Published: Thu 23 Feb 23

Q&A with our Head of Creative Engagement Jessica Draper

Jess is a producer and programmer with over 10 years’ experience making and presenting new work through creative collaboration, participation, community engagement and artist development.

You’re Soho Theatre’s Head of Creative Engagement. What’s your day-to-day like?

Lots of walking, visiting spaces, meeting people and many, many Zoom calls! I’m part of a brilliant Creative Engagement team that includes Jules Haworth and Shazad Khalid, along with a fantastically talented team of theatre professionals, writers, and comedians who lead the delivery of our Labs and projects.

Our role is to listen. Listen and construct programmes of work and activity that will support artists at every stage of their creative journey, be it a 10 year-old writing their first play, or a seasoned comedian taking a show to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. We run a number of programmes, working with people of all ages and backgrounds, to make the most of their talent, whilst creating a pipeline to our programme and stages that ensures Soho Theatre continues to platform new voices and exciting work.

What do you like about Waltham Forest and do you have roots in the area yourself?

Waltham Forest is brimming with a multitude of people and organisations that lead the way with care, generosity and drive. From samosas and chai at the Apne Film Club, to the attitude-free disco (& cheap beer) at the Trades Hall, volunteers saving 500K litres of paint going to landfill at Forest Recycling (if you’re about to redecorate, go here for cheap paint!), and talent pitches at Project Zero, right across the borough there are collectives of committed, talented people who are coming together and creating something special. There is a palpable sense of endeavour and a long and continuing history of political engagement that aligns perfectly with Soho Theatre. I’ve been working in the borough for five years now.

Prior to Soho Theatre, my Waltham Forest producing highlights include EastSide Story, a theatre piece co-created by young people of the borough and chronicled by BBC’s Imagine and The Mayor of London’s Liberty festival of art and performance by Deaf and disabled artists, programmed across Waltham Forest in venues including Walthamstow Trades Hall, Collab and Leyton Sixth Form.

Soho Theatre has been working in the borough for a number of years. Can you say something about the impact you’ve had in Waltham Forest?

From theatre and comedy workshops to epic year-long outdoor projects, to pop up comedy stages, our work and projects are always rooted in its community, in a creative and friendly environment. We run a number of programmes, and collaborate with local organisations where we can, for example we recently ran a comedy skills summer school with Project Zero, led by Soho Theatre’s comedy associate Lee Griffiths and Creative Assistant (and WF resident) Kamahl. Other brilliant Soho Theatre artists and associates delivering this work include Katie Greenall (Fatty Fat Fat), Farah Najib (Tony Craze winner), and Ben Salmon (Blowhole).

Impact – ah, the fuzzy glow of pride! It ranges from watching children write their first plays on our Primary Playwrights programme, to seeing emerging artists forging friendships and creative partnerships (four participants from our Waltham Forest Cabaret & Drag Lab formed the Drag King troupe GAGGLE), to opening up opportunities and making space for the next generation of culture makers.

We recently ran a Trainee Comedy Promoter scheme providing a six-month, work-based learning programme – the first of its kind to teach the entry-level knowledge and skills in producing and promoting comedy – it’s so exciting seeing what the graduates go on to do – Johnny, a Waltham Forest resident has started his own comedy night, Monique headed to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival as part of the panel judging the 2022 Comedy Awards, and Bethany, CJ and Orla continue to work with Soho Theatre. They are at the beginning of their beautiful careers and it was lovely to work with and learn from these talented folk during the six months at Soho Theatre. I can’t wait to see what they do next.

How will the local community be able to get involved with the new theatre?

We will sit together in a raucous auditorium; shout SHE’S BEHIND YOU! in our panto; learn new skills and make new friends on our Labs programme and community shows; there will be studio spaces for community groups and local creators to use for developing their work; there will be workshops, talks and heritage tours, not to mention fantastic food and drink on offer. Families and young people will be welcome. People may want to use the foyer area during the day to meet for a coffee, chat with friends or get some work done. And in the evening meet for a cocktail before taking their seats to see the best comedy in town.

Our brand new venue

See where we're up to refurbishing the old Walthamstow Granada into a state-of-the-art 21st century comedy venue in the heart of the Waltham Forest community - Soho Theatre Walthamstow.

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