Yesterday evening I met up with Hannah, Emma and Laura, my former flatmates and friends of seventeen years. I was due to meet Laura first, at 6pm, but her bus got stuck in traffic. Will, who’d been supporting me throughout the day, had to go and catch a train on the other side of town at 7pm. He couldn’t afford to be late setting off so we went to a friendly bar and explained to the staff about Tourettes, my ‘ticcing fits’, and my support predicament. They were happy to look out for me for ten minutes, so Will headed off and I had my first moment of being on my own outside in four years.
I’ll always remember this, but not for the reason I’d have expected. Almost immediately I found myself chatting to a woman in the bar who, it turned out, teaches theatre and knew all about Touretteshero. She asked me about any up-and-coming performances of our show Backstage In Biscuit Land (BIBL), so I told her about our two-week run in May at Battersea Arts Centre (BAC). Her reply was:
‘You know BAC is on fire?’
It took a second to register, and then I asked her what she meant. She explained that she’d come through Clapham on her way to the bar and had been shocked to see that BAC was in the grip of a blaze, with fire fighters battling to get it under control. Noticing my obvious concern, she added quickly that everyone who’d been in the building was safe.
I felt deeply saddened by this news – not just because it’s an amazing building or because of their incredible programme, but because I know many of the people who make it such a dynamic, supportive and innovative place. I feel gutted for them.
A year ago we went to BAC for our first meeting with the team there. We shared our early ideas for BIBL, which at that stage were just that – ideas. It was at BAC that these were shaped into a show, shared with an audience, and prepared for the Edinburgh Fringe.
I’ve had some experience of the destructive effects of fire, most recently when a building where I work was the subject of an arson attack last summer. The three things I can recall instantly about that are immense relief that no-one was hurt, the smell which, for many weeks afterwards was a shocking reminder of what had happened, and my feelings of determination and optimism which stemmed from the fantastic support we were given by our neighbours, users, and the wider community. The challenge ahead of BAC will be on a much larger scale but I’m confident that this vital venue will emerge stronger and bolder.
BAC has given me invaluable support on my journey from theatregoer to performer and I know they’ve supported many, many other artists with the same passion. It’s a space that fosters creativity, is outward looking, community-focussed and responsive. I know that these qualities will help see it through the next few days, weeks and months.
But it’ll take resources, too. To help with these an emergency appeal has been set up. Please give what you can to ensure that this vital hub for UK theatre has what it needs to recover from yesterday’s terrible events.
To everyone at BAC, we want you to know that the support you have is far-reaching and heartfelt. Let us know what you need.