Soho Theatre’s re-opening of the former Granada/EMD in Walthamstow takes a stride forward with the appointment of key posts: Jessica Draper in the newly created role of Head of Creative Engagement, and the new Co-Chairs of the board for the revitalised venue, Olivier Award-winning performer and Waltham Forest resident Alessandro Babalola and the Royal Court’s Executive Director Lucy Davies.
Speaking to the new venue’s vision for a ‘local theatre with a national profile’, due to open in late 2022, the new appointments combine the local knowledge from actor and writer and long-time resident Alessandro Babalola, the wide experience and cultural leadership of Lucy Davies, and the creative and participation expertise of Jessica Draper.
The new board for the former Granada/EMD also includes Waltham Forest Council’s Chief Executive Martin Esom, Soho Theatre Board Chair Dame Heather Rabbatts DBE (Chair of Vero Communications and TIME’S UP UK), Vice-Chair Beatrice Hollond (Chair of F&C Investment Trust and Chair of Millbank Financial Services Limited) and Trustees Nicholas Allott OBE (Non-Executive Vice Chairman of Cameron Mackintosh Ltd and former Soho Theatre Chair), David Aukin (one of UK’s most respected drama producers and former Soho Theatre Chair), Hani Farsi (Founder and CEO of the Corniche group), Fawn James (Director of Soho Estates, Founder of Boulevard Theatre) and Shappi Khorsandi (acclaimed Comedian and Writer), alongside Soho Theatre’s Executive Director Mark Godfrey (Co-Founder of Waltham Forest Cinema Trust as part of local campaign to save the former Granada/EMD) and Creative Director David Luff (Co-Producer of NETWORK, National Theatre / Broadway).
Alessandro Babalola and Lucy Davies said: “We are both delighted and privileged to be appointed together as Co-Chairs for this incredible venue. We share a passion for the arts, and for representation, equality and sustainability within a thriving creative sector. We are looking forward to working together alongside our Trustees, the visionary Soho Theatre and Waltham Forest Council teams, and especially the Waltham Forest community as we rebuild, reinvent and reinvigorate this venue together, ensuring this ‘local theatre with a national profile’ has an extraordinary future.”
Jessica Draper said: “I’m thrilled to join Soho Theatre’s trailblazing team. Soho Theatre has an unparalleled knack of producing invigorating stage performances born from its pioneering and rebellious spirit and ethos of nurturing and trusting artists. It’s a huge privilege to be taking on the new role of Head of Creative Engagement. I will continue to champion artists and makers from underrepresented backgrounds and even at this particularly difficult time, I know Waltham Forest is a place of creativity, resilience and collective power. The new venue will be a space to connect, collaborate and create. The most important issues of our time can only be fully explored by bringing new voices to the table. I am really looking forward to working with everyone to create something extraordinary.”
Alessandro Babalola is an actor, writer, musician and director on the rise. Born, raised and still residing in Waltham Forest, in his formative years with no working theatre in the area, Alessandro learned his craft outside of his beloved borough. He first attended Soho Theatre as a teenager in 2007 to see JOE GUY (directed by Femi Elufowoju Jr.), before performing on Soho Theatre’s stage twelve years later in the Olivier Award-winning FLESH & BONE. His performance led to roles in Netflix’s TOP BOY (Season 3) and CURSED. He has recently completed filming on ITV’s THE UNFORGOTTEN, Guy Ritchie’s upcoming WRATH OF MAN and the new Netflix film BLACKMAIL. Alessandro has written two plays: INVINCIBILLY (Wandsworth Fringe Festival, 2019) and THE PERFECT COMPANION (Pleasance Theatre, 2019).
Cultural and creative leader Lucy Davies is Executive Director at one of the UK’s flagship theatres, the internationally renowned Royal Court Theatre, also leading on its commercial and international touring transfer of its work. Prior, Lucy was the founding Executive Producer at the National Theatre Wales where she produced the first three year’s of the company’s work. Currently Chair of London Theatre Consortium, Chair of Trustees for Clod Ensemble, and on the Boards of Brighton Dome & Festival and the Society of London Theatre (SOLT), Lucy is also a Creative Climate Leader and Creative Green Champion 2020, leading on net zero practice across the theatre sector and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.
In an exciting time for Soho Theatre as the company broadens the work it creates and the audiences it connects with, theatre and arts producer Jessica Draper joins the team in its newest full-time position, Head of Creative Engagement. Within Soho Theatre’s wider vision and strategy of public engagement and advocacy across its Dean Street venue and acclaimed festival programme, fast growing digital wing, and UK and international touring, Jessica will lead on creating a pioneering creative engagement programme for Dean Street and the former Granada/EMD.
With over ten years’ experience in leading co-creative collaboration, community participation and artist development, across arts, education, homelessness and criminal justice settings, Jessica has developed projects with the Roundhouse, Young Vic Theatre, Royal Opera House, the V&A Museum and seven local authorities. She has led on expansive theatre and community programmes with charities and organisations including Crisis UK, Synergy Theatre Project and Waltham Forest’s London Borough of Culture.