which has been an inspiration is ‘Generations’ by Debbie Tucker Green.
For Spirling the bench mark is “a story you have never heard before. Or if it’s a story you’ve heard a thousand times, is it being told in a theatrical way you’ve never seen before?”
Theatre503 has a long history of plays transferring to the West End or continuing their lives through national touring. Bea Roberts and Paul Murphy jointly won the inaugural Theatre503 playwriting award for their plays AND THEN COME THE NIGHTJARS and VALHALLA. AND THEN CAME THE NIGHTJARS is currently touring and has been seen by over 3600 people – not bad for a studio theatre with only 63 seats. They are about to announce this year’s winner of the 503 Playwriting Award, narrowed down from 1600 submissions from 36 countries. 503 is proud to have a long standing and extensive writers’ programme. Spirling says - “Writing can be lonely and finding a theatrical home is vital; 503 is that home. The aim of Theatre503 is to be the best first chance you can have in the industry.”
Spirling herself has a long history with 503 having lived nearby and volunteered there for four years whilst starting to direct shows and temping at various offices to pay the rent. “That’s the thing about 503, it can be an open door to the industry – you can meet the collaborators with whom you’ll then go on to create your own work. An example of this is 503’s autumn show Acedian Pirates."
She explains that the writer Jay Taylor submitted the play as part of 503’s year-round open submissions policy; he participated in several Rapid Write Response nights at 503 – the program where playwrights are invited to write a ten-minute play in response to the main-house show, and the best works are staged over a couple of nights in the theatre – Through this he met director Bobby Brook and producer Tara Finney; the three are now bringing this play to life at 503 in October.
Theatre503 has a strong relationship with the community. 503 has an assortment of programmes, masterclasses and workshops which are open to all and specifically try to engage Wandsworth residents. Spirling says - "Lots of people who walk into the pub below the theatre didn’t know 503 existed – now they are proud that this is their local theatre."
Theatre503 receives no regular public funding and is reliant on the work of volunteers and the generous support of various trusts, foundations and patrons. They have to raise around one third of their core income and all their in-house production and projects on top of that.
Spirling says 503 is undertaking a period of strategic development, in part through the Arts Council England Catalyst: Evolve project, which will allow then to increase their regular core funding.
Clearly on a mission, she explains it thus -
“There is much to be done and it’s a true pleasure to be doing it”.
Lisa Spirling was interviewed by Heather Jeffery, Editor of London Pub Theatres
THEATRE 503 (@theatre503)
at The Latchmere
503 Battersea Park Road, London SW11 3BW
020 7978 7040
IN A NUTSHELL
All our reviewers are hanging on an invitation to see productions here. Making waves as one of London’s premiere new writing theatres, dramatising some of the most urgent themes and concerns of our times. 503 is an Olivier Award-winning producing house that creates work and establishes and supports creative relationships within the industry for writers, directors and producers.
Theatre503 is above the Latchmere Pub on the corner of Latchmere Road and Battersea Park Road – just 15 minutes walk from Clapham Junction or two minutes by bus.
Tube: Sloane Square then bus 319, South Kensington then bus 49 or 345, Vauxhall then bus 344
Rail: Clapham Junction (5 mins from Victoria or 7 mins from Waterloo) take Grant Road exit, then bus 49, 319, 344 or 345
Bus: 44, 49, 319, 344, 345 all stop outside the Latchmere
Car: Free local parking on weekends and after 6pm Mon-Fri
A new writing theatre with a focus on early career playwrights. Many plays transfer to larger venues, receive national tours or introduce playwrights who go on to become the biggest names in theatre. Expect thought provoking plays to make you reflect on your place in the world, with others doing the same.
THE PUB – The Latchmere
This capacious pub has a warm cosy atmosphere and a fabulous gastro menu. A gorgeous (heated!) garden, a separate children’s play area, and several indoor sofas, it’s perfect for a long lazy lunch or a speedy supper. This spectacular public house in one of Battersea’s most beautiful buildings.
Every four-week run has at least two Pay What You Can Performances.
SW11 residents offer for all four-week runs (with formal proof of your address):
£2 tickets the first time you visit
2 tickets for the price of 1 for every subsequent visit
Writers can get involved in the theatre through Rapid Write Response – where anyone can write a short play responding to the main-house production. Writers Night is the first Wednesday of the run and the plays are staged over the final weekend of the run. Sign up to the writers mailing list to get discounted tickets, meet the literary team, and submit short plays for Rapid Write Response.
Five-O-Fresh is an innovative project for local young people aged 16-25 between education, training or employment. Participants spend several months working with the theatre - receiving training in writing, acting, directing, producing, marketing –then creating a series of plays which are performed at Theatre503 and tour the local community.
DID YOU KNOW …
Theatre503 started out life as The Hope theatre, then The Latchmere theatre.
Theatre503 is the smallest venue in the world to win an Olivier Award (for Best New Play).
Theatre503 runs an 18-month residency for five talented playwrights – the 503Five - during which the chosen playwrights are offered mentorship, advice and support. At the end of the program each playwright receives a commission for a new play and the best piece is staged at the theatre itself.
Their training programmes also include their highly successful Resident Assistant Producer scheme, which has an excellent future employment rate, including future producing, casting and programming roles in the industry. Their aim in the long term is to work towards being able to pay everyone who is a part of the building, and in the interim to ensure they are providing opportunities for future employment in the industry for volunteers and trainees.
Writers whose artistic journeys began at 503 include Duncan Macmillan (People Places and Things), Vinay Patel (Murdered by my Father for the BBC), Dennis Kelly (Matilda the Musical), Katori Hall (The Mountaintop), Beth Steele (Wonderland), Tom Morton Smith (Oppenheimer), Anna Jordan (YEN) and many more.