Inconspicuously sitting in the husk of an old pub on Hampstead Road is Camden People’s Theatre (CPT). For over two decades, the venue has been a little hub of creativity and community-focused activity, showcasing some of the most innovative theatre that this country has to offer. We met executive director Amber Massie-Blomfield to find out more in her own words:
• I first encountered Camden People’s Theatre when I was a student. It played host to a production of the first play I wrote. My colleague Brian Logan, who’s artistic director, also performed his first London show here. It is nice how circular this has been – and part of the reason why we are so accommodating to emerging artists. We can both completely relate.
• Our primary focus is on work that addresses current cultural and political issues. At the moment, our programme is about sex and the need to discuss it in a positive and healthy manner. We held an open call for contributions so have an eclectic line-up of emerging and established artists addressing sex positivity. Every year, we host a feminist festival and this autumn, we will be focusing on gender positivity though a collection of performances that focus on non-binary identities. We’re also investing in and collaborating with artists from different backgrounds to increase diversity and reflect the local community.
• We want to encourage innovative artistic practice and experimental leftfield work. One of our most notable collaborators is Jamie Wood. In one of his shows O NO!, Jamie and a member of the audience ended up buck naked, sitting in a bag together. This was extraordinary: all credit goes to Jamie for this one, there was nothing pressured or forced about the situation (he is so gentle and kind); and it makes for brilliant theatre. We encourage brand new artists who are going to bring something fun, off the wall, provocative, poignant, mad or different to the stage. We encourage the extraordinary. This is what fringe theatres are all about.
• CPT is a unique performance space in the heart of London. I was a regular visitor before working here; it’s always been this small, authentic, quirky place that’s a bit rough around the edges. It is this shabby chic that makes this place so endearing and welcoming. We wouldn’t want to be based in a swanky, new, chrome-cast theatre complex: small intimate venues like this are sacred in a city like London and essential for the creation of inventive, radical and alternative theatre. A loyal audience keep coming back, and we’re fully booked on most nights.
• We like to draw on issues that are relevant and pressing to the Camden community. Whose London Is It Anyway? ran last year, a month-long festival that gave a chance to explore and discuss London’s “regeneration”, the housing crisis and the privatisation of public space. Similarly, we put on a show exploring the development of Crossrail and the potential implications it will have on the residents of Euston. This is about including locals in the debate about their area. For one of our upcoming in-house productions, we’re working with researchers from King’s College and young people from Euston and Camden to explore the effects of pollution on London’s youth. We aim to create a forum of exploration and discussion for the issues directly affecting the community.
• We work with Camden Youth Theatre, which we run with Fitzrovia Community Centre and the New Diorama Theatre. It teaches kids the ins and outs of theatre performance, the classes open to enthusiastic 13-19 years olds and are completely free.
• I recently brought tickets for Matilda at the West End. I was taking my mum for her birthday. One ticket cost me £75 – now I know why people think the theatre is so expensive and inaccessible. If it’s any consolation, tickets to most CPT performances are only £12. We also tend to put on two shows a night and offer both tickets for £18. This encourages people to step out of their usual comfort zone and try something new – it also gives the whole place a Fringe Festival feel.