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THE STAGE

The Evening Standard Future Theatre Fund was conceived to give the next generation of theatrical stars a leg up at a time when the industry sorely needs all the help it can get. Here Nick Curtis meets the 12 award recipients

Theatre has always been a vital component in the Evening Standard’s reporting of London, the association cemented by the foundation of the paper’s annual Theatre Awards in 1955. Last year, with playhouses shuttered and the awards (and ES Magazine’s special issue) unable to go ahead, thoughts turned to how best we could support an industry in crisis.

There was some help available to buildings and companies to stave off closure, and eventually to the freelancers who make up 70 per cent of theatre’s workforce. But what about the next generation, who should inject the industry with vital new blood but were instead emerging into a wasteland?

In association with TikTok and in partnership with the National Youth Theatre, The Evening Standard Future Theatre Fund was created. Its aim? To distribute 12 bursaries worth £10,000 each to struggling young creatives. There are two awards each in the fields of musical theatre, acting, visual and audio design and directing/theatre making, with each candidate nominated by a theatre or producing organisation. And two TikTok Breakout awards for those who may not have had formal theatre training.

The judges — including Andrew Lloyd Webber, Helen McCrory, TikTok’s Richard Waterworth, the National Youth Theatre’s Paul Roseby and other eminent names from around the theatre world — were blown away by the creativity, zest and tenacity shown by the applicants. Here’s the delightful dozen they chose.

Beth Hinton-Lever

Musical theatre

‘I was born without my lower right forearm,’ says Beth Hinton-Lever, ‘but that doesn’t stop me singing or dancing or acting.’ Having got the performing bug at youth theatre in Liverpool, the 27-year-old believed for years that she ‘wasn’t the kind of person musical theatre wanted or needed’. She will use her award to fuel her activism, ‘to shift any of the obstacles I found in my way as a disabled creative coming into the industry’.

After studying classical archaeology at UCL she retrained at Mountview and has acted in Treasure Island and Spring Awakening, sung in West Side Story and Hadestown and danced in Men In Black: International. She was rehearsing Dick Whittington at the National when lockdown cancelled it. ‘Heartbreaking,’ she says. ‘That experience was like a microcosm of everything good and bad and beautiful and confusing about our industry.’ But when theatre reopens she will play her part to make it ‘more emboldened, accessible, inclusive and aware’.

Beth Hinton-Lever

Emily Aboud

Musical theatre

Born in Trinidad and Tobago, Emily Aboud won a science scholarship to study engineering in the UK. ‘I chose to do it at Edinburgh, just to be near the Fringe,’ says the 27-year-old, ‘and spent four years doing student theatre.’ A director, writer and teacher, Aboud also performs regularly as drag king TriniDad & TooGayThough: ‘It’s true, I just can’t stop.’

She has directed for Theatre 503, the Gate and the Bush, where she is already an associate artist but still she ‘just froze — it was immense, awesome’, when Andrew Lloyd Webber popped up on Zoom to tell her she’d won a Future Theatre Fund award.
The cash will go to develop the follow-up to her 2019 play, Splintered, an exploration of sexuality. ‘The next show’s about the Haitian revolution, the abandonment of enslavement, becoming the first black republic: so much history that no one knows. My process and practice is all about decolonisation in some way.’

Emily Aboud

Francesca Amewudah-Rivers

Audio design

I’m a bit of an anomaly,’ says Francesca Amewudah-Rivers, 23, from Brighton. Her family is resolutely unmusical, while she is a skilled classical and jazz pianist who also plays guitar, bassoon and djembe drum. Having acted, composed and played for the National Youth Theatre from the age of 15, she studied music at Oxford.

‘I was the only black person in my college year group,’ she says. ‘It was very alienating at first.’ She set up a society for students of colour, which produced an adaptation of Medea blending poetry and music.
She’ll put the award cash towards a London production, and a streamed version to engage marginalised children in classical music. She’s already racked up her first professional job, as a music intern on Inua Ellams’ NT adaptation of Three Sisters. Currently she’s rehearsing the role of Othello for the NYT rep company’s delayed tour. And giving her dad piano lessons when she goes home.

