Published: Wed 22 Feb 23

Q&A with our Artist in Residence Alessandro Babalola

An interview with our Soho Theatre Walthamstow Co-Chair and Artist-in-Residence

You were brought up and live in Leyton. Tell us a bit about your life in Waltham Forest.

I was born in Whipps Cross hospital and raised in Leyton. I went St Saviours primary school in Walthamstow followed Leytonstone secondary school. Growing up and being educated in the borough definitely gave me a positive outlook. When I think back to my childhood in the borough there is a glow, a hue that surrounds it. This is not to say there weren’t any hardships, but the positives were truly positive for me. They were fundamental in giving me this belief that through art you can make the world a better place. I’m aware that the person I am today was formed by the wealth of experiences I had in this multicultural borough, a borough with a lot of young people, part of the most creative explosion in London (due to the emergence of grime music) in recent history. That created an energy among the young people in the borough that I was able to tap into. I thrived off this energy, it fed me and I think this is why I want to feed it now through Soho Theatre Walthamstow.

What’s Walthamstow like, what do you like about it?

Walthamstow is highly vibrant and intimate despite its large footprint. It’s huge and yet it has this friendly and welcoming feeling. It’s a unique area on the border of inner and outer, east and north London. There’s a lot of green spaces and great light, the longest street market in Europe where you can literally find anything, surrounded by people from all over the world over a stretch of a mile. There’s also Walthamstow village, which is quaint and enchanting where you can see one of oldest houses in England. It’s got a big mall, a great high street, independent shops and multiple tube and train stations, easily accessible to rest of London. Yet despite all these metropolitan traits it maintains the intimacy of a village.

The sense of community here is seriously refreshing. If you look at what it took to save the building which houses Soho Theatre Walthamstow, that was people coming together for the good of the community. The reason why that’s possible is because the area gives you a sense of optimism.

Did you know that east London has more creatives per square mile than any other part of Europe? Creativity is part and parcel of east London. Walthamstow is full of creatives: actors, theatre-makers dancers, fine artists. There are lots of creative movements here from film societies to dance troupes to communities of theatre-makers, fashion designers and musicians. One of the first ever grime albums came from Waltham Forest. You’ve also got the William Morris Gallery and Vestry House Museum which is like a piece of art in and of itself.

You’re Co-Chair and Artist-in-Residence of the new Soho Theatre Walthamstow. What’s your day-to-day like?

Being Co-Chair means that I sit on the Board so I play a key role in making decisions that Soho Theatre Walthamstow will stand to benefit from. Being Artist-in-Residence means that I’m able to make decisions from the perspective of being an artist – I’m able to create work, find collaborators, develop relationships with key contributors, and be a point of access. I’m able to invest my artistic pedigree in the growth and brilliance of Soho Theatre Walthamstow. I can ensure that, along with a great team, Soho Theatre Walthamstow delivers on its promise of being a local theatre with a national profile.

A number of Soho Theatre employees have local links, like you. Why is that important, do you think?

Community is not just a word, it’s an experience. If you’re from the community you’re able to apply your experience and be fully invested in the notion of a local theatre with a national profile in a way that’s completely personal. It’s a personal investment for us.

Can you give us a sneak preview of Soho Theatre Walthamstow – what will it look like inside?

Aesthetically, it will look exquisite. It will be a beautiful time capsule which looks to the future whilst not forgetting its eclectic past. It will be a place where all who enter will hopefully feel exhilarated to be inside.

What can we expect to see and do there, during the daytime and into the evening?

There’ll be world class comedy and shows for every member of the family including an absolutely cracking pantomime. With several spaces in the building, there’ll be inclusive community theatre and lots of evening activities such as dancing, scratch nights, DJs and poetry. During the day there’ll be opportunities for the community to artistically participate as well as being a place to enjoy a drink, talk to people, have meetings, and soak in the atmosphere of being in an inviting space.

What do you think Soho Theatre Walthamstow will mean for local residents and what will be the effect on the local area?

It will re-announce Walthamstow. The area has been a destination for some time especially when you consider the history of Walthamstow Dog Stadium and E17’s place on the cockney map. Soho Theatre Walthamstow will re-establish the area as a destination of national status. It will create a legacy that will inspire people across the borough to engage with the arts. It will strengthen the togetherness of the community. After all, what is community without a place where everyone can bond together? Because Soho Theatre Walthamstow offers a live experience you could call it a human experience. Humans are pack animals after all, we need company and what better company than to spend time with members of the community, the country, Europe and the whole world. We’re opening up our borough to the world and opening our minds at the same time.