In August 2020, Camden People’s Theatre announced its biggest ever round of commissions: now, it’s proud to announce the four artists selected for their Outside the Box commission. Bespoke to the Covid era, Outside the Box commissions are to develop larger-scale projects which are either live, virtual or both, and which explore what ‘live performance’ can be at a time of closed theatres.

CPT also welcomed projects that communicate meaningfully – and promise exciting cultural encounters – with their local communities, themselves isolated in many cases by the Covid-19 pandemic. These commissions will support R&D towards a digital or live sharing in autumn 2020 or spring 2021. The judging panel comprised members of CPT’s local community and artists from marginalised backgrounds alongside members of the CPT team.

The four artists and companies are:

Pigfoot, a multi-award winning, carbon-neutral theatre company dedicated to making collaborative theatre with and for those grappling with ecological crisis, led by Bea Udale-Smith and Hetty Hodgson. Pigfoot will be developing ‘HOT IN HERE: a carbon-neutral dance party’ (working title) to explore Camden’s role in the global climate and ecological crisis. In 2018, a shocking 6.8% of adult deaths in Camden were attributable to air pollution. This new show is a co-creation led by interviews between young climate activists in Camden and those at the ‘frontline of the crisis’ across the globe. Pigfoot will create a ‘carbon-neutral dance party’, a hopeful and multidisciplinary piece of ‘protest theatre’ powered by the energy generated by the performers' collective bodies.

John Akinde (also known as OSOM), who creates work that seeks to entertain, challenge and provoke thought. John was born and raised in East London, and carries with him a West African (Nigeria) heritage. MANDEM is both a campaign and a research and development project towards a web drama highlighting the current realities of prisoner experiences under Covid-19. John will curate a six-week campaign of podcast discussions and provocations with ex-prisoners and young men who have difficulties with the law. The MANDEM project will centre around mental health, identity and justice – culminating in a web drama, Belly of the Beast, to be showcased online.

Adam Welsh, a writer, performer and sound designer. His debut show There but for the grace of God (go I) was developed with CPT and ARC Stockton and most recently seen at Soho Theatre. No Future is a multi-dimensional theatre project merging verbatim techniques and live cinema, and created with CPT’s local communities. The project will explore the theatricalisation of remote (dis)connection and the element of voyeurism implicit in entering people’s private spaces through a camera. It will deconstruct a night at the theatre and playfully put it back together, from a distance and in close up. ‘No Future’ investigates what theatre can be, what role it can play and whether we really need it.

Anna Morrissey and Tristan Kajanus, who present ‘North West’, a headphones-based audio artwork mixing recorded verbatim testimony with sound design and music. It documents the stories, testimonies and memories of the former students of North Westminster Community School, which stood in the Paddington Basin for 25 years before it was demolished in 2006. The site where nearly 40,000 comprehensive school students were once educated is now home to luxury flats worth up to £1.5m. There is almost nothing to testify to the school’s existence apart from a one-line entry on Wikipedia. Former students Anna and Tristan collaborate for the first time to make an artistic stand against the erasure of their personal history in the face of gentrification. Anna Morrissey has worked across theatre, opera and dance as a movement director and director. Her work has been shown on the West End, the National, the RSC, and the Royal Opera House, as well as many major regional venues and internationally. Tristan Kajanus is a DJ, producer and record store owner. He spent 10 years producing and hosting The Essential Guide for Radio Monaco, is a former music director for Vnitroblock, and is currently working as music director with Manifesto Market.

Each company receives a £4,000 commission, £800 fund for professional development plus over £7,000 of in kind support, including rehearsal space and mentoring from CPT’s core team, included dedicated time with their Community Engagement Manager and Audience Development Officer.

Because of the quality of the submissions, CPT has also granted an additional £1,000 seed commission to two companies: Knaive Theatre to develop a Zoom performance about the experience of Bangladeshi frontline workers during the pandemic, and Kill the Cat for a live streamed, office party-themed Christmas show produced by Turtle Key Arts. Kill the Cat's Office Christmas Party is provisionally scheduled to live-stream from Dec 8 to 18; tickets to be released later this autumn.

In addition to the Outside the Box commissions, nine Seed Commissions will be offered exclusively to artists from marginalised backgrounds for projects for digital presentation or working towards live performance when the sector starts to reopen. Finally, CPT will offer six places on their ten-week residency and peer network for early-career artists, Starting Blocks, which has been funded for the first time. At least three of the places will be offered to artists from marginalised groups.

Artistic director Brian Logan said: “We’re thrilled to be working with four extraordinary artists on these supremely exciting new artworks. We were overwhelmed by the volume and quality of submissions, and are deeply indebted to the community panel who helped select such a diverse and timely roster of projects. At a time when audiences are often isolated and certainly starved of live performance, and when freelance practitioners are struggling to survive, it’s essential that organisations like ours support artists, right now, to make new work – work that brings people together, challenges orthodoxies and explores the times we’re living in. We’re grateful – particularly to our funders the Paul Hamlyn Foundation – to have the chance to do so, and can’t wait to see what our Outside the Box commissions bring into the world.”

Founded 26 years ago, Camden People’s Theatre is one of Britain’s most influential studio theatres. Its mission is to champion different ways of thinking about the world by supporting emerging artists making adventurous theatre – particularly about issues that matter to people now. Its work is rooted in the communities of Camden and London. Through it, they celebrate the bold, the spirited and the unconventional.

CPT is continuing to support artists at this difficult time, and is engaged in an ongoing delicate balancing act between its responsibilities to its artists and community, and its need to ensure its own long-term survival. If you are able to support their work with a one-off or regular donation please visit the ‘support us’ pages on our website.