Francesca Amewudah-Rivers

Nicola Chang

Audio design

Studying economics in the United States, Hong Kong-born Nicola Chang thought music would remain her hobby. Then she saw a video of the percussive stage show Stomp. ‘I fell in love with it so I bought a one-way ticket to London in 2014, auditioned and got it,’ says the 27-year-old, now based in Greenwich.

While learning piano and percussion as a child Chang started composing her own material — ‘my entry point into writing music was the Star Wars soundtrack’ — and during her stint in Stomp she did sound design for friends’ fringe shows. This led to work at the Orange Tree, Royal Court and Old Vic, among many others, as well as a spell as lead keyboardist in Six.
She also composes for film, TV, audio dramas and jingles but is most at home in theatre. ‘I see myself taking care of an audience’s entire audio journey,’ she says. ‘From walking in to walking out, whatever they hear is part of my job.’

Nicola Chang

Selina Jones

Acting

‘I lost my mum to cancer in December 2019, in my last year at Lamda,’ says Selina Jones, 22, from Lewisham. Thus began a surreal period where she arranged the funeral in Cameroon, shared the care of her sister’s newborn baby and rehearsed Little Shop Of Horrors during the day.

‘Then, whoa, corona happened, which gave me a chance to process my grief. I isolated with a friend in Derby and started crying all the time, and writing about how it made me feel.’ A tutor encouraged Jones to turn these writings into a performance, Grief Day: her Future Theatre Fund award will enable her to film it.
She’s already signed to United Agents and is ‘incredibly hopeful for theatre’ once it reopens, citing Death Of England: Delroy at the National and Overflow at the Bush last year as evidence of greater inclusivity. ‘I want to do everything and anything, tell stories that make people invigorated,’ she says. ‘And I want to be in Black Panther.’

Selina Jones

Adam Fenton

Acting

‘I wanted to be a clown when I was young and went to lots of drama clubs,’ says writer, actor and performance poet, Adam Fenton. ‘Then in my late teens I developed Tourette’s. I thought that would impinge on my hopes so I hid it, even when I went to drama school at ALRA North.’

The 24-year-old from Blackburn has extensive verbal and physical tics: suppressing them is like trying not to blink. ‘Finally, I thought, okay, I’m gonna use this rather than fight against it, and developed a way of performing that embraced my tics. People really engage with it.’
He’s performed with Graeae, the theatre company for deaf and disabled artists, set up his own open-mic night in Wigan and will use his Future Theatre Fund award to develop his own work. ‘It’s so validating to feel that my industry respects me, especially after disabled people have taken such a hit in the pandemic,’ he says. ‘Why can’t we have a Hamlet who has Tourette’s?’

Adam Fenton

Ewan Fellows

TikTok breakout

Aged 20, and midway through a drama foundation course in his native Sheffield, Ewan Fellows has already written two musicals and has five more on the go. ‘The first one I wrote two years ago based on Oscar Wilde’s The Devoted Friend,’ he says. ‘And as lockdown came into play I got this huge inspiration to write Alive in Wonderland.’

This viral version of Lewis Carroll’s story features 48 pieces of music for an eight-part band that Fellows, a largely self-taught pianist, created with music software in his bedroom. He’ll use his Future Theatre Fund cash to stage it next year.
The fourth of five boys, he’s an avid TikToker, putting out not just music but also cosplay videos with him dressed as the Grinch, the Cheshire Cat or — bizarrely — an antibiotic pill. ‘Aside from going to university, I barely leave my room,’ he admits. ‘I go from the bed to the piano to the desk, and that’s me done travelling for the day.’


Ewan Fellows

Jesse Chuku

TikTok breakout

Jesse Chuku wanted to be an actor after playing a breakdancing Wizard of Oz aged nine, but a career as a professional athlete got in the way. ‘There weren’t many acting opportunities at my secondary school but we had a basketball team,’ says the Camden-born 28-year-old. ‘I got a scholarship to play in America [for LeHigh University’s Mountain Hawks in Pennsylvania] then played in Greece and Spain before coming back in 2018.’

