Outside Edge Theatre Company celebrates 25th anniversary creating cutting edge theatre and supporting those affected by addiction

Outside Edge Theatre Company (OETC) are celebrating their 25th anniversary in 2024. This significant milestone for the grass-roots arts organisation marks 25 years of developing cutting edge theatre productions and supporting people affected by addiction through the performing arts, since being founded in 1999 by Phil Fox, an actor and recovering addict. OETC produces theatre about issues related to addiction, from substance misuse to problem gambling, providing free drama workshops to help support those in recovery and people affected by addiction.

Over the last two and a half decades, OETC has created over 60 award-winning productions at prestigious London venues including Soho Theatre, Riverside Studios, the VAULT Festival, Hoxton Hall and Shoreditch Town Hall, and provided free drama and arts workshops and activities for thousands of participants. The company believes that creative engagement and exploring complex issues through drama can bring about positive change for those affected by addiction.

With drug addiction and substance misuse in the news more than ever, with the lingering effects of the pandemic and cost of living crisis causing a 204% increase in the need for OETC recovery services, and the increase in dangerous, manufactured illegal substances, Outside Edge Theatre Company’s work is vital to supporting those in recovery. Between 2018 and 2023, OETC held over 1,800 free arts and drama workshops for more than 2,000 participants. Consistently, attendees reported that the company’s workshops strengthened their recovery process, with up to 97% (annual report 2019-20) agreeing. To generate new scripts about issues related to addiction, in 2020 they ran the inaugural Phil Fox Award for Playwriting, which was judged by Enda Walsh, Indhu Rubasingham, Simon Stephens and Barbara Broccoli. Alongside workshops and creating shows, OETC provides a holistic type of arts-based support, offering participants one-to-one Pastoral Care Support, Volunteer and Employment Activities, theatre trips and training and paid performance opportunities.

One Londoner who has benefited from OETC’s recovery support services is Shiv, who was visited by the company while detoxing in Chelsea and Westminster Hospital. With little interest in theatre or becoming an actor, Shiv was surprised to find himself curious and decided to go along to an OETC drama workshop. Shiv recalls of that first session, It was really outside my comfort zone. But those two hours were like an escape… You’re being creative, you’re having fun and you’re learning new things. A decade on, Shiv is a facilitator at Outside Edge, and is an NHS Recovery Day Programme Manager for addiction services. He has also performed with the Royal Shakespeare Company and was recently in the Old Vic’s A Christmas Carol in the community ensemble.

Shiv says, Encountering Outside Edge early in my recovery helped me discover and develop a passion for performance and theatre. It helped me build a level of confidence that has transcended the stage and now propels me to provide recovery support and creative health interventions for others. The impact of OETC on my life is a testament to the transformative power of drama and the enduring ripple effect of artistic empowerment.

Deputy Mayor for Culture and the Creative Industries, Justine Simons OBE, comments, Outside Edge has done an incredible job producing performance art for and with people affected by addiction for 25 years. This dedicated and innovative practice through theatre shows the power of the arts to support people and transform lives. I look forward to it helping many more people in the next 25 years and hope it can inspire more programmes like this as we build a better London for everyone.

Outside Edge operates without core funding from Arts Council England, and relies on donations and public health grants – many of which have dried up in the wake of government cuts and the pandemic. Despite these challenges, OETC is determined to continue its crucial and lifechanging work, creating cutting edge theatre and supporting those in recovery with its free, weekly Creative Health activities, while celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2024.

OETC Artistic Director and CEO Matt Steinberg comments, Outside Edge is an extraordinary company that places a unique community at the heart of our work. We are a dynamic Civic Arts organisation, which co-creates with London’s Recovery Community, shines a spotlight on underrepresented voices and whose Creative Health work quite literally saves lives. The stories we share on stage and the creative activities we deliver have provided hope and recovery to so many during the darkest times in their lives.

It is an immense privilege to lead OETC into its 25th year, and I’m forever grateful to the company’s current and former staff, artists, participants, audiences, Trustees and supporters for joining us on this incredible journey. Without core funding, even after a quarter century, year-on-year we still fight to survive.

As OETC continues to grow our Creative Health activities and nurture more theatre artists to develop cutting-edge productions about issues related to addiction for a greater number of audiences, I’m excited to see what the next 25 years have in store for this unique company.