He was playing for Leicester Riders when Covid-19 shut the sport down, giving him time to explore his creative side through TikTok, where he quickly racked up 1.7m followers and hundreds of millions of views. His snappily edited films are comedic but also address Anglo-American cultural differences and the problems inherent in being a 6ft 8in black man. ‘It’s good to spark a conversation as well as have a laugh,’ he says. ‘I’ve found some success in comedy but would really like to expand myself, find out what more I can bring.’

Jesse Chuku

Nikki Charlesworth

Visual design

‘I think puppetry’s always been cool, but War Horse certainly helped to put it on the map,’ says puppeteer and designer Nikki Charlesworth, 26. ‘It enabled people to see its ability to provoke emotion that animals and actors never could.’

Growing up in Nottingham, Charlesworth’s hobbies were craft-focused — knitting, making her own clothes — and at youth theatre she was enthralled by prop-making as much as acting

‘When I first worked with puppets I loved it, because it combines performance with design.’
Studying stage design at Nottingham Trent University, she designed a puppet that reflected her own mobility, which is impaired by cerebral palsy. ‘My lecturer was taken aback but told me lead puppeteers put their autobiographical experience into their work.’ Alongside professional commissions she has been developing a film called What Happened To You? that addresses the preconceptions others have of her. ‘I learned animation in lockdown,’ she says, casually.

Nikki Charlesworth

Caitlin Mawhinney

Visual design

In her TikTok video bid for this award, Caitlin Mawhinney built from scratch an uncannily accurate model of her parents’ greenhouse in Knaresborough. ‘My model-making is more on the realistic side, but my theatre design work is more free and abstract,’ says the 24-year-old. From an ‘artsy family’ — one aunt is a scenographer, another a theatre historian — Mawhinney’s childhood ambition to act quickly faded.


A production by Kneehigh, featuring a giant dog skeleton, was her lightbulb moment. ‘It really sparked me. I didn’t know design could make me feel like that. And I wanted to make people feel like that, too.’
At art school in Leeds she taught herself stage design ‘from some really old books in the library’ and after further study at Nottingham, has produced striking sets for shows all over the north-west. ‘Up till now, PAYE jobs have been my main income with design on top,’ she says, brightly. ‘In five years’ time I’d like it to be the other way round.’


Caitlin Mawhinney

Omar Bynon

Directing/theatre making

Writer, actor, director… Omar Bynon is ‘none and all of those things right now’, thanks to the pandemic. But winning a Future Theatre Fund award is ‘an amazing antidote to imposter syndrome’, he says. The 24-year-old will use the cash to improve access to the arts in his home borough of Newham. This is an extension of the online workshops he’s doing with The Yard, Kiln, Old Vic and National.


Aged 16, Bynon sold bread on market stalls and spent evenings doing spoken word events ‘anywhere that would have us’ with two mates under the name Rhythm of Men, inspired by a poetry project at the Theatre Royal Stratford East.
At Lamda then Rada he was in a minority, and he is writing a play about what it’s like to be ‘brown in the British countryside’. It’s all about access: things are improving, but the BLM protests of the summer mustn’t be forgotten, he says. He wants to create work ‘that is important, that changes lives, that changes the world’.


Omar Bynon

Jamie Hale

Directing/theatre making

‘I can’t think of a term that doesn’t sound really pretentious, but I guess I’m a multi-disciplinary creative,’ says Jamie Hale. Under lockdown the 29-year-old trans south Londoner, who uses the pronouns they/them, has produced a volume of sonnets, a play about three generations of a family separately shielding, and started work on two novels.


Hale is also studying for a master’s at UCL and is an expert on disability and health and social care policy — they use a wheelchair and require 24-hour care for a condition they prefer not to name or be defined by.
Hale’s undergraduate poetry formed the basis of their solo show Not Dying at the Barbican’s 2019 CRIPtic festival, which they also curated. The show was crafted during a six-month stint in hospital, during which Hale also took part virtually in a Netflix writers’ room: good practice for lockdown, it turned out. ‘I am used to creating from a very confined space,’ Hale says.


Jamie Hale

The Evening Standard Future Theatre Fund, in association with TikTok and in partnership with the National Youth Theatre, supports emerging British talent

FUTURE THEATRE FUND
FUTURE THEATRE FUND